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Tosca, Chef Riccardo Rinaldi's Northern Italian Cuisine and Homemade Pastas at 11th and F Streets Downtown

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i searched and to no avail, much to my chagrinning consternation. or perhaps my grasp of operating machinery lacks something, a certain finesse, predictedly ending in, how the french say, a certain cul de sac. enough of this tomfoolery.

if for no other reason, go to tosca and order the tomato marmelade tart with ricotta basil gelato and basil syrup. the disc of pastry, baked to a golden hue recalling the skin tones of the snug decaying descendents of aristocrats who play their life away beneath the long dead still mediterreanean sun in nice and monaco, crackles at the slightest pressure, as your fork oozes through the tranquil carmine pond of tomato marmelade, marmelade whose very flavor completely obfuscates the taste buds: it is sweet, yes, but not sugar sweet, but still not raw sliced tomate sweet and anything but acidic; the verdant quenelle of gelato haunts with ricotta's fresh whey-ness yet tempers the aggressive and volatile source of this faintly sweet soft emerald gem, the basil. it is like no dessert and yet, it is the apotheosis of simple desserts: seasonal fruit tart, with an appropiate accoutrementing creaminess.

ive not had my fix this year and this changes. this changes tonight. you owe it to yourself to have this dessert. really you do.

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[Posted on eGullet 2003-2004]

Can there be a more satisfying meal than enjoying the handmade pastas at the bar at Tosca with some vino?

Last week I sauntered into the bar, only to run into the great sommelier Kathy Morgan who recommended some small courses for me to try, and matched them seamlessly with a well-priced bottle of Dolcetto d'Alba.

Grilled Mediterranean octopus with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms and a creamy sea urchin sauce was elegantly urchined, with the chanterelles hiding amongst the fork-tender octopus like little chameleons on a leaf. This was a fine dish, but nothing - nothing - could have prepared me for the two pasta courses that came next.

A little-known secret is that Tosca offers half-orders of their pastas while sitting at the bar, and this brings the price down to the $8-11 range for what are simply some of the greatest pasta dishes I have ever eaten. Please read the following aloud five times: Pillow-shaped braised duck ravioli with foie gras sauce. Pasta, and food in general, does not get any better than this dish. It was the kind of dish you bite into and you can't believe it's so good, and then you look down at your plate and see that there's an entire order left sitting in front of you, and you feel like a sexless man who just walked into a harem (p.s. here's a great definition of "Expert": a guy who knows 100 ways to make love but doesn't know any women.) And then the next dish, while not as elaborate, was every bit its equal - Kathy told me that they had some papardalle left from midday, and that they could make it in a Bolognese sauce (it was not on the regular menu, but apparently they feature the Bolognese sauce several times a week). You might not think to get something this simple after sloughing all the way to 11th and F Streets, but you should think again. I just can't imagine anything that's any better than this.

And the dessert! No way I wasn't going to order the Organic tomato marmalade sweet tart with ricotta-basil gelato and basil syrup (doesn't that "read" really well?) Well, thank goodnesss I did, because it was one of the best desserts I've had in a long, long time. It was a work of art on the plate, looking like a little pizza with the tomato marmalade spread on the tart, topped with the ricotta and basil leaves, surrounded by blueberries (trust me, they worked here) looking like little olives. The tragedy is that it is now September, the chef is back from a brief vacation, and almost surely this dish will be coming off the menu because the tomatoes will soon be gone, but if it's there, order it, order it, and the stars will align and everything will be right with the world.

Pasta. Tosca. Think of the two words together, always.

Rocks.

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Had a nice but FAST Restaurant Week dinner a Tosca tonight. Arrived at 8:20 for an 8:30 reservation and was out the door at 9:30. They were turning and burning the tables tonight.

That said, they do offer their entire menu and even give you some flexibility in choosing a pasta for your appetizer or your main or even for both courses if you are so inclined.

The risotto with smoked scamorza, figs and rosemary. This reminded me a of an eposide of Frasier where Gil the food critic described something as a "fromaggian delight" and Martin said, "Yeah. Cheesy." But the fig made it something more than cheesy. The subtle sweetness cut through and complemented the strong cheese flavor from the saucy risotto and the pieces of barely melted cheese scattered througout.

