15 North St., Hingham
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday- Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Maybe the third time's the charm. Caffe Tosca follows Fireking Bakery and Casa del Rey at this location near the Hingham waterfront. Owner Ed Kane, who also operates the nearby Stars and Tosca, says he decided to close the Mexican restaurant at the site because "I didn't know anything about Mexican food, and there was no business in the winter."
A Mexican menu apparently held limited appeal, but an Italian trattoria seems to have something for everyone -- the place is crowded even on weeknights. Caffe Tosca is the casual cousin to Tosca just across the street, which opened 11 years ago. "We wanted to go back to our original roots," says Kane, who spent a lot of time checking out enotecas in New York before opening the cafe.
At Caffe Tosca, you'll find simpler choices and lower prices than at Tosca. It's a nice space and a happening spot. The waiters wear jeans and black T-shirts, the bartender makes a mean margarita, and these days, the Red Sox are often on the TV over the bar. The two rooms seat about 100, with outdoor dining under umbrellas on a patio.
The menu is straightforward: salads, panini, pasta, wood-grilled pizza, and a half-dozen entrees. Judging from what the waiters carried to and fro, the pizza seems to be popular. It's a grilled flatbread style, with toppings added later. The wild mushroom pizza ($11) boasted a crisp, thin crust, ample mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, arugula, and caramelized onions.
During an earlier visit we were served a pizza with a slightly burned bottom.
The roasted shiitake mushrooms ($8) had a smoky flavor but could have been kicked up a notch, to borrow a phrase. They were cooked with barbecued red onions and aged balsamic vinegar, but lacked tanginess.
We love the idea of small dishes. Here you can order pasta in an appetizer ($8) or entree size ($15). The pasta is made at Tosca, and the freshness is apparent. Try the sweet pea ravioli with brown butter and fresh Parmesan for a different, and delicious, taste. The ziti carbonara was cooked just right, and the prosciutto added a salty note to the creamy pecorino sauce. The pasta was not drowning in sauce; this need not be a heavy dish.
We ordered the "small" portion, which was more than enough. One wonders what the large portion looks like.
The pork tenderloin ($14) is a thick grilled chop, with a porcini mushroom salsa. It's a nice, flavorful cut, and is accompanied by lightly fried artichoke florets. The cod al cartoccio ($14) is baked in parchment. Cod can be bland, but this dish absorbs the flavors of the accompanying olives and fennel. It has a great flavor with a bit of tartness.
The desserts are all baked by Tosca's chef, and they are uniformly divine ($6, except for the sorbet, which is $4).
The flourless chocolate torta is dense and rich, with dollops of mascarpone mousse. An apple crostata is an open-faced apple pastry served with mascarpone and vanilla ice cream. A lemon tart was paired with blueberries for a wonderful sweet and sour medley.
Caffe Tosca is a pretty place to spend a summer evening with good friends and good food at decent prices.