wdcbrucefan

Toscana Cafe, NE Capitol Hill - Chef Daniele Catalani Comes From Extra Virgin

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Banducci's at 2nd & F Streets NE is closed and construction's been ongoing for the past 6 weeks, inside & out. I spoke w/ the building owner (John) a few weeks ago. He says that a Roberto Donna protege (named Danielli?) is opening a rustic northern Italian restaurant. The chef also worked at Panache.

The space is quite small. Looks like, as before, it'll be a counter downstairs and tables upstairs. Inside looks largely the same.

They've torn out the overgrown bushes that used to seperate the patio from the first house on F St. Its paved and they've done other concrete work on the patio.

From the look & sound of things, I'm not sure what will be so different from the old Banducci's business model. Its a small space with as much outdoor seating in the summer as he has upstairs year round.

A website is up and also mentions catering.

Interested to see what develops....

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He says that a Roberto Donna protege (named Danielli?) is opening a rustic northern Italian restaurant. The chef also worked at Panache.

To further fuel the rumor mill, I heard just last week that Claudio Sandri is running the kitchen at the DC Panache.

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I have gone to this place about 6 times for lunch now and it is fantastic. They have some great sandwiches and their salads are pretty good. The mozzarella on my tomato salad was amazing. I can't wait to try this place out for dinner.

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We got there for dinner Monday. The food is in fact really good.

The current "soft open" menu is prix fix, usually $30 per, for 3 courses. He seems to be testing to see what's popular.

Monday appetizer was 3-4 shrimp over a corn & (sweet tomato?) sauce. Maybe a little too sweet for my taste, but the shrimp were perfecly cooked. Mains were salmon over risotto; duck over figs & roasted potatoes w/ red wine reduction; or [can't recall the 3rd...]. The duck was really great, and considering that I'm recently back from Dordogne region of France, my standard for duck right now is running high.

Dessert list was very appetizing. I had the cheesecake, which was 5 stars. Dry (not a disparaging comment!) and tasty. This is not your mother's NY Cheesecake. The berry concoction on the side has a Coca Cola reduction base (I don't like soda, but it was good). Ms. WDC had panna cotta, which she thought maybe too gelatenous.

The wait staff needs to learn about the wine & the food. Our waitress couldn't do much more than offer that the wines were red or white. For $10/glass, gotta do better than that. She also could not answer what the prep of the risotto was, other than "its something mixed into the sauce." I mentioned to chef about the wait staff and he seemed to agree. Likewise, descriptions of the desserts could have been punched up a lot. Just describing them as "Cheesecake," "chocolate cake," "panna cotta" does not due justice to the amount of time the young chef is clearly putting into these plates. They deserve more thorough descriptions. I think its all made in house by the chef.

There's a gelatto cart set up too, for both customers & passers by (plentiful at that corner, 1 block from Union Station). Think its $1/scoop. Its homemade.

Outdoor seating is plentiful. Bunch of deuces. And wooden picnic tables that seat 6-8 under Peroni umbrellas. I didn't check out the inside upstairs. Will be a challenge for him in the winter.

The chef is out & about, asking how things are, meeting customers, asking what they like.

I think the ultimate menu will have pizzas as well. Think he kept Banducci's ovens, and I saw pizzas on the menu over the range.

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I have only been here a couple of times for lunch at this point, but it is already far and away the best lunch spot in this neighborhood. I've had the Italian Cold Cut and the Pork Shoulder and Broccoli Rabe sandwiches and both were fantastic and on excellent bread. The price is a little high for take-out sandwiches $9 (incl. chips), but well worth it and they don't skimp on the meat either. Lots more delicious sounding sandwiches to work my way through and the pizza (which I haven't tried yet) always looks tempting. Haven't tried the gelato, but I understand that it is homemade as well. For the poor souls that work in the Union Station area, this place has to succeed. Only complaint so far was they downgraded the chips from Route 11 Chips to Utz from my first visit to second. I hope they bring back quality potato chips.

