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Toscana's menu filled with treasures

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. It's true that having an unobstructed view of the US bank parking lot and Gate City Bank isn't the same as ambiance. But if the downtown Fargo restaurant Toscana were nestled in the hills of Tuscany a...

Toscana

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. It's true that having an unobstructed view of the US bank parking lot and Gate City Bank isn't the same as ambiance. But if the downtown Fargo restaurant Toscana were nestled in the hills of Tuscany along winding country roads lined with those funky pencil cypress trees you see in paintings, the view, though breathtakingly beautiful, would be redundant.

Toscana's enormous menu of classics and creations is the beginning and end of this Italian experience. Yes, the chef sings and has a great accent. The linens are crisp, the tables well- dressed, the service from my charming Maria, very pleasant. But the food! It makes you wonder how this place managed to find itself in Fargo. On the other hand, it doesn't really need to be anyplace in particular. Lakeside pizza joints need a lake and theme restaurants need a theme. Toscana needs only its menu.

To call any cuisine "authentic" these days is to miss the point of great cuisine. Toscana doesn't offer up copies like the franchises that pepper the Italian food landscape.

Start with an appetizer of clam and mussel guazetto ($11). I had something similar in San Teodoro, Sardinia, admittedly a bit of a swim from Tuscany, but a benchmark none the less and this slow-cooked tomato sauce is magic. You can make guazetto with just about anything, I suppose, but this creation puts these little seafood treasures in an unforgettable light. By now you will have finished the bread and oil so ask for a bit more and don't leave a drop of this in the bowl.

The guazetto doesn't really belong on the appetizer menu because it truly stands on its own and I imagine it would be on the main course menu if there were room. The selection is positively mammoth and covers veal, beef, lamb, about a dozen ways to eat chicken and, if you like a little bit of gorgonzola, a lot of cheese.

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Most entrees can be had for well under $20 with the exception of a few dishes that include some ingredients that we don't see in Fargo too often. The veal in périgordine sauce ($33), made from that indescribable black truffle from France, comes to mind.

The best test of an ethnic cuisine is always the basics and for this you may want to try something simple like Tortellini alla Vodka ($13). Made with roasted red peppers, fresh basil and mushrooms, it's bright, heady and deeply satisfying.

Desert is up to you but if you can only bring yourself to bookend one end of your meal, let it be an appetizer or a soup. A fine cup of coffee can end any one of these exquisite meals.

By the time you read this, Toscana should have introduced a new wine list that is expected to include more than 40 wines. How to manage one of these extensive lists is a subject for another article, but you will most certainly want to include a bottle or two at your table, and I'm a fan of "simple" with Italian foods.

In a world of swirling, sniffing and pairing wines with foods, it's best to remember two things. First, in Europe, those who grow up drinking wines drink what's made down the road no matter how well it might "pair" with a dish and, when in Rome .... Secondly, the cost of a bottle of wine and its quality are seldom correlated. A decent Pinot Grigio at $4.75 a glass or the ever-ready Chianti at $5.75 a glass will make anything on the menu work. If it doesn't, you just may want to grab a burger someplace.

Restaurant review

Toscana

202 Broadway, Fargo

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Cuisine: Continental

Ratings (out of four stars):

Food: Four

Service: Four

Ambiance: Three

Dining details

- Hours: Monday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 4 to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday

- Phone: (701) 235-9100

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- Reservations accepted: Yes

- Alcohol: Wine and beer

- Dress: As you like

- Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com

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