Toscana Café & Wine Bar
238 Fifth Ave. (Gaslamp Quarter)
Prices: Breakfast, $8.95 to $15.95; lunch, $12.95 to $15.95; dinner entrees, $12.95 to $33.95
Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
Late American journalist John Gunther would have raised his thumbs to Toscana Café & Wine Bar when he said, “All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.”
For anyone combing the Gaslamp Quarter for a morning meal, the pleasure begins with Toscana’s early-day quietude over a wide cup of mocha-style Peerless Coffee. Though located on one of San Diego’s busiest urban streets, if you get there between 6 and 11 a.m., you can proceed onto a hearty, white-linen breakfast without cattle lines.
Perhaps Gunther would have enjoyed wine with his omelet after settling into a cozy banquette or while savoring the sunrise from the café’s east-facing outdoor patio.
For us, coffee and orange juice hit the spot, but those tempted by the bottles poking out from numerous wall shelves can get a jumpstart on the Chianti before lunch and dinner service begins.
“Travelers on different time zones occasionally ask for wine,” said our waitress, while pointing out other available libations such as Bloody Marys and Greyhounds.
As a bleary-eyed twosome, we kicked off with Norwegian salmon carpaccio, plated with tomatoes, red onions and capers.
Crostini and a few shavings of strong Parmesan cheese rounded off the dish, which reminded me of the pretty ensembles served at daybreak on overseas flights, when airline food in both coach and business class used to rouse the senses.
Omelets and wraps are made with three eggs, although you’d bet there are four.
Our Florentine omelet was mondo, stuffed generously with juicy sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, crimini mushrooms and Fontina cheese. The eggs were spongy like a frittata, but kept moist from the organics. Fresh fruit sealed the deal, along with rosemary potato salad bounded with olive oil rather than mayo.
The Italian wrap packed with eggs and potatoes was also hefty. Without warning, it contained semi-sweet Hawaiian sausage inside in lieu of the spicy, fennel-laced meat my taste buds anticipated.
We were told afterward that the kitchen had temporarily run out of Italian sausage, which left the broccolini and Roma tomatoes searching for their Italian connection. Needless to say, the flavors merged favorably, especially when applying Toscana’s ravishing hot sauce to it, made with white wine vinegar, fresh peaches and chili peppers.
We couldn’t resist ordering the four-stack of caramelized banana pancakes flanked by candied walnuts.
Compared to hotcakes served elsewhere, which often absorb the flavors of other foods cooked on the same grill, these were remarkably clean tasting.
Also, the menu touts the maple syrup as house-made, and it indeed tasted less sugary than most. Butter, however, went missing in action until we asked for it.
Given the Gaslamp’s shortage of breakfast spots, Toscana fills a niche for locals and tourists alike with other dishes that include brioche French toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese, a variety of omelets with bacon or apple wood chicken sausage as side options and other Italian-inspired wraps, all boasting substantial weight.
During lunch and dinner, when wine and spirits flow with greater ease, the bill of fare verges into paninis, pastas, seafood and meats. Although when it comes to the most important meal of the day, the café hits the high notes to start your engine purring.
Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of Secret San Diego (ECW Press), and began writing about food two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. He has since covered the culinary scene extensively for NBC; Pacific San Diego Magazine; San Diego Uptown News; Gay San Diego; Living in Style Magazine and The Gay & Lesbian Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.