I’d heard mixed reports about Chef Jean Michel Jasserand’s standalone restaurant: great food, but too little of it; great food, but mediocre service; great food, but too expensive. Since the common denominator seemed to be great food, I thought it was well worth checking out. A year or so ago, I’d had the pleasure of dining at the Jasserand home; I’d also been a satisfied diner at the Leela Palace when he was executive chef there almost a decade ago. I arrived at Toscano with preconceived notions: the food would be good, the ambience casual with a dash of chi chi, the prices exorbitant for the quantity served.
The first time I dined there, however, I didn’t get much of a chance to test these notions. I simply stuffed myself silly. I began with a Tomato and aged Parmesan tart, opted for a pizza as a main course, ate almost the entire thing, and followed it up with an excellent apple crumble. Since I didn’t pay the bill, and wasn’t really there for the food but for a meeting, I didn’t pay close attention to the food. All that registered was the fact that the pizza was outstanding, and the fact that the fourth floor open terrazza of UB City is a more than agreeable place to lunch and people-watch.
Back for Seconds
My second meal was more focused. Vegetarian friend in tow, I was there to eat, drink… and take photographs. Economic downturn or not, at lunchtime on a weekday, Toscano is buzzing. There are two possible seating areas: the umbrella-shaded, patio-style tables out front, or the partially-covered “deck” at the rear. Having tried both, I prefer the deck for the slightly more intimate air it lends to a meal, and for the fact that it’s not as blindingly bright back there. If you’re at Toscano to be seen, though, definitely sit out front.
At first glance, Toscano’s menu seems limited. However, look at it for a little longer, and you’ll see that you’re spoiled for choice. In addition to the starters and salads, main courses, and desserts are daily blackboard specials. We decided to opt for their attractively priced three-course meal: you get to choose a starter, an entreé, and a dessert for Rs. 450 including tax (you could also skip the dessert and pay just Rs. 400, or simply order à la carte if all you want is an entreé and a dessert).
For starters, I chose a Greek salad, and my friend, Aparna, chose the Crisp Baked Fresh Tomato Tart. My salad was rather large, as you can see. I was impressed by the quality of the ingredients, the way they’d been mixed in perfect proportion, and – a touch of genius – the way figs had been incorporated seamlessly into this classical salad for a surprising and pleasing burst of flavor and texture.
I myself had tried the tomato tart on my previous visit, and Aparna confirmed that the base was still light and flaky, the tomatoes sweet, the topping of balsamic-dressed arugula and onion generous. Again, as you can see, the portion was very generous, and if you’re not a very heavy eater, all you have to do is pair this with a dessert for a satisfying lunch.
Done with our starters (I couldn’t finish mine), we moved on to our entreés: Grilled Red Snapper for me, and a Homemade Fettucine with Wild Mushroom Ragout and Thyme for Aparna.
The fish arrived nicely seared, on a bed of julienned veggies and roast baby potatoes redolent with olive oil. My first bite told me three things: that the fish was as fresh as it could be (for a landlocked city!); that it had been marinated long enough for the flavors to penetrate the meat; and that whoever was at the grill knew how to handle a fillet with TLC. Still moist and flaky, the snapper retained its flavor as well as its texture, and the simple vegetable accompaniment was the perfect complement. I recommend this dish very highly.
Aparna’s pasta was good, but not outstanding. She did remark on the fact that the proportion of mushroom to pasta was far more generous than she, as a vegetarian, is used to getting. The sauce was creamy but not too heavy, and was pleasing on the palate.
By now, both of us were full. Having already committed to the desserts, however, we bravely ploughed ahead. Her choice: a Cappuccino Brulee. Mine: Mango Pannacotta. Both desserts were very artistically presented. I don’t drink coffee, but she’s a coffee lover, so when she pronounced the brulee’s flavor to be “as good as a cup of South Indian coffee” I believed her. My pannacotta was just right – just enough gelatin to bring the baked cream together, not so much that it morphs into an opaque jello, and a burst of mango flavor that’s perfect for a summer day.
In addition to the meal, I drank a mocktail, Ginger and Mint Magic, which, frankly was awful – syrupy and neon green. If it was refreshing, it was only by virtue of its being ice cold. Toscano also serves liquor, for those who are interested.
Our bill came to less than Rs. 1200, which, considering the portions and the excellent quality of the food, I thought was a very good deal indeed… which lured me back to another lunch involved carpaccio, a rack of NZ lamb, a prosciutto pizza, and some Trappist ale. Suffice it to say I’m hooked.