The raviolis we both had as appetizers - a ricotta and raisin in a butter sage sauce and a veal and spinach in red wine and butter sauce were both as rich and as refined as pasta can be. Neither of these are some southern Italian peasant dish.

Only a penne with crab and olives in a red pepper olive oil sauce underwhelmed. Too subtle, almost bland, but at the same time too many flavors competing with the crab, which should be the star of the dish.

Jenrus' dessert was a watermelon granita that was simple - a little too simple? Maybe. On the other hand, the strudel of blueberries and peach with vanilla gelato was summery and more imprtantly, didn't feel like a dish they created for Restaurant Week, but a dish they created because it was in season.

I want to return to Tosca when it isn't Restaurant Week. I want to savor the full effect of this place. And I'm not sure you can do that in an hour and ten minutes.

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I went on Thursday night for a solo dinner while Mr. BLB worked late.

I was in and out in an hour. Felt slightly rushed but not too badly. It was still early and all the tables weren't full yet.

I started with the grilled octopus with chantrelles and creamy urchin sauce--good but I thought they were a bit overdone.

Next was the ravioli with veal and spinach. Wow! Lick the plate good.

Dessert was the tiramisu. Lovely and just what I wanted. (And the reason I opted for dinner at Tosca over Dino's ultimately--I needed chocolate!)

No wine--too hot -- althought I was impressed by the wine list.

I need to plan a return trip when it's a bit cooler and I can indulge more fully in the pastas and wines.

Jennifer

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Just another voice of praise for Tosca's pastas. You may think the appeal of great pastas is limited to cold, wintry days when one longs to be nourished by butter and starch; yet no soul of true pasta lover can be left unperturbed with what Tosca churns out.

A week ago a friend and I hit Tosca on a Saturday night. Many details are now hazy in mind thanks to excellent wine suggestions of Darling Kathy Morgan and demolition-derby Restaurant Week, but I keep swooning to the memories of ricotta ravioli with sage, butter and raisins shamelessly pilfered from my friend's plate, and my very own rabbit pasta concoction.

I can't wait for the fall and winter. I can't wait to have a miserable, long, painfull practice full of falls on cold ice - so that I can walk my bruised bottom into Tosca's door, settle comfortably on a barstool, and cheer myself up with fantastic pasta.

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We're heading tonight to Tosca. I'm a rookie but my husband has been for lunches previously. Most of the recent comments are from Restaurant Week visits. Was the full menu available or should I expect different offerings this evening? All suggestions are appreicated.

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We're heading tonight to Tosca.  I'm a rookie but my husband has been for lunches previously.  Most of the recent comments are from Restaurant Week visits.  Was the full menu available or should I expect different offerings this evening?  All suggestions are appreicated.

The full menu as available during restaurant week, although I'm sure they vary the offerings week to week.

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My husband and I greatly enjoyed our dinner last night at Tosca. We decided to give the tasting menu and wine parings a try....and I'm REALLY glad we did! Our reservation was at 7:00 and the dining room was fairly quiet and uncrowded. When we left at 9:30, almost every table was filled but it never seemed loud or frenzied. Service was terrific; attentive but unhurried. For me it was an evening of revelations and appreciation. My husband and I enjoy wine, but are by no means aficionados. The wine parings were a real treat and certainly helped to expand my appreciation of the art of matching dishes with particular wines.

"MENU DEL DEGUSTAZIONE" with wine tasting

Carpaccio di tonno delle Hawai con caviale osetra, melanzane, olive e salsa ai capperi

Ahi tuna carpaccio with Osetra caviar, eggplant caviar, olives and caper sauce

Sauvignon Blanc - Livio Felluga 2003

I've been on a tuna kick all summer. Tartar, sashimi and now carpaccio. I'm glad I saved the carpaccio for last....because it was by far the best of the past few months.

'Cannelloni' d'ostriche e portobello al Parmigiano, salsa ai ricci di mare

Wellfleet oysters 'cannelloni' with portobello mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, sea urchin sauce

Riesling - G.D. Vajra "Langhe Bianco" 2003

The Riesling arrived slightly before the oysters. I took a quick sip and "Parmesan cheese" popped into my brain. It was a definite "ah ha!" moment for me. And then presented to me are the oysters with mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. It was my moment of true revelation and appreciation for skill it takes to perfectly pair a wine with a food. Sadly, Wine Director Kathy Morgan was out of the restaurant last night so I couldn't properly express my appreciation of her skill. I wanted to be sure and note it here.

