Tag Archives: italian

Toscana Ristorante Italiano

Restaurant: Toscana Ristorante Italiano
Locations: 6401 Morrison Boulevard (in Specialty Shops at the Park)
Website: http://www.toscana-ristorante.net/
Dress: Nice Casual
Cuisine: Italian
Price Range:

  • Appetizers: $7-11
  • Lunch: $5-17
  • Pasta: $15-19
  • Meat / Seafood Entrées: $18-29

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

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.

Penne All’Emiliana

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.

Rigatoni Buttera

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.

Chocolate Mousse

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!


Fiamma Restaurant

Restaurant: Fiamma Restaurant
Locations: 2418 Park Road
Website: Fiamma Restaurant
Dress: Nice-casual
Cuisine: Italian
Price Range:

  • Appetizers: $7.50-9.75
  • Entrées: $7.50-26.50

Rating: 0 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

I just need to vent for a moment. We’ve all had terrible restaurant experiences, right? The hair in the food, the rude employee, the outrageous check — there are plenty of things that can ruin an experience. I can roll with many a punch, but I want to share with you, as fellow consumers, how we were treated at Fiamma. Once you’re armed with the information, you can make the best choice about whether or not to patronize the restaurant.

Mike and I have been meaning to visit Fiamma since last year. We wanted to go during Charlotte Restaurant Week, but plans fell through. Since then, the somewhat expensive restaurant has simply never been at the top of our list. My very sweet roommate, knowing that I wanted to visit, gave me a generous sum and made a reservation for my birthday. I was beyond excited.

When Mike and I arrived at the restaurant, we were seated and given water and some absolutely delicious pesto. It was rich and drowned in flavorful olive oil. I was so excited about the meal to come, because surely, based on this tiny taste, it would be phenomenal. Well, unfortunately, we never ate another bite. Nor got drinks. Nor, apparently, even had a waitress. Let me explain.

Fiamma's Breadsticks and Pesto

The only morsel to pass through our lips at Fiamma: Breadsticks and Pesto

After we got our water, we were trying desperately not to fill up on the pesto, but no one seemed to be coming to take our drink order, much less our meal order. We waited. And waited. And waited. The two girls seated behind us, who were obviously in the same boat, finally flagged down a waitress and requested that someone serve them. She apologized, and we thought the oversight would be taken care of. So we waited. And waited. Plenty of employees were milling about, but apparently none of them were waiters? Perhaps they were simply restaurant props? A mirage produced by hunger? Who knows.

Finally, the host walked back and asked, sensing the problem, “Have you been waited on yet?” We told him no, relieved that the oversight would be taken care of. So we waited. And waited. And . . . you get the idea. The waitress did eventually come over, looking quite huffy (I think she was the only one waiting all those tables and, frankly, I’d be huffy too, though perhaps that doesn’t excuse it), and asked if we’d heard the specials. She quickly described them. I was about to cry out, “We know what we want! Here’s our order!” but her manner made it clear she was not our waitress and was only there to inform us. She left quickly. And no one else came!

Finally, I was feeling disappointed and Mike and I were both very annoyed. Mike walked over to the kitchen, unsure of where the waiters could be hiding, and said, “Can someone please take our order?” I hate having to press someone to serve me at a restaurant, though, because it makes me feel quite unwelcome. I collected my purse and we left. It was a struggle to find some other nice place to eat my birthday dinner with no reservation.

Everyone has their bad days, and perhaps Fiamma is en pointe all of the other 364 days of the year. My sister quite enjoyed a dinner she once ate there, and as I mentioned, they have great . . . uh . . . pesto. All I know is after my own ridiculous experience, I don’t feel comfortable giving them any spoons at all, and I won’t be giving them another chance to ruin my evening.

Okay, spill it! What’s your worst restaurant story? Whether you name names or not, tell us about a bad experience you’ve had. Or have you tried Fiamma and want to recount a similar or different experience? Share by clicking on the “Comments” link!

Mama Ricotta’s BONUS!

It’s your lucky day, Charlotte Spooners! Mike and I went back to Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant after our first delicious experience, and I want to tell you about my newest tasty discoveries. If you can believe it, our second trip was even more satisfying than the first!

