Thursday, March 24, 2011

Toscana

Image courtesy of charlottemagazine.com
The Food Baby bottom line:
  • I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios.
  • The knowledgeable and attentive service - including frequent visits by the manager to chat - really made the experience great.
  • A couple of dishes lacked flavor, but the Mare and the bean dip were to die for! 
On Saturday night, I met my friends Kiley, Andy, Nancy and Kate for dinner at Toscana – which is located in Morrison Center in the Southpark neighborhood. I’d been to Toscana once before, about a year prior, and I recalled it being super delish Italian fare so I was really excited to go back!

I arrived a tad late (okay 30 minutes late) due to losing track of time and drink counts at a St. Patty’s party earlier that afternoon. However, despite my lateness, we were fortunately seated at some very prime real estate: on the lovely outdoor patio to enjoy the amazing weather.  The interior of Toscana is great, with very classic Tuscan d├ęcor and dim lighting, but the patio is really where it’s at. The crowd is very “Southpark”, meaning 30-40ish age range and sophistractive (sophisticated + attractive).  I realize now that my unwieldy amount of cleavage that evening may have been a touch out of place. Eep.

We brought our glasses of pinot noir to the table from the bar, but quickly decided to order a bottle. Our server (who was fantastic, by the way) recommended the 2008 Tenuta di Castiglioni, an Italian blend of Cab Sav, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cab Franc. It was rich with dark fruit flavors and a hint of chocolate. It blew my pinot from the bar out of the water.

Yummmm.

We selected two appetizers: 1) a silver dollar mushroom stuffed with provolone, speck and fresh herbs, and 2) beef carpaccio, with truffle oil, shaved parmesan, and microgreens. Of these two, the mushroom was the clear favorite at the table – it was pretty damn tasty, although I will say my friends were a bit more enthusiastic than I was. I felt it was missing something, a spice maybe, but overall it was pretty dank.

Confession: I’ve had speck a few times but never totally knew what it was. Behold the definition from Wikipedia:

Like prosciutto and other hams, speck is made from the hind leg of the pig, but, unlike other prosciutti, speck is boned before curing.

Speck is boned before curing. I like everything about that sentence.

Oh, and the beef carpaccio was fine – very standard in my opinion. I wish it had a punchy/sharp flavor of some sort (horseradish?), but the beef itself was very fresh and tender.

Mushroom stuffed with provolone and SPECK!

Beef Carpaccio

They also brought out their complimentary appetizer, the chilled white beans marinated in olive oil with red onions, garlic, and herbs. Let me say this loud and clear – I loooove this bean dip. I’ve had it many a time at Coco Osteria, one of Toscana’s sister restaurants uptown. It’s kind of perfect in it’s blend of tastes and textures. Creamy cannelinni beans are coated in fruity olive oil, sharp and bright onions and garlic, crisp herbs, salt…so simple but so pleasing. Confession #2; I’ve tried to make this at home, and my version turned out to be a garlic/onion bomb. So I call it “simple” but I figure there must be a certain magic to this recipe. 


Beautiful Bean Dip


And for the entrees:

It pains me to say it, but the Osso Bucco was a dissapontment. It sounded so incredible – Milanese style, classically paired with saffron risotto…and the dish certainly was lovely to look at. In fact, even though Nancy and I agreed to split it, our server brought out the whole dish first so we could see it in it’s true form. The texture was great – I will say that - absolutely falling off the bone and had a melt-in-your-mouth quality that comes from good braising. BUT (yes, big BUT) it was seriously lacking in flavor. The meat was bland – as if it were once seasoned but the seasoning boiled off. If anything, it just needed salt. And garlic. The risotto was nicely done (smooth and creamy, not sticky) and a pretty orange-y color from the saffron, but I had the same assessment – underwhelming in flavor. It’s possible this one was more intentional….perhaps you could call it “delicately flavored”…but after having the osso blando, I mentally lumped this in as being anti-climactic as well. Sorry risotto. Maybe that wasn’t fair of me.

Osso Bucco Milanese with Saffron Risotto
On a more amazeballs note: The Mare. Um, to DIE for. I have had this dish before at Toscana and couldn’t resist ordering it again. Nancy and I split this one too, and the half portion was still impressive. Dishes like this make me so happy. Just give me a pile of linguine covered in a heap of six types of seafood, and I’m Happy Girl. This Mare dish did that and more. Not only did it boast shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and scallops – all cooked to perfection – it had a big beautiful lobster claw for me to rapaciously crack into. The pasta had clean but bold flavors of wine, garlic, and lemon. I would have taken a bath in it if I could.

Mi Amore the Mare

So, allow me to sum up this review – while the dishes could be called “hit or miss”, the experience overall was still really nice. I had a some extremely tasty bites, sincerely enjoyed the great service, and basked in perfect weather on a gorgeous patio with people I adore. The low points of the meal – a couple dishes lacking flavor – detracted less from the experience than they would have elsewhere. So it seems Toscana still has a pretty well-put-together package, and I’d say it’s definitely worth trying the patio this summer.

-Lauren

Toscana on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. So, I'm admittedly a little behind on your posts having just learned about your fun blog, but this is a classic: "I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios."

    ReplyDelete