Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tosca Grille Fills a Niche & our tummies, but empties our wallets

We splurged and went to Tosca Grille. My husband and I are re-instituting 'date night' as a way to remember to really be together instead of falling into our habitual and antisocial reading-internet-surfing evenings. So to inaugurate date nights, we went to Tosca, which I've been so curious about since they opened in December. Ever since last summer, I've seen Chef Larry Schepici pacing the intersection of Broadway and Second Streets, watching over his new domain (Tosca joins Illium as Schepici territoire) like a restless papa bear watching over his bear-lets, and now all his hard work is paying off.

He's done a distinguished job renovating the interior of the building. It's warm but open and spacious, with dark wood floors and paneling and a bar and a pleasing aquarium. I didn't see into the "Victorian Ballroom," but it's nice to know an upscale space in Troy is available for people to host weddings and conferences. Tosca is going to be the place RPI takes its prospective profs to impress them, and it already seems to be the place lawyers are clinking their glasses. BUT: there is NOTHING vegetarian on this menu, except for salad appetizers. Nada. Zippo. I can swing it with fish just fine, but I was thinking of my friends who do not eat fish and picturing them destitute in the midst of Tosca's plenty. Really, it's 2007; every restaurant should at the very least have ONE vegetarian entree. My other hairy-armpitted hippie granola-eating gripe is that there wasn't much local produce emphasized on the menu, except for the Berkshire Farms pork rack and one dish with something called "Honey Bee Farms" wildflower honey. Tosca is a restaurant of the globalized age: there is Dover sole, flown in from Dover; chilled Wellfleet oysters; and Colorado lamb.

We started off on the entirely wrong foot when we were seated at a dirty table. We alerted the waitstaff to the issue, but they were noncomittal. I said we could easily wait until they re-set the table, but they sat us at the bar and we waited for 5 minutes or so. The restaurant was pleasantly full for a Thursday night, but it wasn't busting out at the seams, and while we waited we could see a couple of set empty tables available. Finally a woman came over and seated us at one of these tables and apologized for the wait.

I'll chalk that up to just new-restaurant syndrome.

The bread came but was just okay, and they only brought us two pieces. Considering we ended up paying $96 for dinner for two with a shared dessert and no beverages, they could have put out a basket.

The next annoying pretentious thing we noticed was that the menu, instead of printing prices as numbers, show them written out as letters. So instead of seeing $28 you see twenty-eight. Which makes it seem both more and less expensive, because your brain doesn't readily interpret letters as numbers and yet it looks a lot fancier and therefore costly, like fancy script or written-out dates on official documents.

The appetizers we got were good, chosen with difficulty from an impressive and hubristic list ranging from salads to Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Calamari. My "In-house Made Mozarella" with tomato and basil was pretty good, although I couldn't detect any specialness about the mozarella, and in fact I've had much better (more buttery, probably fattier) imported. My husband got the pear and gorgonzola salad, which was quite good; it came with bacon. Actual bacon, as in two strips of the stuff. On the menu it said 'pancetta' so I was picturing smallish bits of crispy ham, not *bacon.* But he gobbled it up.

My entree was swordfish, but only after I agonized over the Oceans Alive Best and Worst list of fish. However, as I've pointed out before, once I cancel out the fishes that are high in mercury (most shellfish) or PCBs, I'm left with only about three fish that I like: Atlantic salmon, freshwater trout, and catfish. Anyway basically nothing on this menu was ecologically friendly (and veal turns up in several dishes). Since I was going to sin anyway, I might as well enjoy myself, so I got the swordfish. Only later did I discover that it indeed is one of those fish that not only has high levels of mercury but is caught using environmentally unfriendly methods, at least internationally. I don't know where this swordfish came from. Click for a handy list of the mercury and environmental fish lists combined!!

It was good, though, mercury or not. In fact, it was cooked to perfection: not a minute too long or a minute too soon. Served with a nummy puddle of pesto sauce and "wilted greens with lobster and roasted corn cake." I totally polished off my meal, leaving not a crumb. Only now as I'm typing did it register that there was lobster in that cake thing. I mean the cake was good, but except for mild corn, and the intensely comforting knowledge that I'm eating carbs, nothing else really stood out to me. So overkill? Definitely. But good? Indeedy.

My husband's entree was excellent: Sirloin encrusted with Truffle and sage & c. Cooked exactly as he likes it and with a side of potatoes, it has probably been one of the best steaks I've seen him eat around here.

And for dessert we got cheesecake. Geez just recounting this meal I'm starting to get calorie guilt! The cheesecake part was good, but the cherries on top tasted like Robitussin.

So my verdict is that Tosca is a great thing for Troy. I'm not going back any time soon, mostly because my wallet and my belly need time to recuperate. And Tosca is not vegetarian-organic friendly, or particularly environmentally friendly. And to me, that's a health as well as a political issue, so I do take it seriously. But I'm going to get off my grandstand now.

Tosca is also now serving Sunday brunch with live jazz, 10-3. They're open Mon.-Sat. 5-10; reservations are recommended. Chef Larry Shepici used to be executive chef at Sargo's at Saratoga National Golf Club, among many other tony places. He's also won lots of impressive culinary awards. According to this web site, he gave a wine dinner at the James Beard house in 2005. Not bad, Troy.


Albany Jane said...

"hairy-armpitted hippie granola-eating gripe" he he. Good one.

It sounds pretty Italian, but that's crazy they don't have any vegetarian dishes. I mean, pasta - helloooo! Toss some veggies in there, and you're set!

Linda said...

We went there on Monday (in-laws in town who like trying out restaurants) and really liked it. The service was excellent - perhaps because it was on a Monday, although the place filled up. I asked if the gnocchi entree could be made vegetarian, and they put together a lovely gnocchi/vegetable creation. I think I'll request that they add it as a regular selection. The drinks were good (although the beer list was sad).