Writing reviews about the establishment of a friend is not exactly the most grateful exercise especially if you know that this review won't be framed and placed in the restaurant. But my job is made a little easier this time, because I'm writing about one of the top Italian eateries in the city: Trattoria Toscana.

When Toscana opened several years ago, the friend- who is a part owner of the joint-always told me to go for the house special: the tagliatelle in barca, a mildly spicy pasta dish with grey and black mussels and a light tomato sauce. It failed to impress the first time and also the second time and then I took a a long leave of the place. Only a couple of months later when I heard rave reviews about the place from others did I decide to go a third time - third time lucky says the proverb and it proved to be true.

We've been frequent visitors ever since: highly impressed with the level of service (perhaps one of the best in town) and the superb Tuscan food and amazing pizza. The only thing that is less than impressive is the price tag at the end. However, quality has a price and Toscana makes you pay dearly for the wonderful courses. Ever more so as we discovered on our most recent visit. The menus - which were a little worn out from the abuse by greasy palmed customers leafing through it while munching on pizza pane- were reprinted not only with new typography but slightly "new" prices.

Beneath the rustic decor and friendly vibe lies one of the trendiest places in town: you're bound to see some friends and celebs hanging around in the evening on weekdays or the weekend. The waiting staff are a big big plus in the overall experience, however it is a bit strange that the head waiter picks up all the orders for the food while the others take orders for drinks and serve up whatever is ready from the kitchen. He is always top of his game ready to recommmend dishes that don't appear on the menu and whatever the chef has freshly prepared.

We started off with a Pinot Grigio / Chardonnay cuvee from Friuli, which was perfection - the best way to kick off a weekend lunch. As the wine was my first course of the day I was soon in the mood to fill up my stocmach with something solid. Pizza Pane and two sauces come instantly to satisfy the small hunger. Next came a rich and tasty minestrone, which ranked much higher than the bitter one across the bridge at Da Lello. Another starter arrived based on the recommendations of the waiter: a tartar trio of tuna, salmon and swordfish. Let me make a little detour here. Last couple of times we alaways ordered the shrimp tartar, which is mixed by the waiters at the table. This is a terrific mixture, however we wanted something new this time and waiter recommended we take the fish tartare that gets mixed by the chef and not the waiters. The quality of the fish was super, the tartare had an airy, fluffy texture with a drizzle of aceto balsamico on the side and we used up a whole basket of toast bread to finish it off. Top notch, so far.

Then came the main courses, which didn't lead us further into the realms of great tuscan cuisine and were - unfortunately - only passable. I decided to try the tagliatelle in barca, again, and it disappointed me, again. I didn't find it spicy at all, the mussels were tiny tiny and missing from some of the shells and there was no sign of the signature characteristic taste of the goat (?) cheese that also goes into it. Very average at best. Our other main course, the risotto with gamberi or king prawns was recommended by the head waiter as something off the menu, but nevertheless a favourite with guests. Well, the best I can say about it is that the prawns were fresh. Other than that, the rice was not al dente but much harder and starchy. It was cooked with a fish broth, some tomato and double cream, but lacked in taste. All in all very far from the risotto at Fausto's and not the level we expected here.

Too bad that this review comes after a dozen times of eating fantastic dishes here every time and enjoying every bit of it, but that's life. I would still very warmly recommend Toscana to everyone looking for authentic Italian taste. Oh, and the pizza is also in the TOP 3 in town and you can always pop in for a quick take away in a box if you don't feel like eating through three courses.

Overall: 6 / 10 today, but usually a 7

Trattoria Toscana
V. Belgrád rakpart 13.

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