Can we talk Tuscan? Although Tuscany Manor (see review above) takes its name from the romantic region often called “the medieval heart” of Italy, the ethnic cuisine on the menu isn’t very different from the dishes served at any local Italian (or “Eye-talian,” here in the Midwest) restaurant.
There’s nothing wrong with Eye-talian restaurants, best represented by brightly lit little joints with checked vinyl tablecloths and baskets of soft Roma bread with butter, heavily dressed salads, and spaghetti swimming in a slightly sweet tomato sauce.
But Kansas Citians have been developing more sophisticated palates over the past decade, and besides, you can get that kind of spaghetti at the Old Country Buffet and Station Casino. Do you really want to taste something Tuscan? Venture over to the stylish Jasper’s (1201 W. 103rd Street), where much-traveled chef and co-owner J.J. Mirabile knows the difference between Tuscany and Terranova.
“The people who live in the Tuscan region of Italy are a very frugal people,” says Mirabile, “and the cuisine of the area reflects that. They cook rabbit with prunes and red wine. There are lots of bean dishes and meals created from leftover bread, like our Panzanella salad. There’s a Tuscan-style steak on our new summer menu. It’s a ribeye chop brushed with olive oil, roasted garlic, lemon, and fresh rosemary. (Tuscan is) a rustic style of cooking that tastes as if everything just came out of the garden.”
On that garden theme, Mirabile has added roasted duck with dried cherries and tangerines in a balsamic vinegar reduction plus a dessert of fresh berries in triple cream and brown sugar to his summer menu, as well as a very un-rustic but decadently sweet Chantilly Napoleon pastry.
You can also get a true Tuscan fix at Lidia’s Kansas City (101 W. 22nd Street), such as the combination of fat white corona beans and garlic and thyme-marinated squid or the light Tuscan-influenced dishes just added to the restaurant’s new summer menu. The fresh-tasting bread soup, Pappa al Pomodora, is made from fresh basil, tomatoes, and crusty bread; the salad of lightly grilled tuna with corona beans, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and a red-wine vinaigrette is perfect for eating out on the patio for the feel of the Florentine countryside (minus the trains rumbling by for Chicago).
If you’re there, peek in the kitchen at Chris Juliano, the new face assisting Lidia’s executive chef Dan Swinney. Juliano’s not Tuscan (he’s a New Yorker, most recently of Lidia’s sister restaurant Babbo) but will work with Swinney until the end of the year before moving to Pittsburgh to serve as executive chef of the new Lidia’s opening there in February.
We won’t have to wait until February for the brand-new Trattoria Luigi (919 W. 47th Street), which opens this week. Although it will serve the cuisine of Sicily and southern Italy, its new menu definitely is not Eye-talian. The restaurant is the brainchild of Luigi Bonura, who renovated a glam-looking former designer’s studio just west of the Plaza into a very sophisticated setting for some high-concept culinary creations. Chef Eldon Painter’s menu will offer familiar Sicilian fare, such as a daily lasagna dish and spaghetti tossed with garlic and olive oil, as well as his own innovations, including a pork tenderloin with blackberry and black currant sauce and a dry-aged 10-ounce beef filet topped with lobster, crabmeat, spinach, and garlic butter.
Bonura, a fifth-generation restaurateur (his parents, Marion and Marian — also partners in the new venture — own Luigi’s Restaurant at 13035 Holmes), has given the Plaza area a restaurant that looks like something from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and promises two outdoor dining decks and a cigar-and-cognac lounge.
And because parking is at such a premium on that corner of the Plaza, just drop off your keys with Luigi’s complimentary valet and say, “Arrivederci, baby.”