If your weekday lunch needs a makeover from that sad microwaveable frozen meal or wrinkly brown paper bag, head to Toscana Divino in Mary Brickell Village.
A couple of weeks ago, this sleek Italian eatery launched L'originale: Lunch Italiano, offering a rotating three-course lunch menu for $23 on weekdays. The restaurant, commissioned in part by the city of Florence and the region of Tuscany, offers the senses an affordably priced minivacation from mundane workweek meals.
Lunch service here isn't new, but executive chef Julian Baker really wants to offer value and give diners a reason to return. Every week, there are a handful of starters and entrées to choose from, as well as a couple of desserts. You can dine with your colleagues and still not taste the entire menu. Better yet, when you return the following week, there are brand-new dishes to try. Chef Baker also places emphasis on the fact that he wants patrons to leave feeling full and satisfied that they received a good value. So although the prices have dropped, the portion sizes have remained unchanged.
Short Order tried the new menu to get a taste of several of the dishes on rotation. The options include everything from light salads and grilled fish to a pizzetta and a hunk of porchetta.
For starters, there was a classic heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad and a chicken caesar salad with chickpeas and white anchovies. The battuta di salmone was a standout with a salmon tartare topped with egg mimosa, a salsa verde reminiscent of a flavorful pesto, watercress, and capers. Forget your preconceived notions about eggs and mimosas. The egg mimosa was named for the flower -- the mimosa -- given out in Italy on the recently passed International Women's Day. The egg was light and delicate like pollen as it graced the fresh salmon, with anchovies on the side for a touch of saltiness.
The second course offered the largest range of choices, including house-made pastas, risottos, grilled meats, and a seafood stew. We chose the last, which was the only item with an $8 supplement on the menu. The seafood sang in a broth of red wine and tomato, served with hearty country bread for dipping.
Another highlight in taste and value was the porchetta. As a lunch or dinner entrée, it is normally priced at $26, but with the $23 lunch menu, you get to have your starter and eat your cake too while saving $3 on the entrée. The slow-roasted pork belly arrived atop a red wine risotto that had the perfect tang and depth, setting it apart from the typical Italian rice dish. This selection was also served with broccoli rapini, a touch of Gorgonzola, and some pickled mushrooms.
The proverbial cherry on top of this meal was the fragole, with fresh local strawberries, a white chocolate crumb, and whipped cream. For something a bit more decadent, cioccolato al caffè features a chocolate and espresso mousse.
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Adventuresome eaters might want to try the smoked tea and buttermilk panna cotta topped with melon and cardamom sauce. Each spoonful will have you attempting to identify the subtleties and layers of flavors in this complex dessert.
If you want to break up your workday with a tasty escape, try this lunch deal. The options can lead you on several culinary paths, but the result will leave you sated. Tip: If you want kick up your meal even more, wash it down with some prosecco.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst