One has to really give it up to Dusit Thani Manila. The establishment has been around for quite some time now, and has managed to maintain its image as one of the better hotels in the metro while going through a number of reinventions.

Dusit Thani hotel is well known for its superb Thai restaurant, Benjarong. Their Japanese resto, UMU is also quite notable (foie gras sushi anyone?), but for some reason their Italian outlet Tosca was flying a little under the radar. One night, I got an invitation from Bea to sample Tosca's food. The invitation hinted that there would be foie gras, wine, and all the other rich, heady stuff that might go straight to my thighs. How could I say no?

We were met by the hotel's Public Relations Manager, Danelle Palang, in the main dining area of the restaurant. I was instantly taken by the place. When you dine out as much as we feature writers do, you tend to become picky with ambiance. I am not saying that we dislike the down-home style of many eateries, but it's a different thrill when you get to dine in a place where the design doesn't always cave in to function.

Tosca creates a haven for diners with its wide space space, high ceilings, and ultra-flattering lighting. One can easily forget the honks and screeches of rush hour traffic while supping soup and sipping wine inside the restaurant.

Complimentary bread and dips

Tosca Anti-Pasti Variation

We started with the Tosca Anti-Pasti Variation (P425), which contained pieces of grilled vegetables laced with pesto sauce, sea scallops, stuffed calamari, strips of parma ham wrapped around melon wedges, Italian salami, and Calamata olives. The best part of the platter were the sea scallops, which were grilled to tender perfection, and the pairing of parma ham and sweet melon.

The latter is a popular appetizer among local Italian restaurants, and I was glad that Tosca opted for the original version using melons, instead of the trendy ripe mango. I like the mango version as well, but I believe that the melon serves as a better contrast to the ham, with its watery sweetness and crunch.

Spaghettini with Creamy Lemon-Basil Sauce

For our pasta course, we had the Spaghettini with Creamy Lemon-Basil Sauce (P325). This was an interesting dish as it managed to be both light and rich at the same time. The main flavors, along with the accompanying cherry tomatoes and shrimp, are typically associated with light summer dishes. The unexpected addition of cream made the dish a heavier affair.

An old Italian chef once mentioned to me that Filipinos loved creamy pastas, which was why he would add cream to whatever sauce he was mixing up. Though not all dishes can stand up to the heaviness of the cream, I am happy to report that Tosca's creamy pasta was well executed. The lemon-basil sauce in particular, coated the pasta just so, and provided the right amount of tang and flavor to the al dente noodles.

Corn-Fed Chicken

For our main course, Bea and I ordered the Corn-Fed Chicken (P950). Thanks to its unassuming name, I was ready to pass it, until something in the fine print caught my eye: foie gras. Like cream, any dish that contains fattened duck or goose liver is worthy of my time.

The presentation of the dish was as unassuming as the name. It just looked like two pieces of chicken with some fancy sauce and fruit garnish. Upon closer inspection, I was thrilled to see the foie gras tucked inside the chicken pieces, and the sauce was a yummy red wine reduction. The garnishes were actually caramelized apples and apricot ginger ravioli. The foie gras, eaten on its own or paired with bites of the sweet apples were pure heaven. The chicken itself was all right, but the real star of the dish were the extras.

Pizza Tosca

The Pizza Tosca (P510) was like a modified quattro stagioni, or four season style pizza. It had the traditional toppings of artichokes for spring, ham for winter, and olives for summer, but instead of mushrooms for fall, this version had a boiled egg, tomatoes, and two kinds of cheese. I've never had a boiled egg on my pizza before, and it was an interesting twist, as it melded delightfully with the flavors of the other ingredients, especially the ham and tomatoes. Tosca's pizzas are also known for their thin, cracker-like crust, which I discovered, could hold up the deluge of toppings quite admirably.

We happened to dine on a Tuesday night, and at the urging of Danelle, we decided to sample that night's "Surprise Themed Set Menu". Every Tuesday, according to Danelle, Tosca's kitchen turns into "Kitchen Stadium", similar to the one in the "Iron Chef" program. No, they don't have Mark Dacascos stomping around in military uniform. But rather, every week, the chef picks a mystery ingredient to use for a three course meal, complete with wine pairings. It was a foodie challenge that Bea and I happily agreed to. That night, as the mystery ingredients were coconut and mango.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup with Spicy Mango Wanton

Our three course meal (P800++ and P999++ with two glasses of wine) featured the following: for starters, we had the pumpkin coconut soup with spicy mango wanton; main course was salmon and scallops in coconut curry foam and saffron ravioli; dessert was strawberry yogurt cream with mango-papaya salad. It was definitely an interesting meal, as the ingredients weren't exactly very Italian.

Salmon and Scallops in Coconut Curry foam and Saffron Ravioli

The best part was the soup, as they were able to successfully combine the two ingredients into a unique dish. The soup was smooth and creamy pumpkin with hints of coconut. The soup was offset delightfully by the mango chunks and crunchy wanton.

Strawberry Yogurt Cream with Mango-Papaya Salad

One would think that after seven dishes, we'd throw in our napkins and call it a day. Instead, Danelle told me that their Hot Chocolate Cake (P325) was "pure bliss" and that the Creme Brulee (P230) was also something worth trying. I couldn't say no, and neither could Bea, so we went ahead and ordered the two other desserts, having three in total.

Creme Brulee

The yogurt cream and the creme brulee were both perfect little endings to a heavy dinner. They were light, creamy, and had just the right amount of sweetness. The molten chocolate cake on the other hand... Well, it's a dessert that is best shared. As if it weren't rich enough on its own, with its crusty shell breaking apart to reveal a luscious liquid chocolate center, the cake is also served with side of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Hot Chocolate Cake

After dining for three hours, Bea and I managed to heave ourselves from the table, heady with wine and good food. Although Tosca isn't exactly the cheapest Italian restaurant around, I do think that the food quality and dining experience make it worth one's money. The place is classy, comfortable, and the staff are some of the most courteous and knowledgeable I've encountered. If there is a date to impress or an event to celebrate, then Tosca would be a great place to consider.

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