Raviolo 'aperto' all'aragosta del Maine con porri, uova di quaglia e salsa al fegato d'anatra

Free style 'open' raviolo with roasted Maine lobster, leeks, quail egg and foie gras sauce

Sangiovese Rosato- Castello di Ama 2004

I was a bit disappointed that the tasting menu only had one pasta. Oh but what a pasta it was! A huge bowl-sized ravioli with a perfectly cooked lobster claw and the most incredibly rich foie gras sauce. My mouth is watering just with the memory.

Risotto alle spugnole e piselli, con molecche della baia

Risotto of morel mushrooms and green peas, with sautéed local soft shell crab $ 28

Pinot Noir - Alois Lageder "Krafuss" 2001 $17.00

Here was appreciation and revelation #2 for the evening. I'm just not a big green pea fan in general. But combined with morels and risotto? Really, how bad and green pea-ish could it be. I tried the first bite....hmmmm....pretty tasty. I ate a bite of the perfectly sauteed soft shell crab and then another bite of the risotto. All of a sudden, the dish was transformed. The two worked perfectly together. My green pea phobia melted away and I would have liked to lick the bowl clean! Wonderful.

Manzo Kobe in crosta di pane allo spek, ruchetta, purea di aglio novello e mandorle; salsa al tartufo nero

Roasted Kobe Beef with imported smoked prosciutto and bread crust, baby arugola, young garlic-almond puree; black truffle sauce

Sangiovese/Cabernet - San Polo "Mezzopane" 2001

By this point I'm stuffed. Luckily, the Kobe is just the right size and cooked to absolute medium-rare perfect. And the back truffle sauce was pretty darn amazing too.

Sfogliatina di pomodoro con gelato al basilico e ricotta, Sciroppo al basilico

Organic tomato marmelade sweet tart with ricotta-basil gelato and basil syrup

Moscadello di Montalcino - Castello Banfi "Florus" 2003

In the end, I think it was my pre-dinner obsessing with this dessert that convinced my husband that we should try the tasting menu last night. I eat tomatoes two meals a day this time of year. I couldn't wait to try this dessert...and I wasn't disappointed. The marmelade was sweet but the tomato flavors shone through. The tart would have been simply very good on its own. But with the addition of the ricotta-basil gelato, this dessert becomes genuinely excellent. Thanks to all who recommended it!

Since I didn't get to try as many pastas as I'd hoped last night, I think I'll have to head back VERY soon!

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our waiter was somewhat apologetic when he recommended the tomato tart with basil gelato for dessert, saying that it sounds weird to some people but it's really not. he didn't steer us wrong, but i had been hoping for a bolder tomato adventure. the marmalade is slightly chewy, like candy, and the tomato flavor is mild, with a hint of honey that is actually sugar. if there is cinammon in this, it morphs into something else. watermelon granita was loose, a bit too diluted, though an acceptable alternative to end a meal. (the best granita i have ever had was an experesso version at zuni cafe in san francisco that is layered with cream and turns syrupy and dense as it melts.)

prosciutto with cantaloupe, small tomato ravioli and a risotto smoky with mozzarella and sweetened by two thin slices of fig and a dribble or two of vinegar were the highlights of our meal. pork medallions were sausage accompanied by spinach and delicious scalloped potatoes. add eggs, and this would be great food for breakfast at the italian diner of your dreams.

we had sort of forgotten about tosca over the past several months, so it was good on our return to find it thriving and in top form. the dining room is a bit staged, reminiscent of what you might see in a typical 30s hollywood movie with dick powell or myrna loy trading wisecracks with the waiter, without the dancing. the servers here are polished; knowledgeable and serious about the food; and one, at least, is a born entertainer.

the menu is far too extensive to adequately explore in one meal, and we received an invitation to return on monday. dinner for two was $220, but there is a pre-theatre menu. the couple at the table next to us looked like they were coming in at about half that cost; two tables away they were going for double.

