Italian food's upscale at Toscana in Ormond Beach

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Reporter Jim Haug and friend fled from the nighttime Christmas parade in downtown Ormond Beach for a dinner at Toscana Ristorante Italiano, in the upstairs Fountain Square space formerly occupied by the French restaurant, La Crepe En Haut. Facts

Toscana Ristorante ItalianoWHERE: 142 E. Granada Blvd., Ormond BeachHOURS: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.MISC.: Full barPHONE: 386-615-0350

When you were at Toscana Ristorante Italiano, did you feel like family?

Yes. It felt nostalgic to return to the bar room, making me recall past meals at Le Crepe. In comparison to the more elegant dining room, the bar seems like a family room with sports on the TV. Most patrons were casually dressed in blue jeans and sweaters. I would like to return sometime to watch a game and eat a bowl of pasta as an alternative to going to a wing house.

The food tasted authentic and homemade. The vibe is Old World with the folksy Italian music and waiters in formal attire who magically pulled scrapers out of their sleeves to clear crumbs from the white table cloth. Life is beautiful under the Tuscan sun.

Eat a lot of bread sticks and fried cheese with a marinara dipping sauce?

No, not that kind of place. This restaurant is more upscale, more traditional than that. This is fine Italian food. There's no pizza on this menu.

Our appetizer was a doughy ball of fresh mozzarella served with sliced tomato, fresh basil and grilled asparagus spears, marinated with balsamic vinegar.

For dinner, we had a rigatoni pasta with creamy vodka sauce and a penne pasta dish with eggplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella. All very delicious. I saw more on the menu that I wanted to order, including the broccoli rabe appetizer, a spinach side dish, gorgonzola salad and the spaghetti puttanesca. I was tempted to splurge, but my dinner companion said we would go over budget.

For a fancy restaurant, the prices did not seem that outrageous. Our food orders cost a total of $45.

For dessert?

Mama mia, way too full for any dessert.

While satisfying, the food is rich. We felt like stuffed manicotti. In hindsight, we probably overdid it on dishes with cream and cheese, not to mention the bread before dinner. It would have been better to pair the main courses with vegetables or light salads.

After such a decadent treat, it felt good to walk home.

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