Port Washington seems to be a mecca for Italian restaurants. Walk two blocks in any direction and you are bound to pass at least one, possibly as many as three. They range from inexpensive pizza joints (ie: Carlo's), to mid-priced pizza and pasta places (ie: Amalfi's), to high-end, full service Italian restaurants (La Piccola Liguria). Toscanini is in the latter category.
Both the outside and the inside of this eatery are lovely. The location – 179 Main Street – is convenient. It is walking distance from both the train and the library, and has the bonus of having a parking lot. The inside is made up of two rooms, one with a small bar area, and the main dining room which boasts a brick oven in the back. Murals and exposed brick decorate the walls, and a chalkboard lists the specials of the day. (These were clearly for the entire day, and not just lunch, because most of them were quite pricey).
The tables are covered in white linen and decorated with fresh flowers. Italian music plays softly in the background. The wait staff is charming, attentive, yet they don't hover unnecessarily. They are eager to please. Don't want cheese on that salad? No problem. Want marinara sauce instead of garlic and oil on your pasta? Sure thing.
Specials of the day (written on the blackboard) included appetizers such as Artichoke Oreganato ($10.95), Pastini in Brodo ($6.95) and Fried Zucchini ($9.95). The salad special was an Arugula salad for two for $15. There were eight entrée specials ranging in price from $18.95 to $34.95 (for a veal dish), with most entrees costing about $25. Included in the specials were four seafood dishes, two pastas, a meat dish and a chicken dish.
The regular lunch menu is quite extensive and includes six antipasti, mostly seafood, ranging from $7.95 to $12.95, five salads (portions are for two) for $10, and three soups, including Minestra con Tortellini and Stracciatella Romana (an Italian egg drop soup). Chicken or seafood can be added to any salad for an additional cost. Toscanini offers 11 pasta choices (average price about $15) in a variety of styles including gnocci, risotto with mushrooms, and homemade lasagna. Entrees include six chicken dishes ($15.95) and seven veal dishes ($16.95) cooked in a variety of styles. There is truly something for everyone on this menu.
My companion and I started with the Red Leaf Salad ($10 for a two-person portion). We each received a huge plate of beautifully arranged salad, with sliced pears around the sides, topped with walnuts and roasted peppers, decorated with olives and artichoke hearts and finished with a tangy house dressing (a red wine vinaigrette). The salad was excellent — it would be worth it to visit Toscanini just for a salad and a glass of wine (an extensive selection is available for $8.45 a glass). The waiter also brought a basket of freshly baked rolls to the table. They were exquisite — warm and soft with a crusty exterior, perfect for sopping up salad dressing or pasta sauce.
For my main dish, I ordered Orechiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage ($15.50) — ear shaped pasta cooked in garlic and olive oil. This is one of my favorite dishes and I've ordered it in many restaurants in the past, but never have I had it before where there was so much broccoli rabe. It is an expensive ingredient, and restaurants can be stingy about serving it, but not Toscanini. There were ample amounts of sausage (homemade I believe I read) and broccoli rabe, and the broccoli rabe was cooked perfectly — it was bright green, tender and not tough or stringy. The dish was studded with huge chunks of mellow roasted garlic cloves. In a word — delicious.
My companion was equally pleased with her dish — Fettuccine Primavera ($13.95) — which she was able to order with a marinara sauce. (It may also be ordered cooked in olive oil and garlic). Her dish was replete with vegetables — broccoli, zucchini, peppers — and with flavor. She declared it, and the restaurant, a winner.
It was a lovely dining experience, in a wonderful atmosphere, but it comes with a pretty hefty price tag — $54 for lunch for two, including tax and tip. Perhaps that explains the lack of people in the venue. We were the only patrons there on a Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
If you think ahead, you can save some money by visiting the restaurant's Web site and printing out one of the coupons (15 percent off lunch, 20 percent off dinner) that are available under the "specials" tab.
Expect to have a more leisurely lunch here, as we were there for over an hour. It would be excellent for a business lunch, particularly if you are trying to impress someone. While it is expensive, it is absolutely worth it for a splurge or special occasion or celebration. (Hear that my friends? My birthday is in July!)