Tosca Legorio is the fourth Tosca in a maternal series of namesakes, that, with the christening of her granddaughter, thus far numbers six. It seems reasonable that Legorio chose the name Tosca's for her modest but ambitious Pacific Beach pizzeria.
The modesty lies in the decor and atmosphere. The young, thoroughly casual crowd has a faint air of la vie bohemienne about it, as does the virtual absence of decoration, the open window to the kitchen, the counter with stools for extra-informal dining and the refrigerator cases that stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a polished steel rank along one wall. The menu makes abundantly clear the ambition to be avant garde. The designer pizza has been with us for some time, but Tosca's serves variations on this theme with an important house twist--a choice between whole wheat or semolina crusts instead of the white flour dough upon which typical pizzas are built.
The salad and pasta lists, too, show at least a yearning to be ahead of the crowd. The item that probably goes to the furthest side of trendiness--and, in the mouth, verges on the bizarre--is a traditional hot spinach salad with chopped eggs and bacon, plus crushed frozen raspberries. There may be little as luscious as a raspberry, in the right context, but here the berries not only tint the garlicky croutons pink and lend an unwarranted sweetness, but are icy and strange against the warm greens.
Much more mainstream and satisfying is the California salad, a sort of chopped melange of avocados, olives, chick peas, tomatoes and blue cheese, moistened with a very mild vinaigrette and piled over greens. Compared to the spinach salad, it seems dull, but it is refreshing and unusually solid for a salad, and a full order can double as an entree or be shared.
The pasta list offers the usual things, such as ravioli, angel hair and lasagna, in less-than-usual treatments. Ravioli, susceptible to any filling but in this country usually crammed with tough meat pellets, here contain a stuffing of musky Gorgonzola cheese. This is commendable, and Tosca's goes a step further by sharpening the dish with a creamed pesto rather than the familiar tomato sauce (regular ravioli in meat sauce also are available, however). This is, in a way, Genoese cooking given a \o7 cocina novella \f7 twist. The lasagna is dressed with tomatoes, onions and cream, a locally novel treatment for this pasta. The menu specifies fresh tomato sauce and herbs for the angel hair pasta, but if indeed the sauce was fresh, it had been cooked to the unctuous texture of tomato paste, and the chopped herbs (parsley was identifiable) had been insufficiently rinsed. Several mouthfuls of this pasta were gritty as a result.
A thoroughly gritty quality also characterized the semolina dough used for the pizza of the first visit, although this objectionable quality was not present the second time around. Semolina is undeniably a coarse flour, but a sandy texture is not the sort of thing one wishes to grind between one's teeth. Other than this, the crust is more firm, chewy and dense than is common, qualities that lend it interest.
Only at the end of the pizza list is any mention made of such usual toppings as pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon (along with broccoli, of all things). These are options for a create-your-own pizza; otherwise, the choice is from a list of specialties and house creations that for most of its length takes a vegetarian tone. Many pizzas avoid tomato sauce, but most include a basic three-cheese blend of Jack, mozzarella and provolone that on individual pies may be augmented by other cheeses.
The most basic pizza consists of just tomato sauce and the cheese blend. The adventure begins with the California pie, garnished with chilies, olives, almonds, green onions, avocado, cilantro and Cheddar and pepper cheeses. The eggplant pie adds red bell pepper sauce, basil and smoked Gouda, a cheese that reappears along with mushrooms and scallions on the artichoke heart pizza.
The most elegant among these creations may be the forest mushroom pie, a fairly delicate preparation that shuns tomato sauce and the house cheese blend in favor of a Brie base topped with button, shiitake and oyster mushrooms and a heavy sprinkling of pine nuts and mixed parsley. The flavor is austere, the effect light; there is a Frenchness to it that makes it seem something other than pizza. The seven-cheese pie is pungent, almost assaultingly so, with a blend of blue, smoked Gouda, Cheddar and Parmesan mixed in with the house cheeses. Sharp sun-dried tomatoes add yet further pungency. Next on the list is the antidote, a cheese-less crust topped with assorted vegetables. Onion enters the lamb sausage pizza in a major way, and this very Greek pie also includes grape leaves, feta cheese, sage and pine nuts; it is robust and likable.
Other options include pizzas decorated with shrimp, roasted garlic and, most unusually, lemon and white wine; smoked salmon with dill and goat cheese, and the ever-more-ubiquitous combination of barbecued chicken with cilantro and onions. Tosca's calzone selection extends to just a trio of folded pizza pockets and includes one version stuffed with ricotta, spinach and pepperoni, and another with lamb sausage and smoked Gouda.
The menu mentions a pastry tray, but the items are not prepared on the spot. The kitchen will send out what it calls a coconut-macadamia cappuccino, and although this seems very much to have been made from powder, it brings a meal to a sufficiently sweet ending.
3780 Ingraham St., Pacific Beach
Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays
Entrees $5.50 to $13.25. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $20 to $35
Credit cards accepted