Linden Hills' Trattoria Tosca makes the ambitious seem effortless

Chef Adam Vickerman creates simple-seeming creations with seasonal ingredients

Vickerman hopes to stretch diners' palates well beyond the expected bruschetta and insalata caprese. While in Italy, he discovered vitello tonnato, poached veal roast that's chilled and smothered in an anchovy-and-caper tuna sauce. Knowing that the authentic version might not go over so well in Minnesota ("though people are starting to trust us," Vickerman notes), he created a pasta-based variation. The dish, which is available in a full or half portion, consisted of gangly noodles tossed with tuna sauce right before service, carbonara-style. The thick, chewy noodles stood up to the bold tuna sauce—a sort of emulsified vinaigrette with the creaminess of egg yolk and olive oil, and the pungent bite of capers and anchovies. In lieu of veal, Vickerman and his crew marinated hanger steak, froze it, then grated flecks of raw beef over the top. The effect was so marvelous that I knew I'd be tempted to order it again on my next visit, instead of dutifully trying something else.

But when I arrived at Tosca a week later, the exceptional pasta had been replaced with a ubiquitous-seeming risotto. My initial disappointment subsided as soon as I forked the first bite of the creamy rice, rich with house-made mascarpone cheese, tempered with fresh green garlic, and garnished with delicate purple chive blossoms that looked like they belonged on a Royal Doulton china pattern. I instantly understood Vickerman's strategy for placating diners who would react as I had—replace every beloved dish with something even better.

Vickerman credits his gnocchi recipe to his former Restaurant Levain boss, Steven Brown. The pan-seared pillows had a wonderfully creamy, almost pudding-like center, and paired perfectly with brown butter, squash, lemon, parsley, and Grana Padano, a Parmesan-like cheese. The bucatini is another deceptively simple dish. The thin, tube-shaped noodles were sparely dressed with tomato, garlic, rosemary, and chile flakes, but the sauce did exactly as much work as was necessary. The brown butter-soaked breadcrumbs added a surprising crunch, a bit like that of roe-topped sushi.

Hitting the sweet spot between upscale and casual: Tosca's Flavors of Spring Plate (top) and rhubarb-topped panna cotta
Jana Freiband for City Pages
Hitting the sweet spot between upscale and casual: Tosca's Flavors of Spring Plate (top) and rhubarb-topped panna cotta

Location Info

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Trattoria Tosca

3415 W. 44th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

Details

TRATTORIA TOSCA 3415 West 44th St., Minneapolis 612.924.1900 appetizers $7-$12; entrées $12-$32

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Tosca's menu typically features just four entrées: pork, beef, fish, and poultry. I found the halibut served in a garlicky broth with ramps, shell peas, and wilted greens a bit bland—but that incarnation has already been replaced by one that resembles a tomato-based cioppino. I didn't love the roast chicken as much as I have at Cafe Levain, though Tosca's version comes with a lovely puddle of polenta, course-ground by a local farmer just days before it makes its way to Tosca. The pork loin was one of my top entrée picks: moist and flavorful from being brined with sugar and honey and served with pancetta-studded cannelloni beans and a sweet-tart rhubarb mostarda. I didn't expect to find a great steak at Tosca, but the rib eye I tried—infused with deep, earthy flavors from its charred exterior to its ruby-red core—was the best I've had in months. Paired with Yukon potatoes and local mushrooms, it belongs in the arsenal of any proselytizing carnivore.

Tosca's desserts give the impression that the restaurant is running without a pastry chef, which is, in fact, the case. The ho-hum chocolate crostada, for example, didn't have nearly the star power of Levain's famous chocolate torte. And while I liked the olive oil cake's moist texture and semi-sweet, citrus flavor, it might not be enough to keep diners from making a dessert stop at Sebastian Joe's. Tosca's frozen confections, though, are worthy competition—especially the striking yogurt sorbet and the luscious chocolate ice cream. And an excellent rhubarb-topped panna cotta swiftly curbed the temptation to swing by Joe's for a chocolate-dipped Brr Bar.

So far, the opening of Tosca hasn't drastically affected Turtle Bread. (Though I'd consider the tuna tartine, an open-faced sandwich created by Schoenefeld, a welcome newcomer. Made with house-preserved tuna—ahi tuna poached in olive oil with fennel, anise, peppercorns, and bay leaves, in a process somewhat akin to making confit—green beans, and a hard-cooked egg served on grilled bread, it's a nice riff on Nicoise salad.) After he settles in at Tosca, Vickerman hopes to refine the Turtle Bread menu, and I hope he also offers a little more hospitality training for Turtle's mostly teenage staff, which doesn't seem nearly as thoughtful or engaged as the one at Tosca. I think that poised yet personable staffers—like the server who cracked a cooties joke when he offered to bring share plates—are a big part of what helps Tosca feel welcoming.

McLain says he wants Trattoria Tosca to be, first and foremost, of the neighborhood and for the neighbors. "They should be the ones that hug it to their bosom and say, 'Thank god you're here,'" he remarks. Even though I don't live within walking distance, at the end of each wonderful meal I felt the same sentiment. I wanted to wrap the experience tight in my arms and squeeze.

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