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I am beyond happy that there is finally a not only decent, but really delicious place to get sandwiches near Union Station. No more mediocre Phillips and Au Bon Pain sandwiches for me! I had the pork shoulder, broccoli rabe, and provolone, which comes with pesto. It was near perfection and I look forward to trying everything else. There are 14 sandwich selection and 3-4 pizzas by the slice. Today there was also a lasagna special. There are some pre-made salads in the case, which looked decent. As scj32 said, it's a bit pricey, although I think the pork shoulder is one of the more expensive sandwiches. It was pretty crowded around 12:45 today, which may be due in part to the blurb in the Post. The patio is lovely, but I wonder if indoor seating will be available in the winter. It didn't look like anyone was heading upstairs so I couldn't tell if that's an option.

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The food is in fact really good.

Among last night's specials, the rissotto osso bucco was delicious and an absolute steal at $20 for a plate with enough rissotto and enough osso bucco to constitute two separate entrees. The lasagna had a fantastic tomato tang to it that really helped cut the richness of the dish. The patio is beautiful here and they seem to be starting to do pretty good business. This is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Great food, moderate prices, and a lovely atmosphere while the weather is nice -- it's probably going to be a neighborhood favorite for anyone on this side of the hill.

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Stopped by Toscana Cafe today for lunch after getting out of my internship at the DC Central Kitchen office. It was 1 PM, and the line was out the door, but they kept things moving quickly. There were some interesting specials (A zucchini soup if I'm remembering right, a few pastas, and lasagna), but I already knew what I was getting:

Toscano ($9.00): Pork Shoulder, Broccoli Rabe, Provolone on a choice of White or Whole Wheat Ciabatta

While they didn't offer me a choice between white or whole wheat (maybe you have to ask?), the three promised ingredients were there, and in abundance. It's shocking how delicious something so simple can be. I've never been one to love the taste of broccoli rabe, and provolone has never been my favorite cheese, but these three flavors just worked together so well. The shredded pork was extremely tender and flavorful, the provolone was sharp enough to cut through its fattiness, and the broccoli rabe brought a little crunch and freshness to it all. As for the bread, it's passable, but nothing special. Is the sandwich worth $9 though? That's debatable...$9 seems a bit steep, even considering that they don't skimp on the portion size.

My main issue is with the accompaniment: Utz Chips...really? And only two varieties (Plain and Sour Cream and Onion)? It'd be nice if they had an option for a soup/sandwich combo, and maybe a side salad, or something else for people who don't want chips. And for those who do want chips...Utz just plain suck, and for $9 Toscana could do better. I saw a few salads and such behind the glass counter that looked good (shrimp and corn salad, etc.), but these all appeared to be meals; none of them were sides. The addition of good sides would put Toscana Cafe over the top for lunch, especially since they have 14 really appealing sandwiches, and pizza that looked pretty decent.

One last thing that was nice was that they had ice water available, already in full size cups, unlike most places that give you some mini cup when you don't want to pay for a drink.

I'll probably be back to try a few others, since it's so tempting, but for the price I'd like just a little more.

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Thanks for the detailled report, GennaroE. I'm with you--$9 for a sandwich served w/ Utz potato chips? For that price, Toscana really needs to improve the quality of its sides. A small green salad or fruit salad would be nice. Btw, do they have Italian sodas like aranciata or limonata?

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Btw, do they have Italian sodas like aranciata or limonata?

Not that I saw. They do, however, have fresh squeezed lemonade.

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One last thing that was nice was that they had ice water available, already in full size cups, unlike most places that give you some mini cup when you don't want to pay for a drink.

I'll probably be back to try a few others, since it's so tempting, but for the price I'd like just a little more.

There is something about the tenor of this post that reminds me of Rockwell and valet parking.

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I'm one of the poor souls who work near Union Station and finally got over here for lunch today. For a tiny place they offer a huge variety at lunch - sandwiches, pizza, lasagna, a few (large) salads, plus specials on the blackboard outside - a soup, pastas, and cannolis.

