The cuisine is awesome, and the menu is reasonably priced.
Trattoria Tosca has been on my to-do list since soon after it opened, but in this case, I was glad our magazine’s biweekly schedule encourages patience.
A number of commendable chefs have been associated with the two-year-old Tosca, but Head Chef Ian Gray has the makings of a prodigy. It has been quite some time since I’ve outright fawned, and over a pasta dish, no less. So, if this world has begun to make a cynic of you, my readers, make a pilgrimage to Tosca. The Ramp Orchetti alone is a small miracle.
We started off the evening with a glass of Rina Ianca Grillo Viognier ($9/$35). Tosca has a tidy selection of Italian wines, but as our server noted, Italian whites can be on the sharp side. This blend is mercifully mellow and dry, but has sufficient body to remain interesting. Furthermore, it makes fast friends with the Beet Carpaccio ($9), a playful dish of thinly sliced beets, pickled onions, arugula, pecorino romano, and avocado.
Many restaurants feature a seasonal dish of beets and arugula, and with the exception of overdoing the dressing, it’s almost impossible to fail. At Tosca, the beet “carpaccio” not only succeeds, but also sets a new standard. When sliced as thin as rose petals, even the humble root vegetable blooms—it becomes young and delicate, even sensual.
As an opera-lover, I was tempted to pepper this article with references to this trattoria’s vengeful namesake, but after dining there, I’m already drifting hopelessly, and rather romantically, in the direction of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Ah, well—Gray has made a rose from a root cellar; I must make a Wagner of a Puccini.
I’ve already referenced the Ramp Orchetti ($10/$19), but it is worthy of far more than a brief introduction. Gray actually featured this very dish on KARE 11. The basic recipe can be found online through the station’s website. The ingredients—a mix of mushrooms, peas, fava beans, ramp bulbs, and pecorino romano—suggest a healthy, relatively simple, garden pasta dish. That expectation is innocent enough, but deceptive all the same. The Ramp Orchetti is soft, warm, earthy, and uncommonly fragrant—more like a lover’s kiss than a food.
The Arugula Fettuccini ($6/$11) is fresh and vibrant, with a burst of lemon zest and black pepper. In all honesty, after the orchetti, it was difficult to give the fettuccini its full due. However, I very much appreciate the kitchen’s practicality in offering half-size pasta dishes. So often, you want to enjoy a pasta as well as a meat course, but with American-sized portions, it’s impossible to do justice to both. Here, one can, and better still, with a glass of Poggio Morino Vermentino ($7/$27), a surprisingly savory Italian white. Our server told me the front-of-house staff is looking forward to another training session on Italian wines, and what I wouldn’t give to be an invisible guest…the angels can still take their “share” after bottling, correct?
Both the Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay ($11/$42), and the Mocali I Piaggioni Rosso ($8/$31) are paired with the Pressed Chicken ($22) and the exquisite Brussels Sprouts ($7/10), which are treated to a garlic, shallot, and balsamic reduction. If you’re new to the intricacies of wine, and want to experience the vast difference a pairing can make, repeat this order. The red wine by itself was supple, dry, and fruity, but it brought a handsome smokiness out of the chicken that wasn’t there before. The chardonnay, on the other hand, skipped lightly past the rich pan sauce, the onion, the potatoes, and the carrots, and clung tightly to the flavor of the bird. This white also delivered the same intensity to the Brussels sprouts, finding inherent drama in the vegetable itself.
A light Amaretto Chocolate Custard ($8) and a small glass of port ($8) finished an unforgettable meal. It was only after our rapture began to subside that we noticed the restaurant was almost empty. Perhaps Tosca gets its rush only on the weekends, but even on a Thursday night, for the wonders coming from Gray’s kitchen, this restaurant should be packed. I am not the first food writer to gush, and the menu is reasonably priced.
Perhaps my dining partner discovered the restaurant’s Achilles’ heel: the lighting was too harsh for the hour. That’s the only fault we could find, and for that, Gray’s talents should earn Tosca a full pardon.
3415 W. 44th St., Mpls