Sunday, April 1, 2012

Restaurant Review: Siena Ristorante Toscano

Tonight's dinner marked my first meal of Austin Restaurant Week 2012, and overall, I was certainly not disappointed with my experience at Siena Ristorante Toscano. Although the building itself was a bit tricky to find, it was beautiful and inviting once we arrived. I couldn't help but ignore the fact that we'd spent 30 minutes making U-turns on the highway, and make the choice to relish in the elegance of the establishment. 

Doesn't looking at the outside get you so excited about the food?

Being led through the bar to our table was an experience all in itself. The inside of the restaurant was absolutely gorgeous and completely set the mood for the dining experience my girls and I were about to have. Luckily they promised not to mock me for photographing everything I could.

The lighting didn't allow for much, but this should give you an idea.

Although I don't know nearly as much as I'd like to about wine, I did enjoy the lovely 2008 Lucente Toscano that I decided to treat myself to over the course of my meal. For my appetizer, I decided to go with Cozze in Bianco, a lovely plate of mussels sautéed in white wine, garlic, basil, and lemon. 

The flavor here was wonderfully balanced, but unfortunately there were some issues with the plate. First of all, I had a few empty shells on my plate upon service, and one of the shells was completely unopened, signifying its death prior to the cooking process. Seeing the unopened shell caused me to question the freshness of the mussels and the care taken in the preparation of the plate. A conscientious chef would have taken the time to remove the dead mussels prior to cooking, or at least made absolutely certain not to serve something like that to a guest. Luckily the flavor was not lost as a result and I was able to enjoy what did make it to my plate. 

I could not have been more grateful to dine with 2 lovely ladies who had no trouble sharing their meals because it gave me the opportunity to sample the plates I hadn't chosen to order on my own. Christina started with the Pancia di Maiale, a slow roasted Kurobuta pork belly, served with charred brussel sprouts, crisp onions, and a blackberry-juniper gastrique. Upon sampling it, I found myself wishing I had ordered that instead. In the past, I generally haven't appreciated pork belly, as I tend to find it overly fatty and unpleasantly textured, but to my surprise, that was not at all the case here. The pork cut effortlessly with a fork, but not as a result of an overpowering fat content. The bitterness of the charred brussel sprouts perfectly complimented the simultaneous sweet and tartness of the blackberry-juniper gastrique, while the fried onions provided the variation in texture that brought the whole thing together for me. This little bite from heaven gave me hope for my relationship with pork belly yet. 

For our second course, the 3 of us all ordered the same thing: Capellini con Gamberi e Capperi, a Capellini pasta dish with shrimp, tomato concasse, capers, garlic, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and cracked red chili. 

Just gorgeous isn't it?

For the most part, I was very pleased with this course. The tomatoes were incredibly fresh, with a perfect tartness that dominated in flavor. There was an excellent balance of capers and garlic scattered artfully across the pasta, and the basil gave that pleasant little punch every few bites that let you know the flavors had been well considered by the creator of the dish. I really appreciated the slow burning spice that showed up as I neared the end of the dish as well. My one issue with this course was with the doneness of the shrimp. I found them a bit overcooked and rubbery for a restaurant of this caliber. Knowing that the shrimp I cook at home generally has a juicier, more enjoyable texture makes me feel great about my own cooking, but left me wanting something more from this upscale restaurant. 

Luckily my meal was to end on an extremely high note with the delectable desserts coming my way, and the crazy women I was fortunate enough to enjoy them with. 

Check it. Can you tell we dine finely often?

Each of them ordered the Tiramisu, which was highly anticipated for me, considering the last Tiramisu I'd had was sinfully dry. I needed a good one to renew my faith in the Italian dessert, and tonight, I was not disappointed. It was delightfully moist and light, and the coffee flavor was perfectly balanced with the creamy marscapone. The shaved almonds provided a wonderful crunch that put this particular Tiramisu over the top for me. I am eternally grateful for my generous friends who were willing to share their desserts with me. They really made my night. My Torta di Cioccolata proved to be an incredibly satisfying close to my meal tonight as well. The fluffy, chilled chocolate was light and perfectly sweetened. I appreciated the fact that neither of the desserts were too sugary and that this one was topped with a little pile of tart cherries, working in perfect harmony with the rest of the dish. It was a gratifying close to a remarkable meal.

What a marvelous beginning to my first Austin Restaurant Week! I cannot wait to see what the next few days have in store for me. 

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