For this meal, we started with an interesting appetizer: 1853 Mama Ricotta Chips. The menu says these crisp delights were “inspired by the first potato chip on record.” They’re freshly made, thin potato chips with crumbled gorgonzola cheese, rosemary, and sea salt. When I took my first bite, I was a tad disappointed because it sure didn’t compare to the Warm Goat Cheese and Mascarpone Dip we had last time. As I continued chomping, however, these crispy treats really grew on me. They come out piping hot with a rustic taste, and the cheese and herbs have a fresh flavor.

1853 Mama Ricotta Chips
1853 Mama Ricotta Chips

While the appetizer was a bit tame (but still good!), we sure spiced things up quickly! I chose the absolutely out-of-this-world Penne Alla Vodka for my entrée. I was hesitant to order it because it sounded too simple to be amazing, but I’m glad I took the risk. The picture can’t possibly hint at the flavor packed into these little penne pastas. Bits of sautéed pancetta (a.k.a. heaven!) are nestled among the noodles and the dish is covered in a “pepper vodka, spicy tomato cream sauce.” The slight spice, indulgent pancetta, and bold but smooth tomato flavor really impressed me!

Mama Ricotta's Penne Alla Vodka
Mama Ricotta’s Penne Alla Vodka

Despite how fantastic my entrée was, I can’t decide if it was better than Mike’s — which just goes to show you how consistently exceptional the Mama Ricotta’s kitchen is. Mike chose a non-pasta dish, Pollo Bianco, which is described on the menu as, “Scallopini-style chicken layered with prosciutto and mozzarella in a Chianti wild mushroom sauce.” Scallopini-style refers to the chicken breast being thinly sliced. This dish offered the same comfort as mom’s warm meatloaf and mashed potatoes while substituting more sophisticated flavors: the Chianti wild mushroom sauce was savory, herby, and delicious. The chicken, prosciutto, and mushroom combination offered a perfect blend of textures and flavor. Adding to the warm comfort food appeal of this dish, grilled vegetables and creamy garlic mashed potatoes accompany the chicken (the potatoes are perfect for sopping!).

Mama Ricotta's Pollo Bianco
Mama Ricotta’s Pollo Bianco

Finally, and probably most importantly, Mama Ricotta’s scored big time with our amazing dessert, the Nutella Pie. You know Nutella — it’s that decadent, creamy hazelnut spread. This huge pie combines nutella hazelnut, chocolate, and dulce de leche on a graham cracker crust. Despite the super-sweet combination, the pie wasn’t cloying at all — rather, the nutty hazelnut and spicy graham cracker crust kept it grounded and rich. What it was, however, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had! Mike and I cleaned our plate, licked our forks, and sat back to enjoy the sugar coma. If (and when) you go to Mama Ricotta’s, don’t let this dessert pass you by!

Mama Ricotta's Nutella Pie
Mama Ricotta’s Nutella Pie

I hope you enjoyed this little Italian bonus, and I wouldn’t altogether rule out more “bonus” posts from this fantastic restaurant; Mike and I are gearing up to be regular customers.

Have you experienced the love of Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant? Did you visit after reading The Charlotte Spoon’s last review? HAVE YOU TRIED THE NUTELLA PIE? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.

Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant

Restaurant: Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant
Location: 601 South Kings Street
Website: http://www.mamaricottasrestaurant.com/
Dress: Nice casual
Cuisine: Italian
Price Range:

  • Brunch: $6-9
  • Lunch (sandwiches, salads, entrées, pizzas): $6-11
  • Dinner Appetizers and Salads: $6-10
  • Dinner Entrées: $10-23 (plenty of options in the $10-13 range)
Rating: 5 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

Mama Ricotta’s is one of the Queen City’s crown jewels. The service is warm and attentive, the atmosphere is charming and comfortable, and, most importantly, the food is expertly crafted and delicious. The unassuming little restaurant, tagged onto the corner of a hodgepodge strip of shops, is absolutely one of Charlotte’s best dining experiences. And in case you haven’t gotten the point yet: GO EAT THERE IMMEDIATELY.

Mike and I visited Mama Ricotta’s last night and had a fantastic meal. The first arrival at our table was a basket of six (generous!) hot, soft rolls. They had just a touch of garlic and herbs and we dipped them into a plate of warm olive oil with red pepper flakes. They were so good that I had two (okay, when all was said and done, maybe it was three). I should have been saving room for the rest of the insane amount of food we ordered, but what can I say! I’m not good at resisting temptation when it comes to garlic bread. At any rate, make sure to save some rolls for sopping up your pasta sauce later.

