|Restaurant:||Toscana Ristorante Italiano|
|Locations:||6401 Morrison Boulevard (in Specialty Shops at the Park)|
|Rating:||4.5 out of 5 spoons|
Mike and I had our ten year anniversary just four days after my birthday, which gave us another chance to have a special night out after our infamous Fiamma incident. My sister suggested her favorite Italian restaurant in Charlotte: Toscana Ristorante Italiano. She told me it was a fine dining experience with a much more palatable price tag. Mike and I made our reservations, and after a really lovely dinner, we completely agree!
I feel a little like Toscana is a special secret. It’s tucked away in the middle of the Specialty Shops at the Park across from SouthPark Mall. Its quiet nook feels like a little cobblestone street, free of car traffic and bustle. If you’re an outdoor diner, there’s a gorgeous and comfortable patio where many customers were enjoying their dinner. As for us, we were seated indoors next to a bright, beautiful window on our right and a huge mural of the Italian countryside on our left. The restaurant feels so airy, relaxed, and light. Toscana describes it perfectly on their website: “Our romantic ambience feels just like a tranquil European courtyard that will enclose you with its old world elegance.”
While the atmosphere was lovely, you know what really made our evening after our Fiamma troubles a few days prior? The fact that our servers were so attentive, and that the manager was walking the front of the house, making sure each diner’s experience was perfection. We really felt welcome and taken care of the entire meal. A+!
Now, none of this would matter in the slightest if the food weren’t also impressive. Thankfully, it was impressive! Our first taste was crusty bread the server brought out with a traditional white bean salad. The salad was full of light flavors and drenched in delicious olive oil. Eating it while we were drenched in sunlight from the window was such a bright experience!
Bread and White Bean Salad
For my entrée, I chose the Penne All’Emiliana, described on the menu as, “Penne pasta with fresh asparagus, prosciutto, and parmesan cheese in a light cream sauce.” It was an exceptional plate of pasta right down to the leaf of basil that adorned the top. The flavor combination was light and perfect.
Mike ordered Rigatoni Buttera, described as, “Tubular pasta with sweet Italian sausage and peas, in a light cherry tomato cream sauce.” I’m typically not big on Italian sausage (I hate anise. I mean hate), but his dish was fantastic. The peas especially were wonderful in it; I love peas in pasta! I can’t quite decide, but I may have liked Mike’s meal even better than my own.
The portion sizes were perfect at Toscana for ordering either an appetizer or dessert. I doubt anyone is surprised, especially if you’ve seen my baking blog, that my sweet tooth won out! We ordered dessert. One thing I loved is that the server brought out the little crumb scraper to neaten the tablecloth between our dinner and dessert. It was just one more aspect that, indeed, made this feel like a fine dining experience without the price tag.
For dessert, Mike and I ordered a chocolate mousse that I’ve unfortunately forgotten the name of. The dessert menu on Toscana’s website is down, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to hunt for it when you visit if you’d like to try it. It wasn’t phenomenal, but was satisfying: rich and creamy, with a nice chocolate sauce.
In the end, for its welcoming and bright atmosphere, attentive service, and delicious Italian fare, Toscana gets 4.5 out of 5 spoons. Mike and I spent nearly all meal debating whether we loved Toscana or Mama Ricotta’s more. Mama Ricotta’s does have bolder flavors overall, but the atmosphere at Toscana’s is much nicer (the bright airiness, yes, but also the fact that it isn’t absolutely overrun during dinner!) We love both restaurants. I won’t even hesitate before recommending that you seek out this “special secret” or one of the sister restaurants listed on its website. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you been to Toscana, or one of its sister restaurants? Do you agree that it was a fine dining experience with a lower price tag? Have other ideas for top Italian restaurants in Charlotte? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comment” link below!