Some “Our Gourmet” dates are spontaneous decisions.
The night my wife and I dined at Tuscan Market in Salem, we had an errand to run at L.L. Bean at Tuscan Village, the mixed-used development in Salem spearheaded by restaurant and real estate entrepreneur Joe Faro.
It was a post-workday trip on a weeknight so we decided to grab a bite afterward but had not settled on where we would go once we hit the sprawling commercial and residential complex.
We previously had dined at Tuscan Kitchen, the company’s flagship Salem location on Main Street, and had enjoyed the experience but were not familiar with the more casual Tuscan Market, a foodie marketplace that includes a restaurant.
But from the L.L. Bean parking lot, we could see the red glow of a Chick-fil-A sign, one of only three in New Hampshire. Should we go the chain route and grab a fried-chicken sandwich and some waffle fries or have a proper meal?
We chose Tuscan Market, of course, though as chains go, there are as many Tuscan-branded restaurants in New Hampshire as there are Chick-fil-As, including the Toscana Italian Chophouse & Wine Bar in Portsmouth.
At Tuscan Market, you can buy gourmet cheese, fresh bread and custom meats, including filet mignon, to take home. But steak tips are as fancy as it gets with the beef in the accompanying restaurant, which has a more limited menu than Tuscan Kitchen.
The atmosphere is also more scaled down. We sat in a patio area covered with clear plastic covering on the outer wall, a spot that is usually used for open-air dining in the summer. The volume of the piped-in music was a bit too loud for us.
The Tuscan folks made it worth the annoyance by serving us food equal to the quality of their higher-end flagship. The menu features antipasto, salads, pizza, pasta, chicken, steak and seafood.
Tuscan Market has a lower tier of pricing compared to Tuscan Kitchen, with entrees ranging from $17 to $32, and pizzas $18 to $21. (Tuscan Kitchen tops out with the 38-ounce Dry Aged Ribeye for $78.)
Both my Lovely Dining Companion and I decided to order from the “Secondi” section, which featured meat and seafood options. She chose the Chicken Picatta ($24), which was served with roasted asparagus and mashed potatoes.
The lemon caper sauce, which included sliced red onions, was so good, it became a dipping sauce for my dish. The chicken was moist and tender and drenched with flavor.
I ordered the Mixed Grill ($30), which featured Tuscan’s signature sausage, lemon rosemary chicken, grilled shrimp and roasted potatoes. The menu said it would be served with broccolini, but my dish arrived with a side of roasted asparagus instead. I didn’t bother to inquire since the asparagus was cooked to perfection.
I liked my wife’s chicken more than the somewhat dry pieces included in my dish, so I borrowed some of her lemon caper sauce to zest them up. But the sausage, chicken and shrimp combo was a solid choice overall, especially the grilled shrimp.
We each paired our meal with a glass of cabernet sauvignon ($13) by Castello de Amorsoa, a Napa Valley vineyard.
After we paid for our meal, we browsed the extensive food market and spied on the charcuterie and wine class underway in the glassed-off meeting room Tuscan Market uses for its foodie classes, this one attended by a dozen or so young couples.
We also brought home a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread (which the market will slice for you) and some gelato.
Both were worth the extra splurge at this fantasyland of food.