By Alex Horvath
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
To dine at Tuscany Ristorante on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa, one must first suspend any memory that this establishment is located in the same building that for years housed a McDonald's. It's not that difficult of a task. The walls inside and out have been painted to erase all memories of clowns and French fries, and the professional waitstaff perform well in the restaurant's white-table-cloth atmosphere. The mood now is of a rustic villa, complete with faux brick designs painted in the corners. The only remnants from the bad old days are the rusted iron gates that surrounded the kiddy playground. But plastic chairs and tables have been set up inside the gates for those who wish to dine alfresco, or at least al Cleveland Avenue. All traces of fatty meat and greasy fries have been eliminated, and what comes out of the kitchen these days is just very, very good Italian food.
My fiancée and I discovered Tuscany quite by accident, responding to a two-for-one meal ad from a coupon book. We had tried several other restaurants after she moved up from the East Bay, but none had compared to the really great restaurants in the Walnut Creek area. Not so with Tuscany, and we have been back more than a half-dozen times in the past year. Some of her favorites include the pollo al Milanese, breaded and pan-fried chicken in a sauce flavored with lemon, butter, Sauvignon Blanc and garlic ($18.95), and the vitello and gimberi, a dish of veal and prawns sauced with lemon, garlic and butter ($19.95).
I have often enjoyed the excellent fettuccini al pesto, bursting with the flavor of fresh basil and pine nuts ($13.95), the rack of lamb special (priced to market) and the lasagna al pesto ($13.95), which while heavy was probably perfectly fine; after reading the menu again, it was exactly as described, though my palette was hoping for a lighter meal. Each dinner comes with a choice of homemade soup of a spring mix. Fresh vegetables side dishes are always cooked al dente, and the wine list is extensive. After the initial McDonald's curse is broken, this is one of Santa Rosa's undiscovered treasures.
Tuscany Ristorante, 3381 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. Lunch, Monday-Friday; dinner daily. 707.521.1985.
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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.