Tavola Di Tosa now has bar food First there was just Tavola Di Tosa. When I say "just," what I really mean is "only" or "solely." "Just" would imply no great shakes, but, as we all know by now, this restaurant shakes, and shakes mightily when it comes to fine authentic Italian food at very fair prices. Next came Tosa Euro CafÈ, a simpler, tapas-oriented spot where you could eat well for not a lot but still feel as if you'd been accorded five-star treatment with a menu to match. Now there's the Tosa wine bar, situated at the east end of the restaurant where the old market used to be.

Tony Hanslitt, owner of Tavola Di Tosa

Why should I devote any time and space to reviewing a restaurant that I reviewed, gosh, two years ago?

First off, because I haven't reviewed it in two years and, secondly, because the introduction of bar food at this estimable establishment enables Tosa to enter a different price category: viz - extremely reasonable, and almost accessible to those on a budget.

I say almost, because, whenever you sidle up to Tosa's wine bar with the innocent and praiseworthy goal of eating in a fiscally responsible manner, you find yourself faced with an irresistible dish of baked striped bass on a bed of poached Belgian endive, and all of a sudden your budgetary constraints are thrown out of the window. You wind up in a confused state of hedonistic ambiguity, which ultimately resolves itself into your following the instincts of your tastebuds as opposed to those of your bank manager.

This puts me in mind of my dear old friend Sir Iain McTaggart Campbell, who was one day brought up before the desk of his branch bank manager, the amusingly named Archibold St. Hubbins, at the Royal Bank of Scotland, to account for some of his more egregious expenditures. As Campbell stood stiffly before the bank manager's desk, St. Hubbins ran his long and spidery finger down the length of the preceding month's bank statement. "Ristorante Milanese, 40 pounds," he intoned. "The following Tuesday, Ristorante Milanese, 45 pounds. Then the following Wednesday, 51 pounds. Good grief, Mr. Campbell, Mrs St. Hubbins and I don't lunch every week at the Ristorante Milanese. What do you have to say for yourself?" "Well," replied my friend, with a ramrod straight face, "I have to say that I'm jolly glad that you don't, because I'm sure that the presence of Mrs. St. Hubbins and you would quite spoil my luncheon. Good day to you, sir."

And so it is whenever I enter the hallowed doors of Tavola Di Tosa. I just know that I'm going to have altogether too much fun, and will spend the next week explaining it all to the bank manager. Over the past year or so, as you may have ascertained through recent reviews, I've been on the search for restaurants that offer genuinely great value for money. With the opening of the wine bar at Tavola Di Tosa, this establishment can now include itself on the list of better bangs for the buck.

Not only is this a really gorgeous space, well-appointed, tastefully decorated and professionally staffed, but it also offers a fine selection of smaller dishes that will make your tastebuds sing and your wallet not shrink away every time you put your hand near your pants pocket. There are few other places in town where you can eat veal meatballs, fresh anchovies wrapped in whole roasted peppers or a simply fabulous baked goat"s cheese with fresh tomato coulis all for $7 or so a plate. Yeah, baby!

Several years ago, my friend, and fine dining companion, The Fuss and I came up with a new unit of currency. This was well before those shinola-haired oligarchs in Brussels dreamed up the staggeringly dull and ploddingly-named Euro with all its trashy connotations. Our unit of currency was far more utilitarian, imbued with extravagant layers of meaning for the hedonistic gastronaut. That it never caught on is not for want of trying, merely for lack of marketing dollars.

Over the course of a year or so's intensive dining and shopping experiences, we discovered that certain activities always seemed to cost the same. A basket of groceries at Wild Oats would run $74 to $85. A couple of drinks and appetizers at Ruth's Chris would run about the same. Dinner for two at Bistro 936 (with one bottle of wine) would run, oddly enough, between $74 and $85. And so it went. We found, with curious consistency, that a vast number of gastronomic activities would cost roughly the same amount of money, and that their degree of satisfaction provided was essentially similar. We started to call these expenditures "snackies." A snackie for me now represents precisely this amount of money when divided between two people.

The good news is that there is also the half snackie. A half snackie is almost exactly what it costs for two to eat well at The Sizzling Wok, or at Pancho's Tacqueria. While I'm certain that the quarter snackie denomination is out there, alive and kicking, I'm just not sure right now that it's of sufficient weight to finance a decent lunch for two.

The better still news is that a quick and satisfying bite by the bar at Tavola Di Tosa can run approximately half a snackie for two. The average casual diner could probably manage two dishes here. Add to that a glass of wine, and you're just over $20 per person. Of course, if you're like me, you're going to want to look at the full restaurant menu, which is also available in the bar.

On a recent visit I was tempted by a gorgeous-looking dish of braised sweetbreads and pearl onions in an ethereal veal broth. I somehow felt justified in bending the budgetary restrictions on this occasion because, frankly, you just don't see sweetbreads around that much these days. Needless to say, I was by no means disappointed. By the time this dish arrived, it was necessary to order more wine from the expertly-chosen list, then before I knew it, it was on to the dessert menu, and a brief refresher course in panacotta. This accompanied, naturally, by a glass of Allegrini's semi-divine recioto della Valpolicella, a quarter snackie itself; and so the ship sails on.

The Bar at Tavola Di Tosa 6523 Ferguson 202-0240

Lunch and Dinner Tuesday - Saturday Dinner only Monday Food : 4 stars

Atmosphere : 4 stars

Service : 4 stars


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