Joan Wilder: Journalist, Writer, Editor

Tosca: One gorgeous restaurant

Tosca's open kitchen

BOSTON GLOBE
Globe South Dining Out
November 15, 2009
by Joan Wilder

If it seemed quiet in Hingham last Saturday night, I can tell you why: Everybody was at Tosca, either dining happily, milling around the bar, or lined up 30 deep waiting for a table.

Everybody, that is, except executive chef Kevin Long, who is splitting his time between Hingham and Connecticut, where he’s also the executive chef at Shrine Asian Kitchen in the MGM Grand Hotel at Foxwoods Resort and Casino.

We hadn’t been to Tosca since Long adopted this out-of-town baby 18 months ago, and wanted to see how things were faring without his constant presence.

So I put on a little lipstick and slipped into the dining room at 5:30 p.m., before things got too crowded.

Tosca is one gorgeous restaurant that feels as though it’s in a big city – Boston, New York, Berlin, Chicago.

It’s a voluptuous space, operatic in scale: If it were a woman it’d be a curvy Marilyn Monroe, not a size-0 supermodel. Its 20-foot interior height rises to a raw cedar-strutted ceiling that creates a space that birds could fly through. Exposed brick walls are tall enough to make an enormous tapestry look right-sized and a large mural of an opera stage, near the open kitchen, blends faux curtains with real ones.

Most of the food here, which is now a joint effort between Long and his longtime collaborator and now cochef Brian Hennebury, is like the space: rich and substantial, bold and generous, fully seasoned and carefully layered with flavor.

Success supports success, and with owner Ed Kane’s Eat Well Inc. and Big Night Entertainment companies behind them, Long and Hennebury can afford to seek out high-quality ingredients.

Their chicken, from Freebird, is free-range and hormone- and antibiotic-free. Creekstone Farms, where they buy their meats, supports humane animal handling practices, uses vegetarian feed, and bans antibiotic use. The restaurant is also able to serve 25 items on its extensive wine list by the glass by using a preserving system (Cruvinet) that keeps the wine fresh.

OK, so dinner.

Oh my, the white shrimp Apulian pastella batter appetizer ($12) – these are not mere fried shrimp or tempura. And they are a bit goofy looking, all puffed up and featureless golden crescents, but any doubts about them vanish as you bite through the crispy outside. The batter that creates the sensation of creaminess upon contact is made with soda water and flour, Long later told me. Delivering on New Englanders’ love of classic tartar sauce, the kitchen sided these gems with an excellent caper berry version.

The poor, totally delicious, braised duck fettuccine with handmade noodles ($11 small size, $13 regular) suffered slightly by being served at the same time as the shrimp, thus having to compete with its fried allure. But people cannot live on shrimp alone. So once the painful task of putting down the puffed-up wonders was done, the fettuccine rose center stage and was well loved.

I could have left very satisfied at that point (fat chance) but not so satisfied that I couldn’t fall for a great, paper thin, brick-oven classic margherita pizza ($11). It was served on a rustic wooden pizza tray with a chiffonade of fresh basil on top that was distinctly flavorful, not merely decorative.

Oh, did I mention the little bowl of olive oil our server poured for us upon arrival and the seriously terrific Italian bread that came with it?

The crispy flattened half-chicken under a brick with Marsala glaze, polenta, and oyster mushrooms ($23) had the great chicken taste that is the touchstone of my culinary life. It was as satisfying and comforting as a mother in the kitchen. And I adored (and will copy) that the chicken was topped with the contrasting bright flavors of a watercress salad distinctly dressed with shallot, sherry vinegar, and crème fraise. A side of broccolini tasted of too much brick oven, and our server took it off the bill at our mere mention of it.

The herb-roasted salmon with pesto-steamed mussels ($25) was so, so good. The salmon lay over a smattering of mussel shells, half submerged in a broth of the mussel liquor turned light green with pesto, garlic, and pinot grigio.

Dessert was apple crostata ($8) made out of autumn itself, topped with a homemade ice cream that was like frozen sunshine.

I walked out – my lipstick well worn off – carrying leftovers through hordes of beautiful people, sated silly with stupefied satisfaction.

Tosca
14 North St., Hingham
Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Bar open Tuesday through Sunday at 4 p.m.
781-740-0080
Handicapped accessible

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