Disney boats deliver diners to Ristorante Tuscany. Photo by David Lansing.
The Ristorante Tuscany dining room at the Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort feels like a cross between Vegas (the music playing when I walk in is Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro, which is the classic opera song used on the Bellagio commercial for their dancing fountains) and Disneyland (you can ride one of the Jungle Ride boats across the artificial lake to get to the restaurant).
It’s a very elegant room—if you’re big on murals of flamingos and Grecian urns and like chairs upholstered in faux-tapestry with bucolic scenes of Italy where you park your butt. But the elegance is thrown off by the diners, most of whom are sunburned and wear resort clothes, at best, or golf shorts with Old Navy tops. Well, like I said, this is part Vegas, part Disneyland, so what would you expect?
My waitress, Sally, comes by and asks if I’m ready to order and when I wonder out loud if they might have a cheese plate, Sally assures me that even though it isn’t on the menu, they can make one for me in the kitchen. Hmmmm….
“Is it really good cheese?” I ask her.
“Heck, yeah,” she says. “It’s unbelievable.”
But the cheese plate is for desert. First, I order the calamari fritti which comes out so pale and lightly breaded that it looks like a plate of round French fries. And it’s really fishy tasting. The way frozen-thawed-sat-around-forever seafood can be. Next comes some lobster ravioli that look almost exactly like the stuff that comes in the little plastic trays in supermarkets and tastes nothing at all like lobster (when I ask Sally if it is really lobster ravioli she bends over and looks closely at my plate, moving her head around, and finally says, “It kind of looks like it”).
I want to like the food at Ristorante Tuscany, I really do, but it’s not going well. And I don’t even blame the restaurant as much as I blame the two guys from Amish country who came into the steam room this afternoon while I was sweating up a storm and had a long conversation in which they tried to figure out what, exactly, an en-chee-lada was. “I guess it’s kind of like a soft Mexican taco,” one said, “but I never liked them either.” The other Amish dude agreed with him and suggested that tonight they eat at “that eye-talian place they’ve got here. At least we know what spaghetti is.”
And there, indeed, are the Amish boys, not two tables over, forking up the spaghetti.
Let’s face it: This is a convention hotel and so everything from the lousy mojito I had in the lobby bar to my ridiculous version of calamari fritti is dumbed down. Way down. For the Nachos Generation.
But what is the point of having linen tablecloths that the bus boys meticulously sweep the crumbs from with those little brushes they hide in their black aprons if the food sucks?
The lobster ravioli was certainly an improvement over the calamari (or maybe it was just the second glass of Orvieto Classico Sally poured me that helped), but that isn’t saying much. It obviously isn’t house-made ravioli. Not even close.
I keep reminding myself that if I was in Havana right now, as I was a year ago today, I’d think this was incredible food. Because Cuba has the worst restaurants in the world. But this isn’t Cuba. It’s California. And this is an expensive restaurant in an expensive resort; they should do better.
The manager of Ristorante Tuscany keeps cruising by to check on me, see how things are going. I lie shamelessly. On one of his drop-by visits, I ask him where, exactly, the Orvieto is from.
He seems confused. “Italy?” he guesses.
Yes, I know, I tell him. But where in Italy? Umbria?
The word “Umbria” really sends him for a loop. He’s never heard of it. Which perhaps makes sense when he tells me he’s from Bulgaria. He’s here on a work visa.
Well, who cares, right? It’s good. So I have another glass. And then Sally brings me my cheese plate. Which consists of a square of Monterey Jack with jalapeno, another square the color of a pumpkin that has absolutely no taste whatsoever, and a little foil wrapped wedge of something with a red laughing cow label. I dare not open it.
A few minutes later, Sally comes by and asks about the cheese. “You were right,” I tell her. “It’s unbelievable.”
And I wasn’t even lying.