67 Main St., Salem, N.H.
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 11:30 to 9 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 to 9 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Call-ahead seating for up to six people; reservations available for seven or more.
Function space for up to 200
Many times when trying a new restaurant, I leave feeling that something is missing. The food is fine, the wait staff personable, and the restaurant decor reasonably attractive. Yet, part of the experience is lacking.
Aside from a friend's recommendation, I didn't know anything about the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, N.H., before visiting on a Friday night with three companions. As we pulled into the parking lot well after dark, however, the warm lighting emanating from numerous windows beckoned us, as if we had arrived at a busy party in a private home.
The interior is designed to recreate the feel of a Tuscan countryside home, with wide plank wood floors, an open kitchen, limestone, a wood oven, and a working fireplace.
The ambience felt soothing even before we sat down.
Owner Joe Faro, who opened the restaurant in November 2010, said his vision for the business developed while he was traveling back and forth to Italy for his company, Joseph's Gourmet Pasta and Sauces, which was acquired by Nestlé Prepared Foods in 2006. Three years later, he began the renovations to replicate a Tuscan villa in southern New Hampshire.
"In my journeys, I fell in love with the foods created [in Italy] and the undying loyalty to scratch techniques using simple, fresh ingredients," said Faro, who worked alongside chefs creating recipes, as well as the makers of custom pasta-making equipment in Italy. "That's how the Tuscan Kitchen was born. I wanted to recreate an ambience that was a mirror image of the food."
As our waitress delivered several pieces of crusty ciabatta bread to our table, she explained that all the bread, pasta, sauces, stocks, and desserts are homemade. Requiring a day to ferment before being baked in a stone hearth oven at 520 degrees, the light and airy bread was served with a dipping sauce of first-pressed virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, wood-roasted tomatoes, and green Sicilian olives.
Our first appetizer, the salumi e formaggi ($10 per person), was a beautifully presented tasting assortment of artisan cured meats and specialty cheeses, including prosciutto di Parma, sopressata, parmigiano Reggiano, burrata made in-house, and truffle honey originating from a Methuen bee keeper.
From the raw bar, the Tuscan shellfish tower ($60 market price for two to four people) featured oysters, little neck clams, giant shrimp cocktail, chilled Maine lobster, and tuna and scallop crudo. There was a wood-roasted tomato cocktail sauce for the shrimp, truffle aïoli for the lobster, and for the clams and oysters a red wine vinegar mignonette, chardonnay mignonette, and balsamic mignonette.
The basis of the tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($9 for smaller portion, or $14 for a full order), a signature dish of the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, consisted of noodles that were thin and delicate, but clumped together. The rich sauce of beef and veal with shaved parmigiano Reggiano was made with San Marzano plum tomatoes, widely considered to yield the most flavorful tomato sauce, and simmered for four hours.
The lobster ravioli ($12 or $20) were pillows of pasta with bits of fresh Maine lobster meat in hand-dipped ricotta and a rich sauce of lobster brodo, tear drop tomatoes, caramelized fennel, and lobster stock that had cooked for seven hours.
The pollo arrosto ($24) was spit-roasted, rosemary half-chicken served with crispy pancetta spinach and sage-roasted butternut squash with caramelized walnut mista. The chicken was brined before being spun over a wood fire, leaving it flavorful, but a little dry.
The herb-crusted and seared tuna ($28) was served rare with a light citrus fennel salad, creamy mascarpone polenta, and aged balsamic soy glaze. All fish are delivered fresh daily, according to Faro.
Tiramisu ($8) lovers will have a hard time finding fault with this housemade version of ladyfingers soaked in espresso and rum with whipped mascarpone crema and caramel sauce drizzle. As good as it was, however, the chocolate hazelnut crostata ($8) won the most desirable item at our table. This warm chocolate and toasted hazelnut tart was cooled by double chocolate gelato and served with chocolate caramel, dark chocolate, and ganache sauces.
There are separate gluten-free and children's menus, and the four-course Sunday pranzo, or Italian family dining, is $28 per person.
Those who want to take some of the Tuscan Kitchen home with them can shop at the Tuscan Market, which opened adjacent to the restaurant last month. The 10,000-square-foot retail space offers artisan breads, an Italian grocery, an in-house butchery, and a 65-seat cafe with an authentic gelato machine offering 24 flavors.
"We're finding that people come for a meal and go to the market for shopping and dessert," Faro said. "We want them to experience it all."