Tuscan food with a mountain flair
The restaurant specializes in Italian food with a hearty mountain-style accent. The kitchen can be seen from the dining area, as the chefs rapidly turn from grill to stove to pizza oven in a controlled yet chaotic dance of food preparation.
Toscanini’s staff is warm and welcoming as soon as you walk through the door. Often a bustling place as people dine before heading down to the Vilar Center for a show, people at tables and at the polished bar are well tended. The appetizer menu is extensive, providing for those who want a smaller snack; the drink menu offers a smattering of Italian wines by the glass – the chianti is outstanding.
New to the appetizer list this year is polenta with a wild mushroom sauce, both hearty and tasty. The richness of the mushrooms complements the coarse grains. Taking inspiration from Creole country, they also serve fried green tomatoes with a crab salad. They’ve nailed the cooking time and method for the tomatoes, dishing up a crisp breading with a tart, soft center.
A menu constant is the Caesar salad ($8), made – as any self-respecting Caesar must be – with an egg. It’s tangy from the anchovies, and the greens are fresh. For those wanting to stick with the classics, a Margherita pizza ($13) is a good follow, and includes roasted garlic with the traditional poached plum tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and fresh basil.
Executive Chef Chris Dressick’s pasta offerings range from the simple to the exotic. The **cappellini alla cecca** ($16) is angel hair pasta with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil and white wine, and is comforting, tasty, and decidedly non-fussy. Other options range from **orechiette** with a truffle-infused sauce ($18) to pan-fried butternut squash dumplings with braised wild boar ($23).
For the **tonno al tartufo** ($33, the chef takes a large yellowfin tuna steak and pan sears it rare, so only the merest crust is cooked. It arrives atop a mountain of truffled lobster potato puree, quite rich and smooth, with a creamy saffron sauce. A few grilled asparagus cut the richness a bit (but only a very little bit). Despite being a lean cut of fish, the dish is indeed decadent.
According to the staff, both the New Zealand red deer chop ($28) and the beef tenderloin medallions ($34) are popular with diners.
Dessert is a good reason to remain. The changing menu is always good, with chocolate-inspired dishes as well as fruity options.
The best part of dining at Toscanini is the ambience. The waitstaff is watchful and efficient, and still manages to be warm. The manager is likely to check in with the tables, and the room conveys a sense of generosity with its upscale furnishings and tableside variety of olive oils.
It’s a good idea to make reservations, especially in the height of the season. To do so, or to request more information, call the restaurant at 845-5590.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.