Ristorante Tosca and My Strategic Plan for DC Restaurant Week

I have been a faithful  DC Restaurant Week participant for about as long as there has been a DC Restaurant Week.  As soon as I receive an email or Tweet announcing the dates and participating restaurants, I drop absolutely everything I am doing to begin making reservations. An opportunity to spend $35 for a three course meal should not produce anxiety or require a complicated plan.  But somehow this is always how it plays out for me. This year I implemented a super-secret reservations strategy that I am not able to divulge for fear that everyone will use it next year. (Suffice it to say that it worked.)

My goal is to make one reservation at someplace I love (Rasika), one at a new restaurant (Todd Gray’s Watershed) and one from my to do list for Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2011 (Ristorante Tosca).  I actually achieve this goal, but the execution falls apart before implementation.  I end up not going to Rasika, instead opting to attend the Celebrity Chef Tour event.  I don’t go to Watershed because I ate too much food and stayed out too late at the Celebrity Chef Tour event. This leaves only my reservation at Ristorante Tosca.
After all this plotting and planning, I begin to question whether going to Tosca during DC Restaurant Week is even worthwhile.  I can’t believe that I am thinking this, but there it is.  A blog post on Young and Hungry, the Washington City Paper restaurant blog, reaffirms my concerns:

Excerpted from It’s DC Restaurant Week: Do You Care?  by Chris Shott

For diners, the upside is simple: the deal offers you the chance to try a restaurant you might not otherwise be able to afford, or at least think you might not otherwise be able to afford. The downside: large crowds and limited menus. Even worse: the quality of the food may suffer, as kitchens crank out bigger quantities of fewer items and with arguably less motivation to make it good. After all, what chef is going to bust his ass to impress some fly-by-night guest who likely isn’t coming back until the next discount orgy in January? WaPo columnist Ezra Klein once put it this way: “you’re spending almost as much as you would otherwise, but getting worse food, fewer options, and a crummier experience.”

Meanwhile, more savvy diners may see it as an opportunity to patronize places that don’t participate in the promotion, as reservations may be easier to obtain because the crowds are flocking elsewhere.

I am nothing if not easily influenced by what I read, so I think more seriously about avoiding Restaurant Week altogether. This only exacerbates the anxiety I am already feeling.  I need to calm down.  I review the Tosca menu online and am reassured when I see that the choices are to be made from the entire menu, rather than restricting diners to a few dishes. Plus, the main course dishes are all in the $30 range, so the savings will be significant. Now I only have to worry about the quality of the food.  This is not a problem.  It’s something I do on an almost daily basis.

We arrive at Tosca where we are joined by another couple.  The first decision to be made is whether to begin with salad or pasta.  Our server, who is delighted to help us navigate the menu, strongly encourages us to try the pasta.  “You can have salad anywhere!” His Italian accent is endearing and I don’t need convincing.  Pasta it is.  My choice: Tagliatrini al nero di seppia con polpa di granchio, carciofi e aglio arrosto which translates to black ink tagliatelle with jumbo lump crab meat ragu, calabrese pepper, artichokes, and roasted garlic.  This is an irresistible combination of flavors:  the inky, slightly salty pasta with the rich crabmeat, creamy garlicky sauce, and the sweet tomatoes. It is a luscious dish, which I would have declared perfect had there been just a touch more artichoke.

Black ink taglierini

My husband enjoys his salad of radicchio and Bartlett pears with imported Gorgonzola cheese terrine and toasted walnuts.  He describes it as well-executed but similar to my comment, is wishing for a bit more pear. Overall, however, these are two satisfying starters.

radicchio and pear salad

My friend starts with deep fried squash blossom filled with burrata cheese, red pepper sauce, mache, capers and Bagna cauda sauce (garlic, anchovies, and olive oil).  I take a bite and I am surprised by the coating, which reminds me of a sweet and sour dish from a Chinese restaurant. Not that there is anything wrong with that.  It’s quite good.

deep fried squash blossom

I am feeling a bit predictable when it comes to ordering my main course.  I opt for roasted scallops served with English pea puree, sauteed chanterelle mushrooms, and Port wine reduction. I have eaten a fair share of scallops lately and I really need to diversify my menu selections.  Next time.  For now, I enjoy every morsel of scallops.  They are cooked just right, and the tart wine contrasts nicely with the delicate (and beautiful) pea puree.

scallops with pea puree

My husband has opted for the daily grilled fish with chef’s selection of organic vegetables.  He chooses swordfish, which can be risky because it so easily can be served too dry.  Not this swordfish.  The thickly cut meaty fish, is charred on the outside and pink on the inside.

My friend’s spinach ravioli filled with roasted veal, prosciutto and pistachio mortadella with a red wine reduction, butter, fresh sage and Parmesan cheese, elicits gasps upon her first bite.  I have to see what the fuss is about.  Yes, this dish is definitely gasp-worthy. The combination of  meats and fresh cheese produce a succession of flavor explosions.

spinach ravioli

The risotto special with seafood, on the other hand, does not have the same appealing presentation or flavor wow of the other dishes. It’s not bad, says my friend, just nothing special.

I am a model of restraint when it comes to dessert.  I have rhubarb sorbetti.  The flavor is
indistinguishable as rhubarb but the texture is good, as is the accompanying fresh fruit.  My companions
have “modernized tiramisu” which in this case is deconstructed and served in a martini glass, and
rice pudding with berries. I am told that they are both good.  I don’t taste either one.  I should have for
the sake of the blog post but I am trying to atone for the caloric intake of my first two courses.
modernized tiramisu
rice pudding

The atmosphere at Ristorante Tosca is somewhat subdued.  The colors are neutral and my overall feeling
about about the decor is that it’s soothing and sophisticated.  While the room is packed, I can hear my
dining companions speak.  I cannot hear what they are talking about at the next table.  This cannot be
underestimated in terms of appeal. While I can appreciate a trendy spot that is buzzing with activity
and noise, sometimes I do want to converse without straining my ears and voice.

Tosca interior www.opentable.com

The service is impeccable.  Our server is invested in every choice we make and we are never made to feel
less special because it is Restaurant Week. Given that the entire menu is up for grabs, I assume that nearly
everyone is taking advantage of the deal, which levels the playing field.

My strategic plan has enabled me to accomplish my goals. I have a great dining experience at a reduced
rate.  Happily, my confidence has been restored in this event.   DC Restaurant Week comes around
again in January, which gives me some time to contemplate my plan of action. And no, I will not reveal
my super-secret reservations strategy.


**You don’t have to wait for Restaurant Week to roll around again to visit Tosca and save.  They have a
a pre-theater three course meal for $38, available 7 days a week from 5:30 to 7:00 pm.

DC Restaurant Week has been extended through the end of August at many restaurants. 
Check Open Table for details.

Ristorante Tosca,  1112 F St. NW, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  4.4
Zagat rating: 27

#33, Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2011

Ristorante Tosca on Urbanspoon



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