A Tuscan-Californian marriage of flavors

I’ve always wanted to go to Tuscany, maybe spend a month or two there enjoying the spoils of the land. But since that dream has not been yet realized, I’m doing the next best thing, and that is, enjoying a meal at Hyatt Orange County’s TusCa restaurant.

I was invited here when the restaurant first opened and never forgot Chef Laura DeMartin‘s beautifully concocted menu with the freshest of ingredients to showcase the marriage between the flavors of Tuscany using the best of local Californian ingredients.

On a recent visit, Priscilla Willis of She’s Cookin’ and I asked each other why we don’t make it a habit to dine here (or any hotel restaurant) more often.

The menu is simple — just one page — with an accompanying antipasto menu featuring items you can “check” off a list to compile a plate. We were both excited about starting off with a few selections from this menu to sample.

Our two cheeses: Tallegio and Burrata alla panna. I absolutely LOVED the Tallegio — soft, creamy, salty, everything a cheese should be. It had a glorious aroma which our server thought was strong, but neither Priscilla nor I thought so — but then again, we both love smelly cheeses.

Burrata was quite delicate and delicious just as it should be. Perhaps we should have started with the burrata, but after the flavorful Tallegio, the subtlety of the burrata seemed to take a back seat.

Finocchiona, a fennel salami is nice and salty. The fennel is not overpowering and will appeal to those who aren’t familiar with how strong fennel seeds can be. Cacciatorino, a salami with a hint of cinnamon, I was told, is drier than the Finocchiona but I liked its texture, although I wasn’t able to detect any hints of cinnamon.

And who doesn’t love grilled asparagus? However, the eggplant caponata, made in-house, is really the star here. The caponata is never mushy and the chunks of vegetables are cut larger than normal allowing it to still remain a little firm and retaining its original taste. I really hate ‘saucy’ caponata.

Six different types of condiments are also presented for you to mix and match with your antipasto plate including honey, figs, cornichons, grain mustard, balsamic onions and a fruit paste.

Steamed Manila clams were plump and oh so tasty with garlic, pancetta and white wine. The broth it was sitting in was tasty neither Priscilla nor I wanted to waste even the smallest drop. We lapped it up with the accompanying toasted bread slice. This is one of those dishes that is so simple, yet, blows me away every single time.

While dining at TusCa, I truly believe you should order pizza or pasta as everything is made from scratch in-house. Shrimp pizza with oven roasted tomatoes and pesto is a refreshing change from the traditional pizzas out there. I don’t usually order pizzas with seafood so this was definitely a welcoming change.

The pizzas here always remind me of those I’ve eaten in Italy — thin crusted never laden with too many toppings to weigh it down.

I mentioned to Chef Laura I’d remember eating a pizza with prosciutto and egg she had made on my previous visit and she was kind enough to make that again for us even though it wasn’t on the menu. I love the saltiness of the prosciutto with the creaminess of the runny egg yolk, while grilled asparagus added a slight crunch and color to the pizza.

Our main course of pappardella pasta arrives and I marvel at the home-made pasta, so perfectly al dente and well matched with the braised short rib bolognese. We are told that they will soon be changing the short rib for wild boar and Priscilla looked at me, our eyes filled with glee as we vowed to return again when that happens.

The second main course of eggplant ravioli is a hit with both Priscilla and I. It is light with a touch of ricotta, cherry tomatoes, basil and garlic slices — an awesome summer item suited for both carnivores and vegetarians alike.

We were so stuffed and tried to wave off dessert, but Chef Laura wouldn’t hear of it and personally sent over two items . Pear gelato with basil is delightfully refreshing and actually helped cleanse our palates. The distinctive flavor of Bosc pears comes through so clearly and the glutton in me didn’t stop at just one spoonful.

Chocolate Caramel Tart would have been so welcoming had I more room in my stomach, I could but only fit two mouthfuls. The caramel is subtle — just as well because I am not a big fan — allowing the dark chocolate to shine. A touch of sea salt sprinkled on top diffused the sweetness and enhances the flavor of the chocolate.

Service is attentive and although the restaurant is situated within the main lobby area of the hotel, the noise level is not too loud. Complimentary valet parking is offered when you dine at TusCa — just don’t forget to have your ticket validated and most of all, don’t forget to tip your valet! Other than that, the meal at TusCa is always so highly satisfying, and I can’t wait to return when that wild boar hits the menu.

TusCa
at Hyatt Orange County
11999 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Tel: 714-750-1234

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