For awhile now, I’ve been walking by Cucina Toscana, and growing ever more curious. Its name translates as “Tuscan Kitchen,” and with Taiwanese owners, I wondered what their interpretation of Tuscany would be, exactly. If I’m honest, I wasn’t optimistic, mainly because I find Italian food outside of Italy to be disappointing (not that you can’t find some pretty atrocious plates there, too).
Finally, my curious mind could wait no longer; I invited my friend Heather to dinner, and told her we’d be going to Tuscany. In Richmond.
And how was it? Well, the food certainly wasn’t Tuscan, but that didn’t mean the food was bad. We actually quite enjoyed our meal!
Three dishes that typify Tuscan cuisine are ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and panzanella, all of which use stale bread as a main ingredient. Tuscans are infamously resourceful, and never waste leftover food.
Were any of these Tuscan classics on the Cucina Toscana menu? No (not that pappa al pomodoro would have been anyways, seeing as it’s a summer dish). As with most Italian restaurants outside of Italy, the dishes were a mix of various regions, and North American Italian classics: grilled asparagus with prosciutto; prosciutto with melon; Venetian chicken salad; steamed clams and mussels; various pesto sauce/white wine/tomato sauces; steak, lamb, chicken, and fish. There may not have been any bread-based dishes, but there also weren’t any pastas with alfredo sauce, which is important to note.
We had a small bottle of 2008 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva (Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG, Italy, $26), which was an easy, if not extraordinary, wine to drink with dinner (earthy, red cherry, raspberry, and light on tannins).
The eggplant was excellent – our first surprise of the evening. Four thick slices were arranged on the plate, drizzled with a balsamic reduction, and served with a small salad. The eggplant was soft but not mushy, well-seasoned, and the salad had a great, garlicky dressing. It was a simple, light, and tasty way to start.
For mains we ordered the fettuccine carbonara ($14) and the prosciutto and porcini mushroom risotto ($17). The carbonara had cream listed in the ingredients, so from the get-go I knew it wouldn’t be traditional (carbonara typically uses spaghetti and has olive oil, pancetta, garlic, eggs, and cheese), but generally speaking, cream is not a bad thing.
The pasta was another pleasant surprise. The noodles could have been sliiiightly more al dente, but they were by no means overcooked, and the creamy sauce with pancetta (Italian bacon) wanted for nothing. It was really satisfying to eat.
Our prosciutto and mushroom risotto also had beautiful flavours, though the texture was a little off. Risottos are made with various varieties of short grain rice (Arborio being a typical one), and while I’m not sure what kind of rice they use at Cucina Toscana, it was a little too soft by the time the dish was served. It needed more bite.
For dessert, we had panna cotta ($7,), which translates as ‘cooked milk,’ and can only be described as creamy jello. I know that sounds terribly off-putting, but trust me when I say it’s a classic and delicious Italian dessert! We also ordered the tiramisu ($8), which delightfully means as “to lift me up.”
Both were good, though not home-runs. The panna cotta needed to be a bit more set, but was still creamy and paired well with the blueberry sauce.
In some cases, it’s nice when ‘authentic’ things aren’t served. Why? Because then we’d have been eating castagnaccio, a fall/winter Tuscan dessert I’m convinced is made because it’s traditional, and not because anyone actually likes it.
It looks like a milk chocolate brownie, but it does not taste like one; this mixture of chestnut flour, olive oil, water, pine nuts, raisins, and raisins is barely sweet, sometimes bitter, and though I was served it a number of times while there, no one wanted to eat any, the Italians included!
Overall, I found that while Cucina Toscana was hardly Tuscan, it didn’t play directly into the clichés of so many other North American Italian restaurants. They seem to take care and pride in what they do, and it shows. The dining room was warm and tasteful, and our server was lovely.
I’ve already accepted I’ll have to return to Italy to get the ribollita and anolini in brodo I crave, so when eating Italian food here, I don’t hope for authenticity, just good quality. For the most part, the dishes we tried at Cucina Toscana were well done, and our experience was far better than I thought it would be!
Ciao ragazzi, ci vediamo domani….
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available