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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

You don't have to like Italian food to love their food

First, Brio Tuscan Grille does not have spaghetti with meatballs.  Second, they do have amazing food, and not all of it is what Americans might consider Italian cuisine.  If you think of tomato sauce with oregano, you are in for a big surprise.  And if you do not have a reservation, you might wait a long time for a table.  This restaurant is very popular, and for good reasons.  

Moreover, you do not have to dress up.  The atmosphere ranges from casual to business.  They also have a full-service bar with music playing and sports displayed on at large-screen television mounted high on the wall.  If you prefer to sit outdoors, they have an area with comfortable upholstered chairs and outdoor heaters enclosed with glass walls just outside the bar.  In that area, you can see the activity on the sidewalk and street, while you are protected from noise and cold.

Well, I finally had dinner at Brio Tuscan Grille.  My reporter friend and unofficial photographer Rhea Frances Tetley, a reporter for the Alpenhorn News and founding member of Rim of the World Historical Society, drove us down to Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga. 

We stopped first at J.C. Penny, where I hoped to buy a pair of shoes.  They had a darling ankle boot with faux fur lining, but sadly they did not have it n my size.  Disappointing, we trudged over to Brio Tuscan Grille, which is just across Main Street from J.C. Penny. 

I had low expectations, since this is a chain restaurant with steakhouse prices, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The server was quick, cheerful and attentive, even though she did not know that we were there to review the restaurant.  The chef came over and talked to us because he did know.  In the interests of disclosure, we received a free dinner for two in exchange for my honest opinion. 

First they brought us bread:  a half-loaf of sourdough bread still warm from the oven, and four pie-shaped slices of rosemary flax-seed flatbread.  The sourdough had a thin, crispy crust and soft, yummy bread inside, just warm enough to melt thebutter.  The flatbread was like a  baked tortilla, made from very thin pizza dough.  The flavor was amazing, with a hiut of garlic and Parmesan cheese. 

I believe that coffee is the first and most important test of a restaurant.  If the coffee is no good, then the meal is spoiled for me.  I am pleased to report that the coffee is excellent, and they are very liberal with the free refills.  Rhea had iced tea, which she said was also excellent.  The coffee has a touch of dark-roast flavor to it, but not burned and not as dark as a French roast.  It goes down smoothly, and i did not get an acid stomach from it, even though I drank three full cups and half of a fourth cup. 

And oh, the food!  We skipped the appetizers, but next time I plan to try the cheese and tomato appetizer.  If it is anywhere near as good as the food, I will be delighted.  We were simply stuffed as it was, and we both took home take-out boxes.  The portions are quite generous.

The presentation was good enough for any high-class restaurant with any famous chef.  I kept an eye on the other tables, to make sure that we were not getting special treatment.  The only dish I saw that was not absolutely beautiful was a plate with a roasted half of a chicken and a pile of mashed potatoes.  See, you do not have to like Italian food to enjoy dining at Brio Tuscan Grille.  More importantly, all the people around me were smiling and enjoying their food.  Nobody was texting or playing Angry Birds on a cell phone.

We started with soup and salad.  Rhea said her tomato bisque, which had bits of lobster and shrimp, was creamy and delicious.  I had the Caesar salad, and the lettuce was fresh and crispy, the dressing very light and the flavor just right.  The croutons were amazing, crispy but so soft that they melted in my mouth, and definitely very fresh.  The server came around with a grater and a chunk of Parmesan cheese and asked whether we wanted cheese – of course we did! 

I ordered Pasta Pesto, and it was beautiful.  The delicate aroma of rosemary enticed me.  The angel hair pasta we just the right texture.  The chef told us that their pasta is fresh-frozen and never dried, and that does make a difference.  The play had generous slices of grilled chicken, and the meat was moist and tender.  The spinach leaves were just slightly wilted, and the tomatoes were softened but not cooked.  The sauce was an unobtrusive vinaigrette. 

Rhea ordered the lasagna, which looked beautiful and had an enticing aroma of sausage and sauce.  It had two slices of mozzarella cheese on top, sausage meat and cheese inside, and a splash of parsley on top.  The only oregano in it, the chef told us, is a small amount in the sausage.  That is important to me because I despise oregano.

For dessert, Rhea had something that looked like a chocolate cake with ice cream in a parfait glass, and I had crème brulee, which is served in a ramekin (that is a small bowl for custards and puddings) and has a fresh strawberry on top.  Once again, my taste buds were immensely pleased.

Oh, and the restrooms are clean, have no unpleasant odors (not even perfume or air freshener), and have real doors on the stalls.  They are like the restrooms in high-end hotels.  I am not sure what the deal is with the marble slab across the top of the marble sink, but I suspect that it might have something to do with water conservation.  I will have to research that.

Overall, I would give this restaurant four and a half stars out of five.  The one thing I would like to add to their menu is fresh fruit.  It would have gone well with our meal.

  ~~~





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