I had the zucchini/spinach soup, which was a thin green puree with small globs of ricotta. The predominant flavor was spinach and salt. I was expecting something a little more creamy with chunks of vegetables. To me it was boring; I wouldn't order it again.

The margherita pizza (tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, thin strips of basil and regular mozzarella) was also a bit salty but had a nice chewy crust. I don't think I'm just being hypersensitive to the salt thing; I do like salt on my food. My co-worker also mentioned that her lasagna, while good, was oversalted.

We got there before noon so there was plenty of room on the pleasant outdoor patio. According to the cashier, they're hoping to have it covered and heated for the cold weather. Apparently there is a small seating area upstairs, but today they had a large group up there so she steered us to the patio.

Prices are steep -- the soup was $5 for what I would call a small cup, just about everything else was $9. Actually the pizza slices are pretty big and a good deal at $3. No italian sodas or interesting sides. There's iced tea (free refills), fresh lemonade, San Pellegrino, and cans of all your basic high fructose corn syruped- and artificially sweetened-sodas. Oh, and today the Utz chip options included BBQ in addition to plain and sour cream and onion. :(

The sandwiches look pretty good though and given the dearth of options in the area, I'm sure I'll be back to try more of the menu at some point. But at $9+ it really isn't going to be a regular lunch stop.

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Tried out Toscana today with a couple of folks from work. Two of us had the pork, rabe and provolone and one had pork, cole slaw and bbq sauce. All of us thought our sandwiches were great. And big; two and a half hours after eating, my fat ass is still stuffed. My only complaint was that the bites of sandwich that were light on pesto were underseasoned. This was only a couple of bites on a pretty large sandwich, though.

A word on the price. I think most of the 14 sandwiches are $9 with one for $8.50 and a couple going for $9.50. While this sounds pricey, food prices in and around Union Station exist in a logic-free zone. Those of us unlucky enough to work there will happily tell you that, aside from Ann Cashion's taco joint, there is not a lot of good choices for take out in the area. Despite this, an ok sandwich from ABP is going to cost around $7. A crappy sandwich from the food court is going to run you just over $8. In this area I'm happy to pay a couple extra bucks for the quality that I got today.

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Not that I saw. They do, however, have fresh squeezed lemonade.

Lemonade is very good, and the iced tea is real brewed.

I've been for lunch a few times... had Grecco (lamb in abundance with roasted eggplant), the one w/ broc rabe and the pork shoulder. All really superb. The bread is top notch.

I need to remember to check the daily specials in the case before ordering next time. The ribs have been huge and good looking ($9), shrimp salad, fig & squash salad, etc. Changes daily.

Cannoli's in the case last week. Made fresh in house. I restrained myself but they looked excellent.

As for the Utz chips, my hunch is they were left over from Banducci's and he's working thru them... I hope. Agree they're not a proper accompaniment.

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We made it to dinner here on Monday night, and while the dining room was pretty much empty, the chef told us that he had been packed through most of the weekend's snowstorm. Dinner was great: started off with salumi and formaggi, moved on to canneloni, lobster fettuccine, and the osso bucco risotto special. The lobster and the the osso bucco were a steal at $25 each. The meal was topped off with a winning carrot cake (that featured "carrot dust") and a not so winning lemon cheesecake (slightly dry). Small complaints about the saltiness of the food and the temperature of the dining room (too cold) aside, I can't wait to go back.

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On my brother's recommendation, we dined here last night with our significant others. Being a beautiful evening, we requested patio seating and were seated on the half-full patio within a reasonable five minutes. Water, bread (four tiny slices), olive oil and balsamic arrived; we conversed and noshed on the tasty foccacia. When we flagged our waiter after his second pass by our table and kindly requested menus and a bit more bread, he obliged. We inquired about the specials and were given them, in rapid fire... it sounded like one kitchen sink of a dish with several proteins and a whole lot of risotto, perhaps some (too early for the season) asparagus. It took all four of us and a second (much slower) recital of the specials to have it down. I would joke, and later be pretty sure that our waiter was all hopped up on something...

