Friends had given us such a glowing report of Toscana that we were excited to try it. The building looks attractive from the outside and the welcome from the owner was warm and made us feel like family. I heard from others what a nice guy he is and I can confirm that he is a natural host. The table service, on the other hand, was "average" - even a little cold. Not as warm as the welcome from the owner.
The restaurant was extremely busy and from everything I've been told it is obviously very popular. All of which made our disappointing dining experience a bit of a puzzle. All the ingredients for a great night seemed to be there, and the restaurant describes itself as "fine Italian dining" but in fact, nothing we ordered could have been described as particularly memorable.
Among the various appetizers that were ordered by our party, the capasente rosso (pan seared sea scallops) were beautifully cooked, with a perfect sear. They were paired with a potato pancake and a barolo wine sauce. Of all the dishes served, this was probably the best. In contrast, the signature Antipasto Toscana was simply lackluster - I have had a far better selection of cheeses and meats at other Italian restaurants in the area.
One of the specials on the night we visited was salmon served with a mango sauce. This pairing was possibly over-sold by the waiter because when it arrived, the dish suffered from the current fad of under-saucing ... you know, when there is a smear of sauce painted on the plate and there is barely enough to accompany a couple of bites. I do wish if the chef insists on painting a picture that they would also provide an accompanying little bowl of sauce so that we could finish the job for them! However, the saucing wasn't the main problem - the main issue was the fish itself. On the first bite, the two people (including myself) who ordered this special, thought the fish was exceptionally soft, and we both equated this with being beautifully cooked. But after a couple of bites, we felt that the texture was too much like a pate - there was no flaky fish texture; almost like it had been marinated way too long - although why it would have been marinated at all would have been a mystery. So if it was marinated, why was it so unreasonably soft? Mushy even?
So neither of us finished the fish - it just became more unpleasant as it got cooler; also placing the fish on top of greens was not very clever. The hot fish continued to wilt the greens and the texture was very limp.
Desserts were also disappointing - the "creme" in the creme brulee was beautiful, but the dish was spoiled by too deep a pile of sugar on top that was, in turn, not caramelized sufficiently.
Given that every other restaurant in the north-east is Italian (or at least, American-Italian), then you really have to stand out to be successful. Given that there are a lot of very mediocre restaurants who seem to default to American-Italian themes, then the better ones are pounced upon with relish. Toscana is certainly better than average and obviously has its fans. Perhaps we were just unlucky ... it was a very busy (and noisy) night. However, when you are very busy, it is exactly the time to step up and not leave a poor impression with the customer.
Once again, there was so much going for Toscana - its reputation preceded our visit; the premises look good and the owner is a real gentleman who obviously cares deeply about his establishment and strives for excellence. However, in an establishment that describes itslef as "fine Italian dining", you have an expectation of fine dining! Restrospectively, looking at some of the pictures of the menu items on the restaurant's website, some of the dishes really do look a bit plain - and that was the impression I got on the night.
A disappointing meal, especially considering how eye-wateringly expensive it is if you have three courses and a couple of glasses of house wine.
I so wanted to love it, but I just couldn't. It was ok, but not wonderful.
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