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I woke up this morning with a craving for the Organic tomato marmalade sweet tart with ricotta-basil gelato and basil syrup. The sommeiller at Tosca told me she would get me the recipe last year and e-mail it to me. Iam still waiting... :lol:

Can anyone out there help in acquring this? I know they gave it out at the Arlington Farmers Market last summer, but I can't find it anywhere. Thanks all.

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Is the half-price pastas at the bar still in effect?  I'm thinking about going tomorrow before the U2 show...

Their pre-theater menu is amazing. I don't know if it's available at the bar, but before 7:00 pm, for $32 one can choose three courses - a pasta or salad, an entree and a dessert. And the choices come right off the regular menu. They will tell you that the portions are a bit smaller, but they are really ample. I recently had a chance to try out the silken crescents of braised goat and artichoke stuffed ravioli napped with a light fresh tomato sauce, followed by stuffed quail (same size as the regular menu - what are they gonna do, cut off a leg?) with mushrooms and kale in a black truffle sauce and finished up with the above mentioned tomato marmalade tarte with ricotta basil gelatto and basil puree. Washed down with a couple of glasses of Pinot Nero recommended by the knowledgeable waiter, and out the door in time for the show. And yes, Chef Lanfranconi was there, in person, toiling in the kitchen. It's not just the price that's amazing, the service, the wine list, the fresh ingredients, the plating, everything was top-notch.

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Is the half-price pastas at the bar still in effect?  I'm thinking about going tomorrow before the U2 show...

Not half-price pastas; half portions (for half price). Good both at the bar and at the table. Highly recommended!

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I had a very pleasant meal at Tosca last night at the bar, a great place to have a solo meal and read a brief (so as to not feel guilty about leaving work early). As per Don's suggestion, I went with the half-portions of pasta. What a great deal, especially for someone like me who prefers small plates over entrees. I started with the "squash gnocchi dumplings with melted, truffled imported fontina cheese sauce," which actually reminded me a lot of the richotta canardeli I had last week at Palena (probably because both are Italian dumplings?). The truffled cheese sauce was a perfect compliment to the squash dumplings, and the chives (I think?) sprinkled on top were great. I then ordered the lobster risotto, which was an extremely generous portion (I can't imagine eating the full portion). The dish was rich and really tasty, and the risotto was perfectly cooked. Way too full for dessert, but maybe next time.

It is a very elegant experience overall without being too stuffy (a feeling I have about the main dining room). The bartenders are friendly and the bread and olives are fantastic.

My husband works in the building and I told him that if this place was in MY building, I would definitely come down here on a regular basis for a relaxing meal without breaking the bank. (Hell, I don't work too far away so I will definitely file this place away for when he is working late.)

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Dora, did you notice if there was a "white truffle" tasting menu listed? I believe imports have started and Tosca has offered the menu in past years. Thanks in advance. -Gary

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Dora, did you notice if there was a "white truffle" tasting menu listed? I believe imports have started and Tosca has offered the menu in past years. Thanks in advance. -Gary

Hey Gary-- I don't know about the "tasting menu" per se, but the "white truffles" are in. The bartender informed me of a white truffle risotto ($70/$40, for half portion, I think) or a white truffle fettucine ($60). They come out and shave the truffles right on top (the woman next to me got the fettucine version).

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[Off topic - Equinox is offering white truffles. I will write about the meal I had there recently-which sadly did not include truffles-soon.]

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Last October I had an amazing White Truffle dinner at Tosca. It was primarily a wine dinner, but a number of white truffles sacrificed themselves for the cause. Here is my write-up from one of the other boards:

Last night I enjoyed an amazing white truffle dinner at Tosca. It was primarily held to highlight some great Italian wines (plus a Champagne). The dinner was not as over-the-top as the five-hour fourteen-course Lab blowout. But the food was just as memorable.

The night started with passed hors d'oeuvres and free flowing 1990 Charbaut Tete de Cuvee Champagne. The first bit of food to come around was a truffled veal tartare crostini. It was chopped veal, cracked black pepper, with white truffle oil and topped with shaving of white truffle. This was quite a way to start the evening. It was complex and very aromatic. The next morsel to come by was a fried truffled salted cod fritters. These were quite good, light and airy, and packed with cod flavor. These were also topped with white truffle shavings. The final treat to come by was fontina and sweet onion flan. I would call this custard rather than a flan, but amazing none the less. It was served in ceramic soupspoons, and again topped with shaved white truffles. The flan was a delightful mix of sweet onion, and a hint of cheese for body. The custard portion was perfectly prepared to be creamy, with no graininess. The Charbaut Tete Cuvee is wonderful champagne; it has a medium straw color, and a slight honeyed flavor, but not too much so.