Our order:

APPS

Baby Octopus app with olives and ceci beans

-very tasty, with tender octopi (who doesn't love this word?) black olives, tender (not from a can) ceci beans and a mop-worthy sauce

Bacon Wrapped Figs with mixed greenage

-The figs were quite lovely, although the bacon, which was either brown sugar or maple cured, was evocative of diner-style breakfast. The greens were fresh and dressed well.

ENTREES

Osso Buco with Porcini Mushroom Risotto

-my brother's: he had ordered this before and raved. he seemed to enjoy it very much. I did not try the veal, nor the risotto since my dish had the same one.

Rack of Lamb with Porcini Mushroom Risotto

-I ordered this Medium-Rare, to which my waiter replied "a man after my own heart," which made me foolishly hope that it might actually arrive as ordered. It did not. It wasn't a little over-cooked... it was well done, and not a moist well done. The risotto was also not very good... overcooked, yet also soupy... this rice had not been worked properly to release it's starch, and perhaps had some extra stock added to it (though not mixed in very well) just before plating. For the record, my brother's risotto looked *somewhat* better. Terrible plate of food. I ate two bites of rice, one bite of lamb, and cut the rack down the middle to expose the crime.

Fettuccine with Lobster and Spicy Tomato Sauce

-My girlfriend's dish. The pasta was housemade, thin and cooked nicely. The sauce was one-note, had no character or nuance. The Lobster made me cry. Half of a bug served in shell (which is okay) but cooked until DEAD DEAD DEAD. So overcooked, in fact, that it was difficult to separate meat from the shell, even though it was exposed.

House Lasagne

-My brother's fiancee's dish. She had ordered this before and enjoyed it, so ordered it again. Looked very satisfying, a healthy portion, and she verified it's goodness.

Overall, I felt like our waiter was oversat, although I never did see the upstairs dining room and have a hard time believing that he would have been given the entire patio as well as upstairs tables... He was inattentive, impolite, and moved so rapidly that he actually spilled the wine as his shaking hands poured it... and did a fly-by "how are we enjoying?" at full trot, a good twelve feet from the table as he uttered the "-ing" in "enjoying." It is difficult to say whether the kitchen botched the Lamb and the Fettuccine or the server allowed it to DIE in the window. The lasagne and the osso buco would have survived that sort of abuse far better, being that they aren't temperature specific.

Not worth the money. Too bad, I had hoped for more.

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Got some take out the other night. Ordered the Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Sausages and the Chicken Saltimbocca with Prosciutto, Fontina Cheese, Roasted Potatoes and Escarole. Unfortunately, we were given the Chicken Marsala with Mushrooms, Roasted Potatoes and Fontina Cheese instead (sigh). Both dishes were just meh. There was some good flavor hiding there but it was really muted and thus tasted mostly bland. They did have a delicious Caesar salad dressing! anyway, the sandwiches sound and look delicious, so i'll be back to give those a try.

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Has anyone been here lately? We're going to be right by there tonight, I can't walk terribly far at the moment, so it would be a good choice for dinner if the food's more like the earlier reviews and less like the last two reviews.

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With no replies, and other reviews online that sounded like the last two reviews, we opted for Johnny's Half Shell tonight instead. A little further walk, but not too bad, and I know the sauteed soft-shells and spoonbread were wonderful when I ate there a couple years ago.

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According to a sign at Schneider's register, there is free corkage at TC for wines bought at Schneider's, proof of purchase required.

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Not a bad lunch option, really, in a neighborhood that's really looking quite shiny these days.  I think the would-be broccoli rabe was in fact broccoli florets, but the requested sharp provolone was nice and sharp on my Toscana sandwich, which is their take on a roast pork Italiano.  The pork itself was a touch dry, and maybe an authentic panini would have been more crusty than soft, and Tony Luke's has nothing to fear, but the whole thing was pretty satisfying, and a good excuse to escape the office.

Even better, the arancini were crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside (mozzarella and some Bolognese), and only took a few minutes' wait.  $5 for three.

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