Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cucina Toscana

Address: 307 Pierpont Ave, Salt Lake City, UT. 801.328.3463.

Review: First things first: get ready to drop some coin at Cucina Toscana. It's an expensive place, and you have to embrace that before entering. Of course, as the price goes up, so do the expectations. Likewise, expectations are high when an establishment touts itself as an authentic Tuscan trattoria. Having eaten at many a Tuscan trattoria in Tuscany over the years, I was interested to see if Cucina Toscana measured up. Let's see.

I must mention up front that we had a reservation at 6.30 p.m. We were seated promptly at 6.30. (I mention this only because many people have complained about not being seated on time, notwithstanding their reservations. This probably happens, but it wasn't our experience.)

We began our meal with two antipasti, both carpacci oddly enough. I had the carpaccio di tonno (tuna carpaccio), and my wife had the carpaccio di bue (beef carpaccio).

The carpaccio di tonno was served with shaved fennel and cherry tomatoes, and was quite good. The tuna was high quality and melted on the tongue. The fennel was nicely sweet, as were the tomatoes. The carpaccio di bue was thin like Nicole Richie, served with a salad of crunchy greens (including sectioned asparagus stalks) and parmigiano reggiano. Both carpacci were served under seasoned, so the first taste was a bit listless. (I think they did this on purpose so each diner could customize the dish to his or her own preference.) In any case, once we applied the correct amount of salt, the meat came alive, as it were. In all, very enjoyable.

Next, we each had the gnocchi all'arrabbiata (spicy gnocchi in simple tomato sauce).

The gnocchi were spot on -- light, fluffy, well seasoned, beautifully cooked. This is a real feat since most gnocchi are dense and without character. The sauce, on the other hand, let the dish down a bit. It was a simple tomato sauce with pretty good flavor, but there was too much of it and it wasn't tight enough. The sauce's tightness makes a difference because it was so watery it (1) tasted watery, and (2) didn't adhere well to the gnocchi. So, while the gnocchi made this dish enjoyable, it was only good and not great.

Next week had the scaloppini di vitello tabaro (scallops of veal and sausage in a mushroom and wine sauce). It was served with a side of oven-roasted potatoes and green beans.

The veal was fork-tender and not overcooked. The sausage was high quality, made in house, with an earthy feel to it. The combination of the two work relatively well, even though they are entirely different types of meat. The sauce was rich with mushroom flavor and complimented both the veal and the sausage. The green beans were simply prepared with just the right amount of crunchiness. The potatoes were alright, but somewhat dry inside. This was a very earthy dish, chock full of glutamate. I could have used slightly more acid to brighten things up a little, but it was very good.

We finished the dish with two desserts. First we had hot chocolate and lemony biscotti. The hot chocolate was thick, rich, chocolate that would satisfy the most prominent of chocoholics. The biscotti (a treat I usually don't enjoy) was crunchy but not dry, with a hint of fruitiness and lemon. It was a nice contrast to the hot chocolate.

Second, we tried a selection of gelati -- pistachio, basil, chocolate, and lemon. All were relatively good, and some were very good. For example, the pistachio contained the entire pistachio experience. You picked up different parts of the pistachio as you ate the gelato. The chocolate was rich and chocolately. The basil certainly had the taste of basil, but it was muted. Likewise, the lemon was more about the milk and sugar than the lemon. I'll certainly have the pistachio and chocolate again, but not so much the basil or lemon.

So, in the end, where do things stand? The service was fantastic, and the food, overall, was quite good for Italian food in America. There are things that should be improved, but this is almost certainly the best Italian dining experience you will have in Utah.

Rating: 8/10 was the original score, but after eating in Italy over the summer and finding food twice as good as 1/3 the price (in the middle of nowhere), I have to revise down the score to 6.5/10.

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  1. I am Itlaian and I too have eaten many times at Cucina Toscana. I agree that it is probably the best in SLC, but compaired to the kitchens of Italy this does not quite reach the standard. If you are an avid diner there as I am you will come to find out that the food is somewhat inconsistant. Sometimes they will product a Cognac sauce that is tight and full of flavor and other times it will have too much liquid and be flavorless. Overall it is a beautiful restaurant, but I give it only a 6.5.

  2. a italian restaurant with a mexican manager???what a funny experience...