Favorite

Not the Tuscany We Remember 

Quagliata's resurrected restaurant shares little with its former self

You can't spell quality without Quagliata. More than a hokey maxim, this statement holds up as a concise and accurate synopsis of the Cleveland dining scene. Since opening his flagship Ristorante Giovanni's in 1976, Carl Quagliata has established himself as the maven of good taste. Decade in and decade out, diners could be confident that meals enjoyed at a Quagliata restaurant would be money well spent.

The prescient restaurateur followed up Giovanni's with Piccolo Mondo, a trend-setting bistro that ignited the Warehouse District while unleashing a young chef by the name of Michael Symon. Other delicious successes include Café Toscano and Casa Dolce, an East Side bakery he no longer owns. Quagliata also displayed savvy foresight when he opened Tuscany at Eton, an eatery that proved casual could go hand-in-hand with quality.

Now, after a five-year hiatus, Quagliata has resurrected his pined-for Tuscany. Opened in late May, the eatery has taken up residence in the Hamptons, a dated apartment complex located near Beachwood Place mall. It doesn't take long for a diner to realize that this version shares little in common with its predecessor, not only in terms of setting, but also design, concept and, regrettably, quality.

Quagliata's original paired the hustle and bustle of a gourmet deli with the casual comfort of a laid-back trattoria. For on-the-go folks, there were glass-fronted display coolers overflowing with delectable prepared foods. Nearby shelving sagged beneath the weight of fresh-baked bread, imported pasta, canned tomatoes and fine olive oils. Those with neither time restraints nor microwaves eagerly plopped down at one of the few tables for spot-on Italian fare sans the candles and tablecloth.

The revival is so unlike its predecessor that calling it Tuscany borders on the libelous. For starters, the deli is ancient history. A lone display cooler is tucked near the cash register, but it rarely contains much of anything, let along prepared foods. Guests are certainly welcome to order take-out off the menu, but that approach essentially swaps leftovers for properly prepared heat-and-eat fare.

Granted, the menu does share an ancestral bond with its forebear, but the preparations so far have proved them distant cousins rather than identical twins. Pastas, always bowls of beauty at Eton, tend to be cooked past al dente and sauced with too heavy a hand. In the capellini al finocchio ($13.50), squishy angel hair is smothered in a pleasant-enough tomato cream sauce. But spoiling the dish, literally and figuratively, are fishy, rubbery rock shrimp. We have decidedly better luck with the vegetable lasagna ($9.25), a meat-free stack of pasta, grilled squash, tomato sauce and cheese.

Apart from the powdery surplus of flour on the underside of the crust, the pizza bianco ($8.50) is everything one might expect of a white pizza. A thick layer of cheese crowns a thin, faintly crisp crust. A healthy dose of garlic and black pepper add some welcome spice.

If the word "panini" conjures images of toasted-and-pressed bundles of meat and cheese, banish the thought. Here the term is used in its more literal meaning, denoting sandwiches built on a small roll. One features caper-studded tuna salad ($8.25), fresh mozzarella, lettuce and tomato on a ciabatta bun. Others star rotisserie-roasted chicken, house-made meatballs and roasted veggies.

The blame for the issues we encountered over two visits can be shared equally among the kitchen, the servers and the management. It was a flawed recipe that resulted in calamari ($9.50) fried in a batter so thick it was impossible to differentiate a tentacle from a tube. But our server, who apologized for the dish after noticing it was left virtually untouched, deserved fault for not removing it from our tab. Had the chef blotted away the oil slick that clung to a breaded veal cutlet ($14.95), the dish would have been substantially more enjoyable (though it still would lack the promised roasted tomato sauce).

Mr. Quagliata likely would have rolled some heads had he witnessed the amount of time it took a staffer to tidy a child's mess. Scattered beneath a deserted table near the front door, the pasta explosion greeted us upon arrival and bid us arrivederci on departure — an hour later.

All of the above is a shame because, despite the unfashionable address, Tuscany is a sharp little bistro. The all-day menu offers a wealth of reasonably priced options for diners with appetites large and small, and seating options range from stools at a sleek bar to tables in the sun-soaked atrium.

dining@clevescene.com

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