- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Massimo Fabbri has taken charge of the kitchen at Tosca, where he continues the tradition of northern Italian cuisine par excellence started by chef and co-owner Cesare Lanfranconi, who has departed for the kitchen at Spezie.

Tosca remains a candidate as Washington’s best Italian dining room. The decor is as elegant and low-key as when the restaurant opened - a symphony of muted beige tones, with Washington artist Dale Loy’s paintings and collages as the sole touches of bright color on the walls. In many ways, Tosca is an old-fashioned restaurant - no loud music or jazzy bar scene - where diners can enjoy fine food and wines and good conversation.

Like Mr. Lanfranconi, Mr. Fabbri hails from the north of Italy, and many of his dishes reflect the cuisine of that region. What arrives at the table is elegant simplicity; what goes into each dish is far from simple.

For example, an appetizer of frog legs arrives in a soup plate, the little legs floating in a delicate sauce of white wine with a touch of parsley and tomato. A mayonnaise-like green sauce, redolent with fresh herbs, is served on the side. The salsa verde enhances the flavors of the legs and their broth. Froggy would be proud of himself.

A salad of radicchio, pear and Gorgonzola is a special of the chef. The mound of dressed radicchio is served in ribbons with a few toasted walnuts, a slice of the cheese and the poached pear on the side.

Pastas and risottos are out of the ordinary. Ravioli are filled with chestnuts and sheep ricotta sauteed with mushrooms; tri-colored taglierini are the base for a mix of lobster ragu, broccoli rabe and roasted garlic; a simple, fragrant tomato sauce adorns house-made whole wheat spaghetti. Risottos are made with Taleggio cheese, black truffles and leeks, or with calamari, clams and black trumpet mushrooms.

The deep-green ravioli filled with a delicate mix of veal, prosciutto and mortadella are served in a light red-wine and butter sauce and topped with a few thin slices of Parmesan cheese. It’s a fine, filling dish that we shared as an interim treat between the appetizers and entrees.

Main courses are treated with equal care. Along with roasted red snapper or Mediterranean sea bass in a balsamic vinegar sauce, the kitchen grills a variety of fresh fish each evening. Grilled octopus came to the table splendidly glazed a deep, appetizing brown. It was tender and delicious, marred ever so slightly by oversalting. The octopus is served with a handful of baby carrots and a small serving of wild mushroom; it’s an excellent entree.

The main-course menu is somewhat limited, but all the dishes on Mr. Fabbri’s tasting menus are available a la carte. The $95 tasting menu is six-course extravaganza; the $70 tasting menu includes four courses, one of which is a perfectly grilled New York strip steak. It’s a fine piece of meat, cooked exactly as ordered and served with a combination of chopped greens and grilled mushrooms in a rich Port wine sauce.

Mr. Fabbri welcomes a minimum of four diners to a maximum of eight at his kitchen chef’s table where he prepares a seven- to nine-course off-the-menu meal for $105 per person.

Several of the dinner choices are available at lunch, slightly less dear, including such dishes as pasta filled with ricotta, braised collard greens, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest in a creamy walnut sauce. A three-course prix fixe lunch menu is available for $35.

The deconstructed tiramisu continues to be Tosca’s signature dessert, and it’s quite a signature. Served in a martini glass, it’s a froth of cream, crunchy chocolate, coffee-infused cake and mascarpone. Remarkable.

RESTAURANT: Ristorante Tosca, 1112 F St. NW, 202/367-1990

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Appetizers $8 to $14 (lunch), $9 to $24 (dinner); main courses $16 to $23 (lunch), $19 to $42 (dinner); desserts $10

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Metered street parking; valet parking after 5:30 p.m. $5

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Metro Center

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