Observations from my first visit
Da Toscano marks Michael Toscano’s return to New York after closing Perla some half a decade ago. . . to the same address at 24 Minetta Lane. My visit came about a week or so since opening to the public. Affection and warmth fills the air as the restaurant buzzed with jubilant Perla regulars as well as fans of his days at Babbo and Manzo. Tables to the left and right spoke of their fond memories and rattled off to less-knowing guests about the chef’s restaurant curriculum vitae. These were certainly some informed diners!
Atmosphere and design: The blue ceiling, marble tabletops, velvet chairs and leather banquettes create a modern but cozy and comfy atmosphere. Even at full capacity, while there is definitely a noisy bustle, it is not overwhelming and I could carry on a conversation without full-on leaning across the table and I did not leave with a sore throat.
Menu: The Italian menu is modernized with dishes like roast oysters with crab fat (!) and bucatini with dried shrimp breadcrumbs. Some may have pangs of recognition in seeing squid ink linguine with rock shrimp, tomatoes and basil, and the quinto quarto section features offal dishes which the chef is known for.
Dishes: Warm bread with olive oil made its way to our table after we ordered. Simple and satisfying.
I love butter beans and so had to try them. The grilled treviso was smoky and woody; the cheese, balsamic and herbs all enhanced the creamy beans. It was an excellent dish.
We also had to try the polpette in tomato sauce. Not overly large, the pork meatball in tomato sauce was full of flavor and also very good. My husband also likes that you can order by the meatball so you can enjoy the dish, but not get filled up.
From the quinto quarto section, we ordered the chicken liver rossini which was a generous portion of pate adorned with a glazy beef cheek marmalade, black truffles and madeira. Deep, rich and flavorful, it was wonderful but I could not finish more than a quarter of it. It’s definitely something to share or to take home as I did, and enjoy little nibbles over a few days.
Of course, we had to get some pasta dishes. The orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe pesto was very good. The sausage was not in chunks but ground to be more fine, and hence more evenly coating the small ear-shaped pasta. The pickled cherry peppers were a nice counterpoint.
I had greater hopes for the spaghetti with lobster mezzalune, chili, garlic budding chives and scallion. It was good mind you, but the mix of spaghetti strands with half moons of pasta was a little challenging for me to eat. I’m not a great pasta twirler to begin with (yes, I use a spoon) and the larger pasta pieces would get caught which was oddly disconcerting. Also, I thought the chili and chive/scallion flavor was a bit at odds with the pasta. I later looked up to see if this spaghetti-mezzalune combo was common. I did not find much so this may be an original!
The desserts are worth more than a gander. The guest next to us ordered the mint chocolate blackout cake, which seemed to stand about half a foot tall and seemed to stretch from one side of the plate to the other. Super impressive and luscious-looking. And chatter about the cheesecake had me hankering for it but time was running short and so I will have to save dessert for another meal on another day.
Overall: The early signs for Da Toscano are that it will be a welcome alternative to Morandi and Minetta Tavern, other rustic/tavern-y type restaurants along Sixth Avenue. And lunch service is coming soon. The place just feels happy and the food is made to make us happy. I look forward to returning soon, not only for the food but anytime I need a pick-me-up.
Da Toscano, 24 Minetta Lane, New York, NY 10012