The first course that we were served at the table was the classic scrambled eggs with truffles. Tosca’s version consisted of creamy scrambled eggs, layered into the shell with a castelmagno cheese fonduta, and then topped with crispy prosciutto and of course shaved white truffle on top. This was as good as Donna’s version of this classic preparation. I could eat this for breakfast every morning for the rest of my life and never get sick of it, with or without the truffle. The wine was a ’97 Rubino della Palazzola Super Tuscan blend of Merlot and Cabernet. It was a lively wine with a fruity nose and cherry palate. It was a very nice match for the eggs.

The second course was a chestnut soup with porcini mushrooms and roasted foie gras. This was a nice soup, creamy, and rich, the bowl also contained whole chestnuts, and was topped with generous amounts of white truffles that were shaved right at the table by Cesare, the chef. This was a good soup, but it needed a little sweetness to make it a great soup. All of the other elements were perfect; it just needed that little push to take it over the edge. It was wine for this was the ’97 Luce. On its own this wine was weak and very uninspiring, as most Mondavi wines have unfortunately become, however, with the soup it came to life and showed itself to be a very nice wine.

The chef left the room after blanketing everyone’s soup with truffles by saying, “I am off to make the risotto”, and so he was. When he returned it was with dishes of perfectly cooked Alba truffle risotto. The rice was tender, but not overly so, and had a creamy body, and a scattering of walnuts. Again the chef, this time joined by his partner Paolo covered by generous amounts of white truffles shaved tableside. The only issue I have with this dish is that I cannot eat it every night. It was so creamy, and rich, but not overpoweringly so. This course was served with two great wines, the ’97 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino and the ’97 Banfi Poggio alle Murra. Both wines need four or five more years until they are ready, but they were both quite good, and were stark contrasts to one another. The La Poderina was a fruity wine, with lots of currants and cherry flavors. It has a smooth body, but you can tell that there is more to come. The Banfi was earthy on the nose and a little austere on its own, but opened-up delightfully so with the risotto. Parker wrote, “this wine lacks heart and soul”, and on its own, I would agree with him, too bad he did not have it with Cesare’s risotto.

The meat course was roasted Waygu beef with cardoons stew, truffled potato and Barolo sauce. Too bad I was so full by this point. The beef was perfectly seared on the outside and delightfully rare, but not raw on the inside. The pieces were sliced thin, and fanned above a dab of flavorful potato puree seasoned with truffle oil. One of the reasons that I so looked forward to this dish was to finally get a chance to try cardoons. I have never found them anywhere else, and I was not disappointed. Cardoons are a close relative of the artichoke, and they tasted like it, but they also had a hint of Vidalia onion flavor. I will look forward to eating them again in the future. Like the previous dishes this was covered with generous shavings of white truffles done tableside. Two wines were served with this dish. The first wine was an earthy ’97 Parusso Mariondino Barolo that also had a nice balanced structure and spice, black cherry and smoke. This wine needs another five to seven years before it is ready. The other wine was the ’97 Corino Barolo Vigneto Rocche. It was an extracted fruity wine, which matched perfectly with the beef and the truffles.

The final course was a cheese plate. It was head and shoulders above wheat we had gotten at the Lab blowout. It contained four pieces of cheese, some greens and bits of fruit preserved in syrup. The offerings were a fresh fig stuffed with Gorgonzola and roasted and then topped with aged Balsamico, a piece of Parmesan topped drizzled with truffle honey, an earthy washed rind cheese, and a soft cheese. Sorry, I did not get the names of the last two cheeses, I wish I had, they were marvelous. We enjoyed a glass of ’99 Allegrini Amorone with this course. The wine shows signs that it is going to be heaven in a bottle, but it still has many years to go until it is ready, and will be well deserving of the 95 points that Parker has bestowed upon it.

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My boss and I just got back from a nice lunch at Tosca. Given it's a federal holiday, the restaurant was pretty empty, service was very attentive, and food came quickly.

