And now for something completely different from my latest trip to North Carolina — a sensational Italian restaurant.
Despite my incidental meals at four barbecue places (so far), the real reason for my trip to Charlotte was to take my cousin Scott Griffin and his new bride Nora Raynor out to dinner. I’d had to withdraw my acceptance to their wedding at the last minute, and felt particularly guilty in light of the severe COVID restrictions on the size of weddings. So off I went, leaving Nancy to take care of Ella and Lily. I’m the soul of thoughtfulness.
Scott and Nora picked Toscana for the dinner so I stayed in the AC Hotel in South Park, which is mere steps from the restaurant. The AC is a newish hotel with spacious, comfortable rooms, helpful staff, and hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere as per Marriott routine. Even better, the AC has a rooftop deck with a great view of the Charlotte skyline. Charlotte has a very compact but striking skyline, with a good cluster of new tall buildings emerging from low-rise surroundings, sort of a banking industry version of Mont St. Michel. The roof is the perfect place to have a pre-dinner drink on a perfect October evening.
Roll Tide. Scott and Nora, whom you also met at Noble Smoke, joined us a bit later, at 6:30.
What a good time! I wish you had cousins as nice and as fun as mine. Alas, Sinclair and Eric went on to their next engagement. Nora, Scott, and I finished up and strolled over to Toscana.
Toscana is set in a courtyard amid some specialty shops. There’s lots of room for spaced outdoor seating, and it’s a very pleasant environment.
If you’re having dinner with Scott Griffin, have him select the wine. He’s very knowledgeable — his father, Doc, and some friends opened a wine store in Wilson so they could get the wines they wanted. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Scott chose a very, very nice Tuscan wine.
Great choice. It had a juicy, Mediterranean vibe in its bright cherry and redcurrant fruits as well as loads of peppery herbs, new leather, and spicy aromas and flavors. Medium-bodied, elegant, and undeniably delicious, with both richness and freshness. Okay, you guessed that I lifted that from a review. I would never use the word “vibe.” My own take on the wine: It really smelled and tasted delicious.
As did the food. Scott started with a caesar salad with lots of anchovies, and I opted for grilled octopus with arugula, potatoes, and roasted red peppers, which I shared, rather penuriously, with Nora.
For our main courses, Nora chose the ravioli. I seem to have had trouble focusing the camera at this point.
Scott chose veal piccata,
and I ordered the carbonara. I thought seriously about getting the veal shank, but I was seduced by the word “guanciali” and the persistent memory of the carbonara at Mezza Luna in Orvieto. My brain may also have sensed that it might be good to ease up on my meat intake.
Delicious. Just delicious. The pastas were house-made, perfectly cooked, and as fresh and flavorful as can be. And the sauces were excellent. Our waiter was prompt, and attentive, and she had a dry wit. (“I’m just a little ray of sunshine.”) A charming setting, great service, great conversation, and memorable food and wine — that’s a perfect evening.
I can’t guarantee that your companions will match mine, but you certainly will enjoy a meal at Toscana. And start with a cocktail at the AC’s rooftop bar. You’ll love it.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, often close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.