She Ate/ He ate

The best of both worlds: Toscana’s food is as appealing as its atmosphere



3170 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday
4-10 p.m. Friday

10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4-10 p.m. Saturday
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4-9 p.m. Sunday
(517) 246-4980

She Ate

She Ate

I’ve heard it said that people in Lansing don’t want to have nice things. While I believe that as it relates to many current City Council members, I don’t think it’s true when it comes to the general public. I’m happy to pay top dollar for top service. I’ll pay to park. I’ll vote yes on an affordable housing millage. I’ll fork it over for a meal — the only thing I ask is that it blows me away.

When Toscana opened last year, excitement was high. I know many Michigan State University professors who looked forward to taking campus visitors out and friends who were excited to celebrate anniversaries and other occasions. However, I found that the feeling quickly dissipated. While certain people were exuberant about their Toscana experiences, most reported that the food was just OK.

A few months after its opening, I met a girlfriend for dinner. I had made meatballs at home a few days before and decided to try the Toscana version to compare the two. I’d like to place on the record that I have no qualifications to be making good meatballs and simply followed a recipe, but I was stunned to find that my meatballs were markedly better tasting.

A while later, Mr. She Ate and I attended a dinner honoring United States Sen. Debbie Stabenow at the AC Hotel, where Toscana is located. The room was packed with people, and I expected the typical dried-out banquet chicken. Lo and behold, we were served vegetarian lasagna, and it was the best banquet food I’ve ever had.

So, I didn’t know what to expect when Mr. She Ate and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a 5 p.m. weekday dinner out. Our server recommended the capesante pasta ($35) to me, and while it hadn’t been on my radar, I heeded her advice. I received capellini pasta tossed with goat cheese, wilted spinach and a creamy red pepper sauce and topped with five juicy seared scallops. The scallops had a wonderful char on the outside and were tender inside, and I shared one of them with my beloved as I twined my fork into the noodles. The sauce, while flavorful, was so rich that I put my fork down after a few bites to take the rest of it home. I knew I couldn’t finish the dish and that I’d be uncomfortable if I did. While I loved the scallops, I’d prefer to see them offered with a lighter carb, like a spring risotto with fresh herbs or pesto.

Mr. She Ate chose the chicken Parmesan ($30), a perpetual favorite of his since we honeymooned in Australia and learned that it’s an incredibly popular bar food Down Under. After a few bites, he stopped eating and said the chicken was strangely crunchy and gristly. We reviewed the dessert options and opted to go somewhere else.

We returned a few weeks later with the 4- and 6-year-olds for Sunday brunch. To say that this made us nervous is an understatement. Our daughter insisted on wearing her pirate dress, a full-on Halloween costume. Our son brought a stuffed giraffe, which he perched right on the table. But in the end, they were totally fine. Service was quick and attentive. We had fretted about the possibility that there wouldn’t be much on the menu that the kids would eat, but she dove right into her waffle ($15) and dunked each bite in the ramekin of maple syrup. He went for the French toast ($16), which came to the table piled with whipped cream, which he promptly devoured. He took a bite of the French toast, which was a win, but he couldn’t get on board with the texture. No matter — we took it home, and I ate it over the course of the week.

I had the mushroom and asparagus omelet ($16), which purports to be made with truffled pecorino. It was fine, although I detected not a hint of truffle, and the asparagus should have been trimmed a bit more because the ends of the spears were woody. Mr. She Ate chose the Toscana Stack ($15), and the large lemon-ricotta pancakes won the table. They were light and sweet and didn’t need the added whipped cream or maple syrup, unless, of course, you’re a 4- or 6-year-old child.

We had an incredible brunch experience. Mr. She Ate enjoyed a generously poured mimosa. There were many menu items we would try in the future, our order came out quickly, and the macerated berry compote that came with all the sweet dishes was delicious. We rarely go out to dinner and would make a different choice for that meal next time, but brunch with the kids has a new player in town.

