At a time, many years ago, when the landscape of Italian restaurants in Los Angeles was, at best, desolate, Toscana stood out for the quality and authenticity of the food. Nearly two decades have passed and this Brentwood mainstay is still going strong. On a stretch of San Vicente Boulevard that has transformed itself into a sort of little Italy, so many are the Italian restaurants per square footage, Toscana is still the most discreet and doesn’t show any signs of aging.
As its name implies, the menu is inspired by the food of Tuscany, perfectly embodied by a Fiorentina bistecca, that gigantic slab of meat that is rarely found in restaurants. But, in truth, there are dishes from all over the peninsula, including pizza.
A couple of years ago, the owners opened Bar Toscana, just across the entrance to the main restaurant, a long, rectangular room very tastefully and minimally decorated in dark browns and white. My friend and I chose to sit at the bar counter, rather than at one of the small tables or ottomans, to better view the bartender in action. The list of cocktails is eclectic in names and ingredients, with very many drinks fruit or vegetable based but the bartender will accommodate any requests and, in my case, to make a Pimms’ cup as it was intended and not according to his interpretation.
Because I am immensely boring and just cannot resist a pizza if it’s on a menu, I ordered a Margherita with buffalo mozzarella and an artichoke and arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette. I love the simplicity of Italian salads, elegantly dressed with gentle vinaigrettes that emphasize good olive oil – nothing against fancy emulsions but I am too often left with a garlic aftertaste or else the fresh vegetables are completely disguised by the dressing. What best way to have arugula than with olive oil and lemon??
The pizza is airy: the wafer thin dough is so light it melts in your mouth. The tomato sauce is delicate to better carry the fresh buffalo mozzarella, gently pooling in the center. As soon as I swallowed the last morsel, I would have been ready to have another 12” pizza (I didn’t). If pressed to find any faults, I would have preferred my crust to be slightly more charred. Oh, and the astronomical $19 price tag is not completely justified.
In addition to any dishes from the restaurant proper, the bar offers a menu of appetizing small dishes at more affordable prices.
By 8 o’clock on a Wednesday night, the bar was packed – the crowd is the Westiders one would expect, adult, well dressed, i-Phones lined up on the counter. And everyone trapped West of the 405.