Inconspicuous is not the word I would describe Tuscan table. Standing by its lonesome on Maine mall road is a magnified painting of a pig that looks nothing short of overfed. You couldn’t miss it. When news traveled that an Italian restaurant was coming to south Portland, I immediately put a mental note. An opportunity to witness the continued burgeoning food scene that is rising in non-Portland areas is not to be missed. Of course opening night went right past my head. So I put a mental note to start writing things down. 3 days later and we are seated on one of the plush chairs on the upper level of a judiciously designed space.
That was two days before Christmas. So the mood was centered around festivities rather than an examination of the restaurant.
Forward to a Friday night in the New year and we are debating on whether to settle for our go-to Italian dinner at The Corner room. But in the spirit of new things, we decide to scope out our ‘neighborhood spot’. And just as soon, we realize that it won’t be as easy to sneak in an impromptu dinner without reservations here.
The interior of Tuscan table is what I imagine the inside of an inverted contemporary Sistine Chapel would look like. The decor, which was done by Nicolas Home is able to take busy patterned wallpaper and lighten it up with holed lantern/chandeliers, hung at varying levels. The entire set up gracefully manages to give life to the restaurant without taking away from the experience. A Colosseum of a bar sits smack in the middle of the restaurant, lined with neatly stocked beverages.
The restaurant is careful to accommodate varying degrees of diners, from those who prefer to watch the food being made or those who enjoy the waltz of bartenders, to the casual bali-esque sharing tables surrounding the bar and finally upstairs, for the comfort-conscious privacy-seeking diners. Also, if you get the pleasure of sitting in the private dining area, you can ooh-and aah at the almost 100 foot tall wine cellar.
For starters, meatballs.
Fluffy yet true to the definition of melting in your mouth we are served 3 medium sized meatballs sitting atop a deep-red sauce. For its rich color, you would expect rich flavor. Instead, you are met with a sweet and acidic sauce. I imagine that paired with the right wine would bring the fresh herbs to the forefront. The sauce is further sweetened by currants which cut through the acidity and almost make the sauce too sweet, but stops just short and instead, adds texture to the moist meatballs. A winner in my books.
For Main course, Spicy salami pizza
I remember a conversation with the bartender about which of two wines to pair with the spicy sopressatta pizza I was sure to order. I was battling between the Nero D’avola which would enhance the Chillies or the Rosso di Montepulciana which would cut through it. In hindsight, I should have gone with the Rosso di Montepulciana because as had been described to me, the salami was on the higher end of the spice spectrum. On its own, the dough was light, flavorful and maintained the rusticity that wood-fired pizzas require. An almost perfect complement to the light pizza sauce (which we were informed is not actually cooked, but is a crushed and seasoned tomato sauce). The salami is further amplified with chillies so I would definitely say it is not for the faint of heart. Not even the dough could tame my tongue.
For dessert, Lemon Sorbet
I have an obsession with Lemon/lime sorbet, and therefore any opportunity to order it is taken. Without mentioning the copious varieties of this dessert I have consumed, I can confidently say this has been one of the better ones. Not the lemon-flavored ice many establishments including gelato shops offer. This was a smooth, creamy with a burst of lime and didn’t leave the back of my throat feeling mutilated with a film of acid. Even the family sized portion wasn’t enough to put me off finishing every last lick solo. An honor.
The service at Tuscan table is okay. And I recommend taking that with a grain of salt. While I like to consider myself easy going, service is subjective. Case in point being that I had, upon the first visit, been asked for ID while my date wasn’t. Which I found a bit off putting given that an ask all or ask none policy is more courteous. Our bartender during the second visit was personable and knowledgeable albeit slow. Which is understandable given that as mentioned before, it is a Colosseum of a full-service bar which seemed to be tended to by only 2 bartenders.
Overall, Tuscan table brings to Maine a solution to the 400 square foot restaurants we are accustomed to seeing. With its tall ceilings and vast space, it is as if you walked into a one of Maine’s famous breweries, and instead ate artisan pizza and sipped on Brunello. But just as with these breweries, Tuscan Table needs to be careful not to get overwhelmed by the Mall Traffic. That I am not nervous it will compromise on quality to make up for the foot traffic would be a lie. However, given the current competitive restaurant climate and its fine tuned menu, I am confident it will remain consistent and earn its place as my new favorite go-to.
Overall Rating: 8.56