Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trattoria Toscana

11686 Gravois Rd.
St. Louis Mo.


The Event:
Rarely do we have other people along for these reviews, it’s not a rule, we just don’t socialize a lot. However I’d been talking to Doug, my co-worker a lot about these things and he’s a big fan of the blog, even more so when I mention his name and toss a light-hearted insult at him. Somehow we agreed to meet up one Saturday evening and let our families get better acquainted. I suggested he find a place near his home in South County that he liked or had heard about. When he suggested this place he didn’t even remember its name, just that it had changed recently. So the deal was made, we found a day when neither of us were on call.  

The Place:
It used to be Frankie and Johnnies, then it was something else that didn’t last very long, now it is a new location for Trattoria Toscana, an established restaurant formerly in Affton.
So while the location was new, the staff and menu was not. I pre-screened the menu, gave the family a heads up and they did the same.
It’s located on Gravois, just north of the Lindbergh intersection, an area I was familiar with since I've passed right by it most days of my working life in suburban St. Louis.
We arrived promptly at six (maybe a couple of minutes late), the time we had made our reservations (recommended). Doug and his ladies, his wife Edith and twenty-something year old daughter Meredith were already there after having to drive a grueling three minutes from his home. Doug was finishing a Seven and Seven at the bar. He later commented that the drink was a bit on the weak side, more ‘seven’ than Seven and Seven. We were immediately shown our table in the back of the crowded and somewhat cramped dining area, next to a fireplace mantel. The room was very dark, the candle-lit tables were covered with starched white linen. The table had already been set up with napkins, silverware, baskets of bread, ice water in goblets and a shallow bowl of peppered olive oil for the bread. There were handsome black covered menus at each setting. I sat facing inward with Doug to my left and Angel to my right. Adam was on the other side of his mother, next to Meredith and then her mother.
Within a few moments a young lady with a delightful and somewhat exotic eastern European accent asked us about drinks. Angel and I ordered tea, Doug a diet Coke, Adam a regular Coke and the remaining ladies stuck with just water.
There was a wine list. I like wine but have learned that it is best not to get snockered while  reviewing a restaurant, and also aware that places like this charge premium prices for their wine, so I didn’t even bother opening it.
Opening conversation was a bit spotty. Id’ met Doug’s wife before at a cookout at his house, and felt quite comfortable around her. They, on the other hand, had never met Angel or Adam, so I was happy when Doug asked Angel about the dogs. Angel, Adam and I are all quite socially-ill-at-ease, but bring up a subject we are passionate about and we can get downright chatty.
The walls were painted a muted pink or pinkish hue, it was hard to be sure in the ambient darkness. The walls were decorated with a few simple paintings. Doug and I had noticed one especially, it was of the famous leaning tower in Pisa. It was noticeable because it presented a problem. Hung correctly the painting constantly looks like it needs to be straightened. 
Eventually we were asked for our orders. Easy for me since I’d checked out the menu earlier in the day. Angel and Adam had as well, I thought I knew what Angel would be ordering.
The place was indeed crowded, we’d struggle to find a parking spot, and now nearly all the tables were occupied. White shirts and black trousers were the uniform of the busy and ample staff.
The Food:
Me: Lobster Ravioli
Angel: Linguine Tuttomare
Adam: Filet Mignon
Doug: Chicken Marsala
Edith: Linguine alla Amy
Meredith: Cannelloni

