Chef Dan Butler steers Trolley Square’s Piccolina Toscana toward small-plate, sharing-style dining. Now, please pass the burrata.
(page 2 of 3)
Here’s the trick: Toscana’s redesign not only modernizes the restaurant, but places it squarely in Butler’s wheelhouse. An open-ended style of dining encourages much passing and sharing of food, a step toward the family-style dining Butler’s always envisioned. He also parked a massive new community table in front of the coolest of the restaurant’s new features, an open-view pastry station. Its only wall is a blackboard covered in script-written dessert recipes. Even artisanal pizzas, a Toscana cornerstone, are experiencing a huge revival.
After 20 years of building a loyal following, Butler was shrewd not to shake things up too drastically. His beloved pizzas and tortellini in sun-dried tomato cream sauce will likely be menu staples through the next dozen Toscana incarnations, and his dreams of Sunday suppers and affordable wine bottles are long-lasting charms.
The tapas are thus the biggest amendment to Toscana’s menu, and executive chef Robbie Jester’s kitchen packed most of them with enough flavor and personality to exceed their size. Piercing open Toscana’s burrata—a handspun mozzarella pouch filled with thickened cream—ignites the same visceral buzz one gets from cracking into crème brûlée. The oozing cream bled into a buttery, salty, beautiful puddle—a sauce, essentially, for shreds of roasted red pepper and the more fortified mozzarella.
If viscosity doesn’t get your motor running, there are other small plates to explore. Most new additions verged on the austere, though a few showed touches of finesse. (I’ll turn a blind eye for the moment to the short rib terrine with pickled pear.)
Most rustic was carciofini dorati, a humble Mediterranean sauté of artichokes, cipollini and mushrooms awash with sage, white wine and aged Pecorino. Humble though it may have been, the bubbling dish stood tall. I couldn’t say the same for butter-poached shrimp, which, though well-cooked, seemed camouflaged by tepid cannellini beans and cucumber bits.
Better ideas abound in Jester’s grilled octopus salad. A pop of garlic awakened a room temperature tangle of arugula and chunks of grilled octopus dressed in citrus. The fish itself was nicely tender, no easy task considering its potential to become chewy when cooked too much.
Page 3: Cultivating Comfort, continues...