Fact: Italian food is the most popular ethnic food in America. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that for Jewish people that is also true, although, Chinese is a very close second.
Why do we love Italian food so much? Because of garlic, and because of slow simmered sauces, flavorful cheeses and textured pasta that help create a feeling of foreign adventure in every bite. There is also a family feel to Italian cooking. Every kid is hard-wired to love spaghetti – which makes it easy to graduate to vodka sauce.
If the Tomaso’s name sounds familiar to you, it is because Chef Tomaso Maggiore has been serving Italian food in the valley for 40 years. What’s new though is his latest concept, Tomaso’s When in Rome, a trattoria-style (less formal and less expensive than a ristorante) dining experience based upon the food in Rome but sourced from locally grown ingredients. The servers, however, seem to be imported from Italy which only adds to the authenticity and charm of the experience. It has only been open since May 2017 and already has quite a following.
There is an all-day happy hour at the bar offering small plate appetizers that are almost a full meal, along with cocktail and wine specials. They serve a fresh warm basket of baked ciabatta bread with a nice crust and super soft insides along with heavenly garlic butter. Over the course of several visits, along with several desserts, here is what I had:
Luxus Reserve $14 glass
A Sicilian red wine, lightly sweet and fruity, served in a glass and a bit left over in the decanter. I am pretty sure that Tomaso is an owner of the vineyard. Next time, I’m getting the bottle.
Gnocchi Anacapri $10
(Potato dumplings stuffed with spinach & asiago cheese, tomato & basil sauce)
My Midwestern dining partner, a self-proclaimed gnocchi aficionado, just loved this appetizer as did I. The creamy, melt in your mouth texture of these stuffed little dumplings made you savor each one, and if that wasn’t enough, they were swimming in a pool of simmered tomato basil sauce that was light, fresh and flavorful.
Caesar Salad $8
(Traditional Caesar salad, croutons, served in parmigiano basket)
Yes, I had to try it because it is often the very telltale early sign of whether or not the food is good at an Italian restaurant, and in this case, all signs point to yes! Everything about it was fresh, light, and oh that basket of baked parmigiana underneath was a wonderful flavor bonus that I ate mostly with my fingers.
Fish of the Day $19 (lunch menu)
(No menu description but it was parmesan encrusted sea bass, risotto and sautéed vegetables)
Everything at Tomaso’s is beautifully plated and this catch of the day special was no exception. A generous portion of fresh sea bass perfectly encrusted with parmesan, lay atop a creamy risotto in a tomato basil sauce, and adorned by sautéed broccoli and tomatoes. All of the wonderful flavors and textures were present. The crunchy crust complimented the softness of the fish, and the creamy risotto and soft vegetables turned the whole thing into comfort food. The tomato basil sauce tied the whole dish together perfectly.
Eggplant Roulade $8 (Happy Hour menu)
(Sautéed eggplant rolled with mozzarella, ricotta & basil baked with herb tomato sauce)
I love eggplant any way it comes. When I saw this on the menu I knew it was for me. Succulent pieces of eggplant in all that Italian warmth was comfort food to me. It was almost like soup and I sopped up the remaining sauce with their delicious bread.
Angel Kisses $8
(Fresh strawberries filled with sweetened mascarpone cream & chocolate)
If you think you are too full for dessert, order this anyway, you will be glad you did, or better yet, start your dinner with this. Every single part of it is amazing, from the sweet fruit, to the cookie-like little balls of chocolate, and the creamy mascarpone (like the best cream cheese you’ll ever have). Every bite is a wonder.
Sicilian Cannoli $8
(Crispy shell filled with sweetened ricotta cream & chocolate)
The cannoli shell was crisp and sweet as it should be, and the filling was creamy, smooth, sweet and delicious. I added a cup of coffee, and my world was complete.
Cassata Cake $8
(No menu description but the manager said he made it himself)
Cassata is a traditional holiday treat made with sponge cake, and in this case, moistened with Gran Marnier, and layered with cannoli filling including ricotta cheese and candieds (candied fruit), covered in a shell of green marzipan (almond and honey frosting) and coated with powdered sugar with fresh fruit on the side. I know, what’s not to love? It was rich, moist, exploding with different textures and flavors, and the fresh fruit made you feel like there was something healthy about it. I guess you could say it was a much better version of a holiday fruitcake. I couldn’t finish it, but it came home with me and was just as good two days later.
Tomaso’s When in Rome is a little off the beaten path, halfway between North Scottsdale and Carefree but well worth the drive. There’s an outdoor patio, Roman columns on the inside, white tablecloths and great service. It’s not fast as each dish is expertly put together so leave time to relax and take in the whole experience. It’s special occasion food without needing a special occasion to be there. The all-day happy hour is quite popular, and a fun way to try different things on the menu in small-plate form. If you know you’re going out for Italian, this is a Rome you can drive to. I’ll see you there.
Tomaso’s When in Rome
23655 N. Scottsdale Road #120, Scottsdale
Contact A. Noshman at