The bonuses of being a food writer include trying out new restaurants, sampling exotic dishes and interviewing up-and-coming chefs. While it sounds glamorous (okay, I won't lie, it is!), sometimes I miss my tried-and-true foodie haunts. However, there is one restaurant that is always on my mind -- and my stomach -- called Casa Toscana.
This Biscayne Boulevard Italian restaurant doesn't generate a lot of press like its neighbor Michy's. Nor are you going to see owner/chef Sandra Stefani being lauded at the James Beard Awards (although she deserves it). Instead, this charming spot consistently churns out excellent homemade pastas and Italian specialties (like ossobucco) six nights a week. (They are closed Monday evenings.)
The Tuscan themed menu includes spinach parmesan fritters with spicy tomato sauce; fontina-stuffed, lemon-flavored risotto croquettes; wine-poached pear stuffed with mascarpone and gorgonzola; pappardelle with mini veal meatballs in fresh tomato and basil sauce; spinach and ricotta-stuffed homemade crepes with tomato sauce; and pan-seared Branzino with cherry tomatoes, capers, garlic sauce and citrus-scented risotto cake. There are also nightly specials, most of which feature hand-rolled pasta.
However, the appeal of Casa Toscana extends beyond its rustic, delicious, moderately-priced fare. There's a neighborhood vibe here -- most diners are local. Plus, Sandra often sits down with her clients for a glass of wine or to tell them about her latest motorcycle expedition to the Redland.
Casa Toscana keeps customers returning with weekly wine tastings (there is one tonight at 7 p.m.), live music jams and cooking classes. This spot may not have the budget, buzz, celebrity appeal and crowds of, let's say, Prime Italian, but the simple, honest, delicious food and friendly service makes it number-one in my book. Now, if I only had more time to stop by.
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7001 Biscayne Blvd., Miami