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The Politics of Dining

Jun 01, 2005

Tosca

I had another incredibly busy week. This last week flew by so fast that when Friday came and I still hadn't made any plans for Friday night, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Eh. What else is new?" It was about 6:30 PM and I opened up OpenTable to see who still had reservations left. Luckily, it was Memorial Day weekend and everyone seemed to have turned tail and left the city (except for the tourists of course), so there were a bunch of places with reservations left in the 7 to 8:30 PM range. I decided to go with Tosca because I remembered I didn't get a chance to go there last Restaurant Week and I've been wanting to try their Northern Italian food ever since. I made a reservation for 8:30 PM.

When I got home, we were kind of in a rush to get ready and out the door. I noted when I made the reservation, that Tosca does indeed have valet parking for $5 (far cheaper than a $12 taxi ride both ways) so we had some extra time because I wouldn't have to add in time to flag down a cab. I was debating what to wear. I checked out Tosca's web site, The Post, Washingtonian, AOL, Google...nothing about what the dress code was for Tosca. I was thinking about wearing some nice jeans, but then my intuition told me I should wear a pair of dress slacks. Lucky for me my intuition is accurate. Amy was wearing a casual halter dress, but she's very obviously pregnant now, so it doesn't matter much. I mean, she could wear shorts to Citronelle and no one would dare say anything to her. When we arrived, we realized very quickly that Tosca was pretty dressy. Many of the men were wearing sport coats -- women in cocktail dresses. There wasn't a single pair of jeans in the dining room. "Glad I decided not to wear the jeans!" I said to Amy. "Yeah, me too!" she replied.

If you're looking for typical Italian American fare, Tosca is not the place for you. Tosca features Northern Italian creations, by chef and owner Cesare Lanfranconi, so you won't find your run-of-the-mill spaghetti and meatballs. Cesare also changes up the menu quite often, which is always up to date on ToscaDC.com, using fresh, seasonal ingredients. I really like it when a restaurant keeps their online menu up-to-date because that means I won't feel like I got a bait and switch.

For appetizers, you have a wide variety, with the obvious salad choice being the radicchio salad with Bartlett pears, imported Gorgonzola cheese terrine, and toasted walnuts, or for the more adventurous, a breaded Mediterranean cuttlefish with fava beans, artichokes and pancetta ragout, roasted garlic and black ink sauce. Amy and I skipped the salads even though they sounded and looked very appetizing from our quick glances at what other tables were ordering, but instead, we opted to go with soup and pasta as a first and second course. The special soup was the Italian bread soup which I've had many times and anywhere that I've had it, I loved it, so I figured it would be a good dish to order as a comparison. Amy ordered a soup as well -- the sweet yellow pepper soup. I also decided to get a second course with a half portion of the homemade buckwheat papardelle with pheasant, porcini mushrooms, and tomato ragout, mainly because it just sounded so good. Beside that though, I wasn't overly impressed with the pasta choices, which were slightly boring in comparison with what you can get somewhere like Spezie. But I got the impression, at least from looking at the menu, that Cesare doesn't like to focus as much on the pasta as much as his entrees.

Entrees are fairly expensive and in the price range of those at Galileo, ranging from $23 for the porcini-crusted pork filet to $40 for the Kobe beef. There were an abundance of specials including several fish and a couple meat dishes -- too many for me to remember, but basically you have a choice of many different kinds of fish, the most expensive being a Mediterranean dorado (which was $40). I thought the Kobe beef sounded interesting -- it's served with fava beans, baby fennel, pecorino cheese and aged balsamic vinegar sauce. (I don't know what it is, but ever since I had the crostini with fava bean puree and pecorino cheese at 2 Amys, I've been on a real fava bean kick.) However, none of the entrees on the menu really stood out to make me say, "Yeah, that dish sounds like it will be really outstanding!"

The wine list was...extensive, with many different choices in all categories of Italian wine. If you can see from the Tosca web site, it's not exactly moderately-priced by any means and If you turn towards the back of the wine menu, you'll see all of the more expensive wines, some priced up to $1,600. Ouch! I stayed towards the front and ordered a smooth, yet spicy Rosso Piceno for $50.

It wasn't too long after we ordered that the food started coming out. My Italian bread soup was thick, almost more like a sauce than a broth, but it tasted very good. I mean, it was probably some of the best Italian bread soup I've ever had, with fresh basil, tomatoes, and the fresh double cream mozzarella that I mixed into the broth with my spoon. Amy really liked the sweet yellow pepper soup -- a lot.  Overall, I'd say that the first course was an overwhelming success. The success continued as I ate my half-pasta second course. As expected, the buckwheat pasta was cooked perfectly and I especially enjoyed the pheasant, tomato and porcini mushroom ragout. It was very similar to a dish I had once at Osteria Del Galileo -- a chicken and chicken liver papardelle which I recall I enjoyed just as much.

Our entrees weren't quite as impressive as the first and second courses, but they weren't anything to shrug at either. Amy thought her pasta, an agnolotti stuffed with imported truffled double cream mozzarella and sweet peas in a light tomato sauce, sounded better on the menu than it actually tasted. She and I both agreed that the sweet flavor of the peas needed a little balance with some red pepper or garlic -- that's just a matter of taste though -- I'm sure many people really enjoy this pasta dish and other people around us that we saw ordering it seemed to be.

The Kobe beef was cooked medium rare (actually almost rare -- I was testing it as I cut the meat to check that it was warm in the middle) and I'd purposely asked for the beef to be cooked the way the chef likes it. As I cut the beef, I could see the marbled fat, which was more like butter than fat. Every once in a while though, there was some stringy, tough fat that was difficult to cut and chew through which made me especially careful when cutting pieces of the meat to eat. The meat was seared and cut into small strips and then topped with the aged balsamic vinegar. On the side, it came with the fennel, fava beans and pecorino, all arranged in a neat, circular tower.

No desserts were ordered, even though I wish I had. We were far too full (especially me after the three courses). I especially wish I'd had the room to eat the poppyseed semi-freddo with warm rhubarb compote, pine nuts, fresh strawberries. I do so love strawberries - they're my favorite fruit. Oh well, maybe next time.

I do want to comment on the service which was extra friendly the entire time we were there. Our server was especially patient while I toiled over my decision of what to order and throughout our entire meal, he was attentive and made sure our glasses were full and our entrees came out in proper timing. One thing to keep in mind is that Tosca is one of those restaurants where you have to ask for your check, so you never feel rushed out.

When we were done with our meal, we were fairly happy with our meal and how it turned out. Once I got the check however, I started to wonder if it was worth it. At $160, I thought it was a bit on the pricey side, since neither of our entrees really stood out. I mean, the ingredients were of a high quality, but just because you use high-quality ingredients, doesn't mean it's necesarily better tasting. I reserve judgement though, because this was our first trip to Tosca, and the menu the next time we go could be very different.

Ristorante Tosca
1112 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
map
(202) 367-1990

Hours:
Lunch: M-F 11:30 am - 2:30 pm
Dinner: M-Th, 5:30 - 10:30 pm
F & Sat: 5:30 - 11:00 pm
Sun: 5:30 pm - 10:30 pm
Closed on major holidays & Sundays during July  and August

Dress Code: Dressy (Sportcoats not out of place)
Parking: Valet $5
Reservations: Taken
Smoking: Not allowed
Nearest Metro: Metro Center
Amy's Bathroom Report: They were very nice and kept very clean.

Categories: Chinatown/MCI Center, Italian, Restaurant Reviews
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