With a masterful grasp of flavors and some unconventional ingredient pairings, Da Toscano leaves its guests smiling during the pandemic.
Octopus carpaccio with pickled eggplant, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and fett’unta
Ten minutes before Da Toscano opened for the evening, just a few weeks before all NYC restaurants closed due to COVID-19, a small but exuberant crowd of diners gathered patiently outside. One cluster passed around Mardi Gras beads. It was someone else’s birthday. Some were friends of the staff and ready to be wowed with Champagne and heaps of plates. Delivering a daily selection of menu items for months during the pandemic and now open for outdoor dining, Da Toscano offers food that is simply happy, and so are the people who eat from here.
Start with the Sunset in Sicily, a bitter blend of Lambrusco, Cocchi Americano and apricot. Sort of resembling an Aperol spritz, the drink actually does look like a sunset with the purplish wine layered on top of orange. Another of the most popular cocktails is the Vertical Railroad with jalapeno-infused tequila, mezcal, lime, pineapple and housemade orgeat. The spiciness of the drink wasn’t to my taste, but if you prefer these kinds of cocktails, this one is bright and complex.
Of the cocktails, the Sunset in Sicily (second from top right) is a top crowd-pleaser.
An order from Da Toscano isn’t really complete without the octopus carpaccio, a study in balancing flavors. The octopus is quickly cooked sous vide and then sliced paper thin in a meat grinder, which changes the texture but preserves the essence of the ingredient. Roasted cherry tomatoes and pickled eggplant provide lovely acidity with toasted Tuscan bread served alongside.
This manipulation of flavors, especially acidity, is a common motif throughout chef Michael Toscano’s menu. The anchovy appetizer, for example, has six components, and every one of them is completely necessary. The briny, marinated anchovies play off chunks of tuna confit. Cannellini beans and salsa verde give the seafood an unusual earthiness, and chef Toscano whips a butter from the rinds of taleggio cheese, served with a baguette.
Baked skate wing with spinach, soft herbs, chile and a citrus emulsion
The overall selection of small plates is very strong. Oysters are roasted with crab fat, and the polpette is a pretty perfect pork meatball with Pecorino Romano. A rotating seafood selection consists of oysters, crudo and shellfish.
The main courses generally seem to be based around the proteins as opposed to the pastas. The tajarin is made with ham, duck cracklings and vermouth, and Toscano utilizes snout-to-tail pork cuts for his minestra maritata. The skate wing is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity and technical perfection. It’s baked to the point of impossible softness and punctuated with crispy spinach, soft herbs, chile and a citrus emulsion.
Spaghetti with lobster mezzaluna
Husband-and-wife team chef Michael and Caitlin Toscano
Near the bottom of the menu is the intimidating porchetta chop with fennel pollen, rosemary and arugula. Crispy pork belly wraps around the chop like bacon, and the dry arugula isn’t enough to keep this dish from being too fatty—I brought a red-meat-loving Missourian as my guest, and even he was bested by the meat’s heaviness.
The dessert list makes for a difficult choice. Christal’s 24-Karat Cake is a more tropical, richer carrot cake with pineapple, coconut, walnuts and raisins. Toscano puts a twist on cheesecake with a sour cream topping, and the affogato is a confection of fior di latte gelato, espresso and crumb cake. The incredible staff is also able to arrange an after-dinner amari tasting to cap off an evening of celebration. 24 Minetta Lane, datoscano.com
Photography by: Evan Sung