You'll be greeted with a "buona sera" as you enter Oceania Cruises' Toscana restaurant. Toscana offers cruisers a taste -- and a good one at that -- of Tuscany onboard their cruise ship. Dinners here demonstrate Italy's passionate love of food, in a mellow atmosphere to delicately match the ambiance of the Tuscan countryside.
Come hungry for multiple delectable plates, but also for a lesson in Italian specialties including wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar -- you'll be guaranteed to taste something new. Toscana is beloved by nearly all aboard the luxury cruise line for its decadent flavors, romantic atmosphere and overall unforgettable experience.
We sailed on Oceania Cruises and gave the venerable Toscana a try. Here is what we discovered while doing so -- and what you yourself can expect from the popular restaurant when you give it a visit (or two).
With warm, low-lit lighting and white-linened tables against mellow colors and creams, Toscana creates a romantic atmosphere. There are ample windows in the restaurant, but the focus is on the food -- even the Versace china was exclusively designed to highlight it, with cherubs and Romanesque flourishes.
A variety of tables set for groups or couples are spread throughout the restaurant, with the best tables toward the back, overlooking the ship's wake. Simplistic yet admirable art adorns the walls, delicately portraying the Tuscan countryside in both color and black and white.
You might be asked to share a table, so be sure to specify dining plans upon making a reservation. Reservations are required to dine at Toscana as well.
Dinner is divided the traditional Italian way: hot or cold antipasti, soup, pasta or risotto, salad and the main course. However, the meal begins with the olive oil cart.
Along with your fresh bread basket, various olive oils and balsamic vinegars are brought tableside and explained by a server to match your preference of sweet or acidic. Parmesan chunks chipped right out of a giant cheese wheel are also served as savory pre-dinner "candy."
A caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil is on the menu to start, as are beef or octopus carpaccio (we learned that they freeze the octopus to slice it so thinly), baby calamari, jumbo shrimp wrapped in prosciutto or an artichoke and Parmesan stack with black truffle sauce.
The main soups available are minestrone or potato and pancetta. The fresh salads include field greens, tomatoes and cucumbers with aged balsamic; spinach with Sardinian goat cheese, olives and a lemon-oregano vinaigrette; or a Caesar made tableside.
Risottos feature either vegetables or lobster, but there is also a special of the day on the menu.
Pasta can be served as an appetizer or entree, and span gnocchi, angel hair pasta, giant tortelloni and penne with porcini mushrooms to linguini with seafood, lasagna Bolognese or a trio if you can't decide: a risotto, a fettuccine carbonara and tortelloni with ricotta cheese and spinach.
While there isn't gluten-free pasta available on the menu, the kitchen can prepare some of the pastas as gluten-free so long as they receive advanced notice. Note, however, that the cruise line recommends that passengers make their dietary restrictions and allergies known at the beginning of the sailing.
The main event features crowd favorites like an osso buco Milanese, which is an oven-braised veal shank; lobster tail fra diavolo with sauteed garlic and chili flakes (served over pasta); the branzino, a sea bass filet pan-seared and served with lemons, capers and chardonnay; and the Dover sole, simply prepared with lemon, parsley, butter and steamed potatoes.
Your dolci -- or dessert -- menu entails a selection of fresh biscotti (hint: order a glass of sweet Italian dessert wine to dip them in).
Regional choices include cannolis; zabaione, an Italian sponge cake soaked in rum and filled with chocolate and coffee; a vanilla panna cotta custard with red berry compote; a "chocolate lasagna" with ganache and layers of cocoa dough served with pistachio sauce and, of course, the tiramisu, mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso, amaretto and aged brandy (topped with fruit). The Toscana Quintet offers a sampling of five desserts.
The Toscana menu has far more options than we listed as well, making it bound to satisfy any tastebud and palate. Keep in mind, however, that not all Oceania cruise ships have the same menu and, therefore, offerings.
This is a sample Toscana menu, but note that it is subject to change by ship and itinerary.
Editor's Note: This menu is for display purposes only and is subject to change.
Toscana is included in the price of your cruise fare, but reservations are required. Oceania passengers receive at least one guaranteed reservation in Toscana per cruise (depending on the length of the sailing), with the chance for more, depending on availability. Suite passengers are allowed unlimited dinners, based on availability, in Toscana.