Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Toscana Grill - Courthouse 1/23/2011

My future brother in law had a Groupon to this self-proclaimed "Eco-Friendly, Organic Italian Restaurant," so he decided to take me out to lunch. It is located in a development on Clarendon Boulevard that also houses the Velocity 5 Sportsbar and is located near the Ray's the Steaks and the AMC Courthouse movie theatre. Unfortunately, it isn't located directly on Clarendon Boulevard, so I spent approximately 10 minutes wandering through faux arcades and plazas with tessellated mosaic tiles before I finally managed to stumble upon it.

There were only two or three other parties dining there when I arrived and we were quickly seated. The menu was slightly confusing; select items had random codes attached to their descriptions. It took me a while for me to find the key before I was able to decipher that VG signified vegan, VT was merely vegetarian, OR was organic, GF was gluten free, and SPICY probably meant spicy (just a wild guess...it wasn't in the code key). So, it is one of those type of places...you know, those crunchy, granola ridden holes that caters to people wearing sandals and hemp and who are otherwise too stoned to care whether the vegetable-based, factory-processed proteins (probably shaped by the hands of sweatshop migrant labor) are underseasoned and overcooked. My expectations duly plummeted. Unfortunately, then the bread came.

The bread was tasteless, dry, and slightly stale. I tried dipping it in the olive oil, but because of the huge blot of balsamic vinegar floating in the middle of it, the olive flavor was completely masked by the tart fruitiness of the balsamic. I resorted to the butter. Things weren't looking good.

Luckily, the actual entrees were better. My dining companion ordered the eggplant parmigiana (GF, VG) while I ordered the Shrimp Risotto (SPICY), one of the least coded items on the menu. The shrimp risotto was surprisingly not bad. The rice was toothsome, the tomato sauce was not tinny, overly bright, or ketchupy, the shrimp was not rubbery. and it had a nice tart flavor with a little SPICY kick to it. It reminded me of jambalaya, actually, and while this is a dish far afield from the Tuscan hills, I enjoyed it.

I tried a bite of the eggplant parmigiana and was not similarly impressed. The eggplant was bland, the pasta was overcooked, and the sauce was rather heavy and unimpressive. I only had one bite though, so perhaps it develops in flavor if you leave it on the table for a while (like a fine Brunello developing in the glass...right?).

We had some extra cash on the Groupon left over, so we ordered a chocolate cake. It was ok. A little dry near the edges, but the chocolate had a decent, dark depth to it.

The service was fine. The waitress was nice and the water was refilled with a satisfactory frequency. I don't know if I would go out of my way to try this again...it seems like the deformed bastard child that would spring forth from an Olive Garden crossbreeding with a health food store in Berkeley, but I wouldn't write the place off. I had no regrets dining here.

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