He Ate

He Ate

I’m not someone who gets hung up on visual aesthetics. Some restaurants would rather wow you with bold color schemes or thematic imagery than focus on quality food and dining experiences. I’ve got a special place in my heart for the hole-in-the-wall bar that nails a special burger, food courts and food trucks that offer an array of flavors and the occasional gas station that moonlights as a sandwich shop. These establishments (read lightly) know what they are and what they aren’t but care enough about their customers to go the extra mile on taste and friendliness.  

That’s not to say that I haven’t indulged in some fine dining across the globe — Michelin-starred and otherwise. Yet, even in those instances where the luxury has extended to décor and ambiance, food has been the focus. That’s not always the case, and typically, I don’t really care. But for special occasions, I want a multi-sensory experience that’s as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate. My visits to Toscana were exactly this and more.  

Opened in late summer last year, Toscana has a sleek, contemporary interior that’s softened by warm earth tones and lots of natural wood and light. The wine market inside sells everything you might need to host a dinner party or wine tasting at home. The variety of seating options offers something for every scenario, be it large groups, solo diners from the adjoining hotel, intimate spaces for date night or al fresco patio placement, and each offers ideal comfort with a refined touch.  

The staff was pleasant and smiling, with a subtle but steady presence, ready to attend to my every need. The bartenders were knowledgeable, accommodating and also suitably apologetic as they worked through some technology issues with their electronic ordering and payment systems. 

What’s impressive 

The prima course I enjoyed for an early dinner ahead of an evening meeting was brilliant. 

Both the calamari ($16) and the pear and gorgonzola salad ($9/half) offered elevated taste profiles. The calamari were lightly battered and flash-fried, accompanied by cherry peppers, giardiniera and a delightfully tangy anchovy salsa verde. The lengthwise cut of the squid was a welcome departure from the typical rings, and the plating was artistic and generously sauced.  

Similarly, the salad was wonderfully dressed in a fig-balsamic vinaigrette. The peppery arugula paired well with the gorgonzola and maple-roasted pecans. My only complaint was the miserly portions of the prosecco-roasted pears: Two thin slices are not substantial enough for you as a reader, let alone this writer gripping his fork in anticipation. 

What’s surprising  

My lovely bride joined me for a brunch date to celebrate 14 years of wedded bliss. She noshed on a Caprese salad ($18). Although a buffalo mozzarella first-timer, she’s now an avid fan. The yellow heirloom tomatoes, partnered with the basil pesto and balsamic reduction, were delightful, particularly with the extra serving of balsamic goodness snuggled up on the side. 

The cab omelet ($18), stuffed with lump crab meat, basil and goat cheese, was outstanding. The perfectly cooked three-egg omelet was a wonderful platform for the tart and creamy seafood mixture. Thinly sliced Lyonnaise potatoes flanked the omelet and were somehow simultaneously translucent to the eye but thick to the bite. 

We split the Toscana Stack ($15), which was both an eyeful and a mouthful. The faintly yellow pancakes were fluffy, with a hint of sweetness from the vanilla cream and a tiny punch of citrus from the lemon zest. The generous blanket of berries was a hybrid of fresh, whole fruit pieces and mashed compote. Michigan-made maple syrup brought this dish from the garden back into grandma’s kitchen — griddled cakes at their best. 

Best bite 

The chicken marsala ($32) was top-flight. I recall my mom having perfected a version of this dish in my youth; Toscana’s version rivaled hers, but if any of you tell her, I’ll deny ever writing this. The two thick cuts of chicken, bathed in a rich and creamy mushroom and wine sauce, were succulent and divine. They were served over a mound of Parmesan mashed potatoes and accompanied by fresh asparagus and crispy pancetta. This was high-level Italian cooking using fresh ingredients without trying to reinvent the meal. Flavor is my favorite aesthetic.  



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