Linguine Tuttomare
It was a diverse order. I’d picked the ravioli since it was comparatively light and had lobster. I’d assumed Angel would pick the tuttomare since it had shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and other disgusting forms of  sea slug. She orders this at Trattoria Giuseppe quite often.
The conversation sped up a little, the salads were delivered. We discussed Meredith’s job, she’s an overnight obstetrics nurse at a downtown hospital. I’m always fascinated by people who can reach inside other people for a living, it makes my job seem just that much nicer. Meredith is a striking, tall and confident young lady, much better looking than at least half her parents. On this evening she was soft spoken, polite and quite pleasant. She might be a hellion in her personal life for all I know, but here, with her parents present she was quite genteel. Her mother is a very Irish looking, fiery redhead, quick to laugh, with a mischievous gleam in her eyes and able to put Doug in his place with just a glance. She’s a third grade teacher’s aide, and quite a good one I imagine. She’s certified to teach but is quite happy with her current role of being the aide.
I knew the family to be close knit and you could see it with the interaction between this sampling. Doug has four more kids, all college age or slightly more, three still in college, spread out between Cape Girardeau, Warrensburg and Springfield Mo.
The salads were a little less than I expected. The other trattorias we’ve reviewed add things like olives and a sweet dressing to their house salads. This one was simple lettuce, onion and tomato with grated cheese and dressed with a subtle vinaigrette. There was nothing wrong with it, it was just a little less than I'd expected.
The bread was okay, simple thin sliced French bread. Adam didn’t care for it much. We did manage to go through quite a bit of it though.
Lobster Ravioli
The wait for the main courses was not long, or maybe it just seemed to go quickly because we were chatting. When we’re by ourselves the conversation dwindles between courses and the wait time can seem much longer than it really is.
It all  arrived at the same time, and the table went pretty quiet for a while. The pepper/grated cheese specialist came around and topped the plates to order.
My ravioli was perfect. I could taste the lobster in nearly every bite, the pasta was perfectly tender. The sauce looked a little funky orange, but tasted quite nice.
Adam shared some of his steak with his mother and me; it was quite tender and nicely cooked. They are very proud of their steaks here if the price is any indicator.
Angel said that unlike Giuseppe’s, Toscana used a red sauce for their tuttomare. Not that it was a bad thing, just different. She loved the fact that there was more seafood bits than in other places, and rated it as good or better than that at Giuseppe's.
Doug was quite satisfied with his chicken, he even made a point of eating at near-human speed, unlike the lunches where he saws through his food at star-nosed-mole rates of speed. Edith said that their son Charlie eats even faster. I remarked that I doubted it since certain laws of physics simply wouldn’t allow for that.
Edith also said her Linguine alla Amy, which included beef tips, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach was fine, but would probably order something else the next time, maybe some chicken. I had a feeling she was holding back on saying anything really negative since I was overtly writing down what she was telling me. She’s very sweet that way, but being nice just doesn’t get your blog shared around the interwebs.
Meredith said she loved the salad the best, and had nothing at all bad to say about the cannelloni. She may have been just being nice herself.
To my surprise and delight, the tea was very, very good. Angel disagreed saying it had too much ice in it. I didn't know how to respond to that. I hadn't noticed the ice problem, so I stuck with my own assessment that it was quite good, even the refills maintained the freshness.
Summary:
 No one had any significant gripes. The service was great, the ambiance was nice, the crowded dining area made for a steady buzz, but it was not noticeably too noisy.  The price, well that's another thing. This is no a pizzeria or a fast food joint. Doug grabbed the bill before I even knew it was headed our way. I felt bad about this since I hadn't really considered the price of what we ordered since we sort of budget for these things. Now I feel indebted, deeply indebted to Doug and either must reciprocate in kind, or start buying his lunches at work for the next several months. I added up the entrees alone and for the group of six, based on the pricing available online, that came in at about $116. This didn't include the drinks or a tip. For the three of us, we were more than half of that total, so let's just say we ate nearly seventy bucks worth of steak, clams and lobster with pasta.
Which puts it about even with Trattoria Giuseppe. Which means this is a pretty good place to eat, just not very often. The quality of the food was on par with Giuseppe, the service was as efficient also. The atmosphere, not so much. I smile at Giuseppe's simply because of its location and the old building it's in. Toscana has a newer, straighter building in a much higher trafficked area. So the differences are minor. Giuseppe comes out at every serving and greets each table. For little reasons like this, and not much more, I prefer Giuseppe over Toscana, but not by a very wide margin.



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