Tuscan Osteria and Mercado in New Canaan delivers great steaks, pasta
New Canaan, long a rather traditional restaurant town, is certainly hopping these days with many new eateries. One of the most prominently situated is the Tuscan Osteria and Mercado.
As the name suggests, this is much more than a restaurant, but also a mercado (Italian for market) and an osteria (neighborhood food gathering place, sort of like a deli and a restaurant). The Tuscan is indeed all of these in three distinct places within one address.
First, inside the door, is the mercado that includes a butcher case with all manner of well-marbled prime steaks, chops, and roasts. Opposite the meat is another case with prepared salad, pastas, and vegetables. Baskets full of breads, shelves with imported pasta and sauces, and a bin of fresh seasonal vegetables make this a shopping place in the manner of an Italian country store.
But if you aren't in the mood to cook, most of the produce, meat and pastas are professionally cooked and presented in the rather elegantly appointed, comfortable, and contemporary dining room, accessed through the mercado.
Through the dining room is the osteria, or bar, which is probably the most inviting space of all, with the lively expansive bar flanked by white-napped tables and banquettes, along with a duet of huge screen televisions.
Ah, but what of the food? In Italy, it always comes down to the food. Like a true Italian home kitchen, the menu has its family favorites, but most are presented in synch with the seasons.
Produce and herbs change, and so does the menu at The Tuscan. Now, in the cool weather, delicate tomatoes are replaced by a hearty, rich Bolognese sauce over house made tagliatelle; sage and hazelnut fill cloudlike, fresh ravioli in browned butter sauce; and the pappardelle is sauced with a rabbit ragout.
Starters are also seasonal with a chestnut cream soup replacing an earlier summery lobster soup with corn and tomato. If you can wait until summer, the latter is ethereal, though the chestnut soup is quite pleasing as well.
The house specialty lobster salad with bacon, cherry tomato, arugula, and a citrus vinaigrette should stay on the menu forever. Beet and goat cheese salad with a port wine reduction is another winner.
More InformationTHE TUSCAN OSTERIA AND MERCADO 136 Main St., New Canaan INFORMATION: 203-594-9026, www.the tuscan.com HOURS: Lunch Sunday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner Monday-Thursday 6-9:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 6-10:30 p.m. RESERVATIONS: Accepted CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC PRICES: Dinner appetizers $9-$15, main courses $20-$42, desserts $8
Main courses range from a classic veal Milanese to a creative pan seared tuna with olives, celery, and dried figs. Roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes, baby vegetables, and cherry peppers in white wine sauce is warming on a wintery night.
Braised short ribs on a bed of coffee-flavored baked beans and sauteed spinach needed less fat and more seasoning. Pan-seared scallops with pumpkin puree is an innovative and satisfying concept.
Steaks and chops here are predictably good and consistently well prepared, as are the traditional side dishes of cannellini beans, garlicky spinach, truffled potato puree and especially the hand cut french fries.
Service is, unfortunately, a bit less predictable with long lapses, some forgetfulness and education needed for the wine and beer list, both of which are extensive and interesting.
Desserts are few, but absolutely worth ordering. Molten chocolate cake is like dark chocolate lava cooled with vanilla gelato, and panna cotta is smooth, soft and touched with lavender and vanilla. But best of all is the warm apple crostata with perfectly cooked apples in a truly remarkable pastry topped with zabaione gelato.
Though on the pricy side and with some uneven service, Tuscan Osteria and Mercado does serve up some really great steaks and pastas. And don't forget that apple crostata.
THE TUSCAN OSTERIA AND MERCADO
136 Main St., New Canaan
INFORMATION: 203-594-9026, www.thetuscan.com
HOURS: Lunch Sunday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner Monday-Thursday 6-9:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 6-10:30 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC
PRICES: Dinner appetizers $15-$9, main courses $42-$20, desserts $8