Mama Ricotta's garlic rolls
Mama Ricotta’s garlic rolls

For our appetizer, we chose the Warm Goat Cheese and Mascarpone Dip, which was luxurious and out-of-this-world delicious. Imagine hunks of fresh, creamy goat and mascarpone cheeses on a platter. Now imagine steaming tomato-basil sauce poured generously over that cheese and crisp grilled crostini for sopping it all up. I almost cried, it was so good. Mike was so ecstatic about it that I gave him my last crostini just to watch him sop with joy! It takes a special girlfriend to do something like that, Mike!

Mama Ricotta's Warm Goat Cheese and Mascarpone Dip
Mama Ricotta’s Warm Goat Cheese and Mascarpone Dip

Mike selected the Canneloni al Forno for his entrée and was very pleased. I love when entrées come to your table in the dish they were prepared in; it adds to the fresh, homemade feeling. Mike’s canneloni was stuffed with chicken, spinach, and ricotta cheese, baked in béchamel sauce and topped with tomato-basil sauce. It was a generous portion with a comforting and rich flavor. While tasting it (repeatedly . . . thanks Mike!), I found I wanted a little more standout flavor in there. Something to “pop,” or maybe even just a dash more salt to enhance the sweetness of the tomato. Something! But that might be because I ordered such a dynamic entrée myself.

Mama Ricotta's Canneloni al Forno
Mama Ricotta’s Canneloni al Forno

The star entrée at our table, in my opinion, was my Penne, Broccoli, and Chicken (although Mike liked his Canneloni better . . . typical). The penne was tossed with roasted chicken and broccoli in a lemon cream sauce. I was so impressed with this dish! At many restaurants pasta flavors seem to meld and muck together and you just get a general “tomato” or “cream” taste. Not so with my penne pasta. The perfect hint of lemon and garlic in the cream sauce made the pasta vibrant and bright; it almost dances in your mouth! The sauce had a light consistency to match its flavor.

Mama Ricotta's Penne, Broccoli, and Chicken
Mama Ricotta’s Penne, Broccoli, and Chicken

There were several dessert options that sounded amazing (a nutella pie with hazelnut and chocolate, a triple layered carrot cake with caramel, tiramisu) but we chose the Strawberry Cobbler. Like Mike’s canneloni, this arrived at our table in the ramekin in which it was baked, piping hot with a scoop of fresh mascarpone ice cream and a plump strawberry on top. The berries in the cobbler weren’t syrupy or sugary like they are at some restaurants, but baked to a soft sweetness. The crust on top was good but I wish there had been more of it to offset the fruit — maybe a wider, shallower ramekin? At any rate, the dessert was my second favorite part of the meal (after the fabulous appetizer!). I guess I have to note that Mike disagreed with me about the cobbler (not all of us can be experts with amazing taste). He thought it was too sweet. I wish he’d have told me this BEFORE I let him have the last few bites! Sometimes I’m TOO nice.

Mama Ricotta's Strawberry Cobbler
Mama Ricotta’s Strawberry Cobbler

Apart from the delicious food, the environment at Mama Ricotta’s is perfect for date night. Paintings of everything from pasta to an Italian street scene to a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam adorn the walls. Lighting is romantic-dinner dim, not can’t-see-your-date-even-if-you-squint dim. There’s a cute patio if you’re into dining al fresco. The menu also includes the option of eating family-style, where large dishes of your entrée of choice arrive at the table to be shared, making for a more intimate experience.

Service was another wonderful facet of our visit to Mama Ricotta’s. Our server detailed the drink and dinner specials (including the prices, which was appreciated — I hate it when they leave those off because of a mistaken assumption that mentioning cost is tacky or insulting) and was extremely prompt and friendly. She even labeled my take-out box with the dish and date. Now that’s service! Shout-out to Lindsay for making our meal a great experience!

With the amazing and generous Italian fare, the sophisticated atmosphere, and the attentive servers, you may assume that Mama Ricotta’s will cost you a pretty penny. In actuality, the prices are surprisingly reasonable! Many of the gourmet pasta options fall within the $10-13 range, and everything I tasted left me with no doubt that even the more expensive dishes are worth the price. In short, lovely Charlotte Spooners, Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant is one of the best places to spend your brunch, lunch, or dinner in Charlotte.

Have you experienced the love of Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant? What’s your favorite dish? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.