Originally created 08/08/03

Tuscany's menu offers a world of flavor



A cursory glance of The Tuscany's menu suggests a serious identity crisis. Can ravioli, fried sweet potatoes, Asian chow mein and Caribbean chicken possibly coexist?

The answer is an unqualified "yes." The downtown Aiken eatery's owners are from Trinidad, and they bring island-inspired cuisine to diners. But they also bring open minds, global perspectives and vast imaginations in creating an inventive dining experience.

Tuscany truly is all over the map: A Wednesday-evening Southern buffet makes way the next evening for a Caribbean buffet.

The decor complements the anything-goes attitude, with a whimsical year-round Christmas tree, heavy linens, hardwood floors and rich oil paintings.

We were up to the adventure.

Our meal began with chicken and spinach egg rolls ($4.95). The honey-baked, all-white meat was mixed with sauteed spinach, red peppers and onions wrapped and deep-fried, served with a light plum sauce. We've never tasted fresher or make delicious egg rolls, with each flavor lightly accenting the others.

Next came an Asian salad ($5.95) and cup of Thai coconut chicken soup ($4.75). The salad - mixed greens with mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds, red onions, cucumbers and raspberry vinaigrette dressing - was scrumptious. The combination of colors, tastes and textures attests to a detail-oriented chef. The soup was creamy and zesty.

For entrees, we chose Tuscany pasta ($10.95) and shrimp scampi salad ($8.95). The pasta - sun-dried tomatoes and Portobello mushrooms in an Italian cream sauce and topped with Parmesan, Romano and asiago cheeses - was slightly overcooked, but tasty. The salad - shrimp and mixed greens tossed with a white wine, lemon and garlic dressing - was another creative marriage of a typically heavy pasta sauce with the lightness of a salad. A marriage made in heaven. The dishes were beautifully presented with herb-dusted plates.

The restaurant offers one of the most extensive beer and wine lists we've encountered. True to form, the spirits are as far-flung as Africa, Australia and Europe.

Service was somewhat slow, but cheerful and attentive. Clutter was whisked away before we had a chance to notice it.

The Tuscany was one of the most memorable eateries we've visited. We'll be back, anxious to see what new surprises await.

Mary Deriso is the retired general manager of the Pinnacle Club, a private dining club in Augusta. Christine Hurley Deriso is a writer whose children's book, Dreams to Grow On, is available in local bookstores and on Amazon.com.

ON THE TOWN

THE EATERY:

The Tuscany, 235 Richland Ave. West, Aiken

HOURS: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

PHONE: (803) 648-7551

THE VERDICT: A global dining experience with down-home comfort. HHHH 1/2 out of HHHHH