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Thursday, December 8,2011

Tossa Pizza strikes a balance

By Clay Fong

For some odd reason, when I first heard of Boulder’s new eatery, Tossa Pizza, my mind swiftly visualized Luigi Risotto reciting this restaurant’s name in a comical Italian accent.

Risotto is, of course, the blatantly stereotypical chef character from The Simpsons. Comparatively speaking, he makes the Mario brothers seem like the protagonists of a Henry James novel. Fortunately, few negative stereotypes apply to Tossa, which is staking out the middle ground between fast casual (the folks here helped launch Smashburger) and higher-priced artisan pizzerias.

Located at Folsom and Arapahoe in Boulder, Tossa functions as a typical fast casual order-at-the-counter joint during lunch. Come late afternoon, it switches to table service throughout dinner and until closing. Décor here is bright and modern, with blown up vintage photos juxtaposed against a cheery paint scheme and window adornments that obscure the outside traffic. The menu spotlights affordable salads, pasta, panini and pizza, as well as suggested wine pairings that clock in at $5 a glass.

Friend Cynthia and I came for Sunday dinner, and we started off with a $6 mushroom fondue consisting of such slimming ingredients as melted cheese and Alfredo sauce. Served piping hot with fingers of foccacia bread,  the luxurious richness of the cheese, cream and hearty mushroom made for a decadent yet messy treat. Multiple strings of hot dairy extended from the serving dish to my mouth, making me wonder if I had unknowingly been targeted by Peter Parker. I’m not saying this was necessarily a bad thing. It was important to eat this fondue while it was hot, as cooling temperatures did few favors for the texture.

As a lighter counterpoint, we shared the $6.50 Sicilian orange salad, a visually appealing and fresh-tasting mélange of basil, greens, citrus and goat cheese.

However, the side of Tuscan vinaigrette didn’t live up to the quality of the rest of the dish, as it possessed an overpoweringly sharp taste. A simple, subtler blend of olive oil and fruit-infused vinegar might have been a better alternative. However, the relatively mild goat cheese possessed an appealing understated quality, as did the gentle scent of basil leaves.

Pastas are available in both lunch and larger dinner portions all day, and we opted for the smaller servings.

Cynthia enjoyed the unfussy, comforting heft of her top-notch $5 macaroni and cheese, which actually blended five cheeses, and found her portion more than enough for two meals. My $6 corkscrew pasta augmented by tender chicken, lemon slices and mushroom was a significantly lighter alternative featuring perfectly al dente noodles in a delicate, citrus-perfumed broth. Alone, this dish would also make for an adequate meal.

Our last savory course was a large $18 mushroom and arugula pizza, sprinkled with truffle oil and what appeared to be parmigiano shavings. Large pies here can easily feed four, and it seemed there was nearly an entire bale of rocket greens on this pizza. Yet the peppy arugula and aromatic truffle oil were deftly balanced by the grounded tones of quality cheese, mushroom and a hand-shaped rustic crust. As much as I enjoy carnivore-friendly pizza, this is a meatless pie I’d return for.

This particular dish, like the pastas, shows off Tossa’s non-stereotypical strengths, namely ingredient quality and care of preparation that are a pleasant surprise when you consider the price.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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