Osteria Firenze, Toluca Lake
February 16, 2011 1 Comment
For an early Valentine’s Day celebration, my boyfriend and I made reservations at Osteria Firenze in Toluca Lake, CA. Osteria Firenze is Top Chef finalist Fabio Viviani’s restaurant. During the course of the current Top Chef All-Stars season, Fabio really impressed us during Restaurant Wars and the Italian Mafia challenges. We were so disappointed to see him ousted on the show but we knew that we needed to get ourselves to his restaurant. Here’s everything we ordered and why we can’t wait to go back again!
If there’s one thing in particular that I recall from Top Chef All-Stars, it’s that Fabio completely rocked the front of house during Restaurant Wars. The judges pointed out how organized the servers were, how everyone felt attended to, comfortable, and happy. Firenze Osteria is a living, real-life example of this. Upon being seated promptly, we got a plate of citrus slices for our water, which was just plain water, not Pellegrino.
Though our server didn’t realize that Fabio had extended his Dine LA menu, he graciously found out more information and came back. He was funny, welcoming, and knowledgeable, putting us at ease. After ordering, he got us us some bread. My god, the bread was heavenly. The herbed focaccia was aromatic and crumbly. The sourdough was spongy in the middle and crusty on the edges. Both were warmed sufficiently.
We even got to pair the bread with this stuff. Here’s the bowl, mid-bread massacre. We don’t know what’s in it exactly (what we would give for the recipe!) but it had strong flavors of olive, tomato, and garlic. We couldn’t get enough of it.
While we waited for our food, we finally got a chance to take a moment and look around. The ambience of Firenze Osteria is casual, but luxurious. The combination of the dim lighting, earthy tones, and leather textures feels seductive, relaxing, and of course, romantic. As we talked and anticipated our food, our water glasses were promptly refilled when necessary. Great service goes such a long way.
But finally, our appetizers came. I decided to go with the Dine LA menu and my boyfriend ordered off the normal menu. (Which, by the way, is extensive, well-organized, attractively designed, and comprehensible to the non-Italian diner.)
Stephen got the fried calamari and zucchini. It came with a light tomato-based sauce and half of a lemon. Though technically his appetizer, he let me eat plenty of it. The calamari were crispy, well-seasoned, and not greasy. Likewise, the zucchini had a sweet freshness that was very delectable.
I ordered the gorgonzola-stuffed, bacon wrapped figs with a green salad. Prior to this dish, I had actually never had figs before, so this was quite exciting for me. This dish tasted a lot sweeter than I anticipated, but the smoky, crispy bacon complemented the richness of the figs well. I found the green salad alright, it tasted a little too vinegary for my tastes, but I think that might just be my salad preferences.
Stephen also ordered a Caesar salad. The Caesar salad at Firenze Osteria is so good. The dressing is creamier than I’m used to, but the flavor is impeccable. Stephen even liked the little white fish draped on the top, and he admits that he can be a bit apprehensive about overly fishy Caesar salads. Instead of croutons, there was a crunchy crostini on the side.
By the time Stephen finished his salad (with my generous assistance of course!) our main courses arrived. Stephen’s seafood linguini was packed with flavor. I only tried a bit of the noodles, but he says the mussels, clams, and shrimp were particularly phenomenal. Naturally, the noodles were perfectly cooked. They had a great bite and pliability that made them especially enjoyable.
For my main course, I chose the braised short rib ravioli. Though the cream sauce that accompanied that ravioli was a little overwhelming for me, the ravioli was mouthwateringly tasty. The exterior of the ravioli, like Stephen’s linguini, was perfectly cooked and tender. But the braised meat. Let me tell you about the braised meat. It tasted like it it took forever to cook. Like the meat fell off the bone and just came together to form ravioli because it was the right thing to do. The seasonings, the texture, the ratio of pasta skin to meat… it was all great. Sinking my teeth into the ravioli was indulging in Italian food perfection.
As I finished my ravioli with gusto, Stephen tried earnestly to get through his linguini. But the weight of the calamari appetizer and full-size Caesar salad prevented him finishing his main course. It was most definitely not because he didn’t want to. His stomach was bulging a little. He was brave. But the generous portions were inescapable. Next time, he says, we will share an appetizer or a salad and each get a main dish.
After the plates were cleared away and our food had some time to settle, our server brought out my dessert. Behold, Nutella bread pudding. Everyone who follows Fabio on the web knows his passion for the delicious, chocolate hazelnut spread. But the bread pudding incarnation of Nutella was, in a word, a triumph. And I don’t even usually like bread pudding. (It’s one of those annoying buffet staples that ends up being watery and vomity after the incessant mangling of buffet gluttons.) Firenze Osteria’s Nutella bread pudding is moist, spongy, and subtly sweet. The addition of the bitterly strong coffee ice cream pairs perfectly with the gentleness of the bread pudding itself. Luckily, Stephen was too full, so managed only a bite and agreed that it was phenomenal. And I got the rest to myself. 🙂 And it was all gone within minutes.
But this gem of LA county should not be kept to myself. I hope that each of you gets a chance to go and experience the delicious food and excellent service Firenze Osteria offers. Our next step will be to attend one of his popular pasta-making, risotto, and/or gnocchi classes!
4212 Lankershim Boulevard
Toluca Lake, California 91602