Dine up or dine down at new Bellettini restaurants

Whether you’re looking to grab a lunch and go or relax and enjoy a four-course dinner, Toscano and Panini’s restaurants offer patrons both dining experiences.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 4:08pm
  • Life

Toscano’s Sam Litvak

Whether you’re looking to grab a lunch and go or relax and enjoy a four-course dinner, Toscano and Panini’s restaurants offer patrons both dining experiences.

Located in the new Bellettini (an Italian-inspired upscale retirement living facility) the adjoining restaurants opened only weeks ago and are open to the public.

“They allow patrons to either dine up or dine down,” said Celester Gray, food and beverage manager of both restaurants, who has been in the industry for 30 years.

If guests need something quick, they can go to Panini’s, a more casual restaurant that offers breakfast, salads, soups and, as the name suggests, sandwiches – all under $10. It also features a bar and happy hour that goes from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, serving $1.99 beers.

“If you’re coming over to Toscano, it’s an environment where it is much more laid back,” Gray said, describing the restaurant as casual, elegant. “If you like putting your elbows on the table, we’re very comfortable with that. You can come as you are in a suit, or just come in jeans.”

Toscano, which serves lunch and dinner only, offers a Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring items that top at $40.

The reporter chatted with Gray and Executive Chef Darin Leonardson, former Google executive chef, about the cuisine.

Reporter: Is Toscano and Panini’s cuisine Italian inspired to fit with the Bellettini concept?

Gray: The building itself is Italian inspired, but the restaurants are Mediterranean and Italian inspired. In Toscano, we call it inspired cuisine, so it doesn’t say Italian restaurant, or Mediterranean restaurant. We feel it gives us the flexibility to go anywhere from North Africa, Morocco, Italy – any part of the Mediterranean in order to inspire us to do our menu.

Reporter: Do you see many patrons dining who don’t live at The Bellettini?

Gray: We do. People have been quite surprised coming in because the Bellettini itself is a prime retirement community. But unlike other retirement communities, our restaurants are open to the public.

Reporter: What makes Toscano and Panini’s unique?

Gray: I think what makes them great is with them both being together, it gives the guests two totally different options.

Leonardson: From a chef standpoint, one of the things I think is unique is I want to bring the Seattle restaurant experience to Bellevue, because I feel that it is lacking that experience. What I mean is I want to bring local farmers, organic products and even have a garden out back here that we harvest some of our fresh herbs from and incorporate them into our meals. We may even work on getting a rooftop garden.

I also like to take old-world classics, like crab and steak, and give it a contemporary twist and give it that wow factor – that’s really what we want to do here.

Reporter: Describe some dishes that have a “wow factor.”

Leonardson: For the Seared Alaskan Black Cod dish ($26), we went into North Africa and did a chermoula sauce. So we sear the black cod, get it really crispy and serve it over Mediterranean confetti, which is just a bunch of bright colored vegetables. On top of the black cod we do the chermoula sauce, which is kind of like pesto, but has a lot of chili, cumin, roasted garlic, paprika, coriander, and that’s blended together. Then we do bright herb oil on the plate and a tiny herb salad on the top of the cod. It’s the essence of spring so to speak.

Another dish, the Gremolata Crusted Rack of Lamb ($34) is really wonderful. Lamb is coming into season here in spring. We do a creamy saffron risotto, so it’s bright yellow on the plate. Then we do the haricot vert – a little bundle of baby French green beans on the plate and we do a pinot noir wine reduction. So you have this green, red and bright red on the plate that accentuates with the lamb. Then it’s crusted with gremolata, which is typically an Italian dish with veal, here we do it on the lamb so the mint and the lemon really pair well with the lamb and wine reduction sauce.

Gray: The Pan Seared Diver Scallops (they are adding the dish to the menu this week) is on sweet potato coins and is topped with beluga caviar and donned with chardonnay beurre blanc. The jumbo scallop is seared until golden brown and served medium rare. That was created by one of our lead cooks and we were really impressed by that. For us it’s a ‘wow’ dish and we want our kitchen staff to have that type of impression on our guests. So we want the kitchen to be inspired every day to carry out the vision.

Reporter: What does Panini’s menu look like?

Gray: Panini’s has more of the sandwiches (including the Croque Monsieur with black forest ham, dijonaisse and Swiss cheese served on a French baguette: $9.95) and salads. But one of the things that’s unique about Panini’s is we do all of our pastries in house, every day. We have one that’s called Tre Parte Pane, which are three breads, so there’s an orange Danish, pecan Danish and cinnamon roll all together ($2.75).

Leonardson: We also do our own tarot-root chips. Rather than a Cascade chip, we make our own chips, not just with a traditional potato; we wanted to give it our own twist.

Gray: They are incredible.

Carrie Wood can be reached at cwood@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4290.

Toscano and Panini’s

Located in The Bellettini, 1177 108th Ave. N.E., Bellevue


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