We each had the ridicchio and pear salad. The candied walnuts were a nice touch. The gorgonzola wasn't nearly strong enough, but I'm a huge stinky cheese fan, so the bar is kinda high for me. One odd item, however, was what was unmistakenly a canned pear. I'm a huge pear eater in the fall, and it seemed strange to have a canned pear during pear season. Not bad, mind you, but a little strange for Tosca.

I had the duck confit ravioli with foie gras sauce. This is one seriously addictive lunch pasta. Really good. Bossman had the leek soup which looked a little pasty. He ended up leaving half of it.

Dessert for me was the apple tart (a winner) and chocolate semifreddo for the boss. He enjoyed it.

Nice leisure lunch before we knock off early today. :lol:

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Ooh, I feel a compare-and-contrast coming on. Tosca's duck confit ravioli vs. Palena's duck raviolini, both with foie gras. :lol:

I had the duck confit ravioli with foie gras sauce. This is one seriously addictive lunch pasta.

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A January 2006 Restaurant Week Report: After experiencing 4 or 5 restaurant weeks in DC now, Tosca is the first place I've made a return visit to (during the promotion, that is). The reason: this has to be one of the greatest RW values out there. Like Corduroy, the only menu you're presented with is the special one, and everything is on it. You won't be treated any differently here because everyone is ordering from the same menu. In fact, only one item (the rack of veal) had an upcharge. The individual prices are listed for a la carte purposes, and I think the cheapest entree is $29. The individual prices for my three courses would have added up to $53 last night.

But on to the food. After a fantastic meal during the Summer '04 restaurant week, I was wondering if I'd be pressing my luck with another visit. I was not disappointed. In fact I used the "dine this week or miss out" aspect of the deal to lure some friends in who would otherwise never go, and they were most impressed.

Here's the menu: http://www.toscadc.com/Menu%20Page%202.htm

The list of appetizers is impressive. In addition to the simpler salads and soups, you'll find heartier fare like scallops and braised veal cheeks. And they'll let you take half orders of the pastas as your first course as well. My friend's delicious buckwheat tagliatelle was so rich and filling he could hardly finish the second course. I went with the veal cheeks and found myself wishing I were patient and competent enough to braise at home.

Tosca changes their menu a lot, and you'll almost never find the same things on there from season to season. However the one item that seems to remain is the mediterranean seabass with balasmic vinegar sabajon and pine nuts and raisins. On previous visits I shied away because I don't care for pine nuts and raisins, but last time I was there I had the pleasure of actually sampling the dish and knew I would enjoy it. The fish and almost sweet quality of the underlying sauces realy work well together. I will say that the portion size could have been a little bigger. I think I finished while my other friends were only half way through their entrees. The only other nitpick I had was the baked onion with gorgonzola that came with my companion's strip steak. It's a nice accent but became a little cloying by the end, since it was an entire half onion smothered in cheese. But to counter with a positive note, the other entree at the table, the swordfish puttanesca, contained probably the single most moist piece of fish I've ever tasted.

Desserts were a big hit, too. I fruity items in the dessert department so I went with the Meyer Lemon cake. Its velvety consistency and cheesecake-like texture kept my in the fruit realm but also gave me a taste of richer desserts. I was certainly scared by the description of the squash and apple strudel, but I sampled some and couldn't say a word against it. Kudos again to Tosca for once again bringing in unique ingredients to the dessert menu (like the tomato marmalade and basil gelatto) and making them work.

Service was quick, but we never felt rushed. Once dessert came, we took our time and the whole experience was pretty relaxing. And in closing I'll put in a plug for their pre-theater menu, which is pretty much the same three course deal for $32. The menu is only slightly smaller. I'm already thinking about going back to delve deep into the pastas.

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Tosca is always one of my favorite places for RW because they offer up almost the whole menu and I don't think the quality suffers unlike some other places. The friend I had dinner with commented that the interior resembled a cruise ship, lots of old people, kinda stuffy, but I'm only focused on food when I'm there so it doesn't really bother me.

Thanks to the Doctor for picking out the good stuff on the menu already. Loved the swordfish, and the squash and apple strudel. But I hear Cesare is going or gone so don't know what will happen after that....

Edited by gnatharobed

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But I hear Cesare is going or gone so don't know what will happen after that....

No!!! Will somebody please come forward with the dish? Edited by crackers

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