11633 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Price range: $$$$
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Restaurateurs Mike and Kathie Gordon hold a pair of aces in Brentwood.
As if Toscana isn’t seeing enough action on that San Vicente Boulevard corner, the Gordons have now opened an adjacent spin-off called Bar Toscana, meant both as a precursor to an epic Toscana meal or as a casual destination in itself.
Of course, the Gordons are best known as the owners of the iconic Toscana, the trattoria so popular that agents, producers and movie stars dine there when they don’t want to be bothered. Just two weeks shy of his 80th birthday, Dustin Hoffman was spotted dining.
However, as these A-listers know, the celebrities aren’t the real reason you’ll want to escape here: It’s for the food, of course. Toscana’s storied Italian fare does indeed deliver the goods, thanks to the breathless boldness of the restaurant’s Alcapulco-born Executive Chef Hugo Vasquez, who has been with Toscana since this ristorante opened its doors in 1989.
Cut to 2017, and Toscana is proud of its baby. Originally launched in 2010, the new and improved Bar Toscana is ready for its close-up. Occupying what used to be an animation cell gallery next door, the reinvented bar opened its doors on Aug. 1.
While the emphasis here is on drinking, this spot is practically a restaurant in itself.
The new Bar Toscana serves authentic, craft-style Italian cocktails, Negroni and stuzzichini (appetizers or “nibbles”) inspired by Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy.
Bar Toscana now boasts a cosmopolitan and urban-style restaurant-bar with exposed brick, wood ceiling rafters and ergonomic furniture. Here, wood panels, accented with a glaze of faux travertine, are complemented at night with time-based digital projections of floral art by Angeleno Jennifer Steincamp, while another artist, Melissa Wenke, has four of her original, colorful giclée collage works on the walls to provide vivid focal points.
Born in Massa Cararra and raised in Florence, Italy, Toscana General Manager Sauro Mosti, a tall, affable Italian with a big smile, makes you feel at home the minute you settle into your chair.
We decided on some of the signature cocktails and enjoyed the summer special Napoleon Dynamite, a synergistic martini glass of vodka, grapefruit, elderflower and mint lime; Mexican Piccante, a spicy concoction of reposado tequila, mezcal and jalapeno; and, our favorite, the Pearbellini, which is as pear-licious as it sounds with its light-tasting combination of Grey Goose Le Poire, St. Germaine and muddled pear.
The new Bar Toscana menu also provides an array of small Italian plates such as Tagliere di Salami, served here with homemade bread sticks and giardiniera: Italian Cheeses with homemade strawberry and red onion jam, assorted breads, and grilled pear; Burrata e Speck, which comes with green heirloom tomato jam, smoked prosciutto and grilled pretzel bread; Fagiolini with French green beans, celery root and roasted almonds; Lasagnetta di Carne, a homemade spinach lasagna with a beef ragu, besciamella sauce and parmigiano; and the decadent Hamburger Bar Toscana: two T-bone beef sliders replete with truffle cheese and caramelized shallot.
Another way to go here is the pizza. From Bar Toscana’s wood-burning oven comes a selection of traditional pies, from the classic Margherita con Bufala to the outstanding Fichi Gorgonzola e Prosciutto, Mortadella (topped with mozzarella, mushrooms and red onion) and Tonno e Cipolla, which bedazzles with tomato, mozzarella, Italian tuna, red onion and capers.
Over at Toscana proper, we quickly delved deep into the Prosciutto pizza as a starter, which worked out perfectly. Despite the size of this generous 12-inch pie, the crust is so ultra-thin, light, airy and, well, crusty, we devoured it all but did not feel too full after.
Next came our pasta plate. Minimal and effective, Toscana’s off-menu pasta with sea bass did not come with any parmigiano or heavy creams; rather, a simple tagliolini dressed in a white wine sauce and lemon zest with thick chunks of Mediterranean sea bass to liven up the palate.
The show-stopping finale came with our Bistecca con Fagigioli, a 20 oz. prime-cut rib chop cooked in the restaurant’s wood-burning oven and served with diced tomatoes and cooked asparagus. This hulking slab of meat, sliced up for us into six thick wedges, did not disappoint: nice and charcoal-ly, with just a slight hint of saltiness.
Our dessert had been foreshadowed by the stunning small army of house-made pies on display the moment we entered Toscana. There on a counter sat a fresh assortment of pies and cakes, including a ricotta cheesecake, white chocolate mousse cake, a chocolate pie, another pie topped with raspberries, apple pie, something called Grandma’s pie, and sweet cookies.
We can confirm that dessert here, side-kicked with a cappuccino or a nice Moscato accompaniment, should not be overlooked, so save some appetite for the closing festivities.
Between the flagship Toscana and the sparkling-new Bar Toscana, the Gordons have indeed infused Brentwood—and by extension, West Los Angeles—with a formidable splash of Tuscan culture. Bravissimo!