YOUR TRUSTY restaurant reviewer visited the newly opened eatery on Portsmouth’s Market Square on a chilly late afternoon and was seated (along with the Primary Dining Companion) on the very spot where a friendly Bank of America staffer once helped Our Gourmet wire money.
It’s not the first bank to be converted to a restaurant on Market Square. Next door, the now-defunct RiRa transformed the 1803 First National Building into an Irish pub, complete with a dining area in the vault.
There was no vault in evidence at Toscana, but its high ceilings and the theater of an open kitchen added a dramatic flair to the evening.
“The open kitchen is not only an interesting show, but presents a kind of confidence when a restaurant allows its patrons to see how the sausage is made,” PDC said as we settled in with our draft Peroni ($8).
Our helpful server Thomas presented us with a complimentary selection of olive, rosemary and plain focaccia, with “first press olive oil, right off the boat” and roasted garlic for spreading on the fresh, fragrant bread.
For appetizers we ordered the Crispy Calamari ($14) and the Lobster Corn Chowder ($12). The calamari (from Point Judith, R.I., according to the menu) was classically presented with crispy cherry peppers and lemon basil aioli. It was crunchy and savory, and quickly dispatched.
The chowder was the star of the show, with two full lobster claws. The portion was generous, perfect for sharing, and somehow the potatoes managed to anchor the dish without weighing it down. Delightful.
PDC ordered a Caesar salad ($10), also of a size that lent itself to sharing. The hearts of romaine were well coated with dressing and Parmigiano and the crunchy focaccia croutons added to the texture profile. Fortunately, the kitchen did not hold the anchovies, and the tiny fish topping the Caesar did their salty duty.
We’d done our homework before we got to Toscana, trying to order entrees that would reflect the range of the restaurant’s offerings.
PDC chose the Local Jumbo Sea Scallops ($30), served with cauliflower puree, spiced farro, roasted garlic and lemon.
The four (truly jumbo) scallops brimmed with flavor.
“Not always easy to get it to the table perfectly cooked,” PDC said. “Scallops are very easy to overcook, and make rubbery.”
The pleasantly chewy farro and cauliflower added depth to the lightness of the seafood.
For OG, it had to be the Mixed Grill ($35), a petit filet mignon, lemon rosemary chicken breast, two lamb lollipops, roasted rosemary potatoes and broccolini.
The only disappointment was the béarnaise sauce was lukewarm when it arrived.
We attacked the lamb, which had some substance, despite the use of the word “lollilop.” Each of us wolfed one down, and would consider ordering the garlic-crusted lamb rack (18 ounces, $42) on a later visit.
OG was running out of steam and took only a bite of the succulent filet mignon, which PDC polished off the next morning (without permission). The moist, flavorful chicken breast also went home in a take-out box, and was eaten for lunch the next day.
While we waited for our check, we saw what looked like a pizza box being delivered to a nearby table, and asked our server if Toscana served pizza.
“It’s the only box big enough for the Tomahawk steak,” Thomas said of the 36-ounce, dry-aged long bone ribeye ($58), the steakhouse’s most extravagant offering. And the box was just for the leftovers.
The restaurant is just a few doors down from Tuscan Market on Pleasant Street, and part of the Tuscan Brands family overseen by Joe Faro.