I first heard of Tuscan Kitchen when I started working with Chunky’s Theater Pub to produce their onscreen advertisements. It was a pretty big deal to get the call to head down to Salem to meet with the then marketing director. It wasn’t until I rolled up to the restaurant that I realized just how big they are. Tuscan Kitchen restaurant is a two story building, with a large patio out front, beautiful stone face and massive warm oak doors that lead into the restaurant. As someone that sees allot of restaurants, Tuscan Kitchen was on the scale like I had never seen, especially for a independent restaurant.
As a former chef, I’ve spent a great deal of time in restaurants beyond just being a guest. and there is no better time than first thing in the morning when all the prep is being done for the day. But with a restaurant like Tuscan Kitchen the morning is even more amazing. The entire restaurant is filled with the smell of the wood fire mixed with roasted vegetables, its just amazing. In college, I worked as a kitchen manager for the original Bertuccis, back when it was a unique and original concept. We would get the wood fire oven roaring in the morning and roast up sheet pan after sheet pan of vegetables, and it was, for that short time in the morning, the single greatest place to be on earth. The warmth of the fire, the smell of the roasting veggies, the sound of the wood crackling. Its the most peaceful place you could ever want to be.
Since my first visit to Tuscan Kitchen to talk business I’ve been wanting to get back for lunch or dinner. Salem is a bit of a drive from the studio so its not a spare of the moment visit, its a special trip that needed to be planned. I was lucky enough to have some business meetings in the area today and so I took full advantage of the opportunity to finally get the chance to enjoy a lunch at Tuscan Kitchen.
The first thing you notice about Tuscan Kitchen when you walk in is its sheer size, it is an enormous restaurant! But despite its size, it has a warmth and welcoming feeling to it, more like having a meal at your super rich uncles villa than at a restaurant. With any restaurant, I put allot of value on my first interaction when entering the door, and that’s usually with the host/hostess. Tuscan Kitchen puts a great deal of value on the host/hostess position because from the minute I walked through the door I was made to feel…well..special. Now, to look at me, you wouldn’t guess that I’m a hundred-thousand-aire, so when I do get treated like a vip, I know its a genuine desire that every guest has a great experience.
The Tuscan Kitchen menu is robust, varied, yet not overwhelming. From salads to pizzas and paninis, it has a wide variety of items to choose from but is simple enough to not overload people with to many options. For an appetizer I ordered the ARANCINI CLASSICO which is a stuffed rice ball. I got hooked on these over the summer, and these were by far the fullest, cheesiest, most delicious ones I’ve had to date. Crispy, flavorful, with the rice cooked perfectly. They are served in a homemade sauce that honestly, I was at one point eating by the spoonful. For my entree I choose the Panini special for the day, a lamb Panini…I know, I spoil myself sometimes. The Panini bread is unlike anything I’ve had before. Its this thick full slice of bread, that when you bite into it has the most amazing mixture of crispness and softness, it both melts in your mouth but still retains the crunch of the crust. The lamb, well, at this point I’m just beyond the ability to describe it. Its flavor was rich, soft, and understated, but when combined with the accompanying flavors of the Panini, it just exploded with flavor. Think of the scene in Ratatouille when he eats the cheese and then the strawberries….its like that, a symphony of flavors served on a pillowy crunchy slice of heaven.
Being the full figured lover of food that I am, desert was never even a question. Tuscan Kitchen prepares all of their deserts in house, that’s not a slogan, that is fact. When you walk in, you see the display case of fresh deserts available on the menu. REAL deserts too, like Creme’ Brulee and home made Tiramisu. Yes, I’m a desert snob. Homemade deserts are a luxury that we all deserve, and finding a restaurant like Tuscan Kitchen that takes the time to prepare these complicated and intricate deserts is a rare joy. I went with the chocolate cake, which was a variation on the molten chocolate cake. The actual cake itself was a soft, moist, flavorful container for the smooth chocolate filling.
Tuscan Kitchen is, in a word, amazing. There are so few dining “experiences” available in NH these days, but Tuscan Kitchen is one that everyone should experience. From the beauty of the dining room to the open kitchen to the incredible wait staff to the heavenly food, enjoying a meal at Tuscan Kitchen is more like a vacation to Italy than merely a night out of dining with friends.