Taste of Tuscany

Touch of Italy's authentic ambience is matched by outstanding Italian cuisine

By Frank Gabriel
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 1, 2009

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Executive chef & owner, Andrea Palladino

From humble beginnings nearly three decades ago as a storefront operation in the Pleasantville Shopping Center, Touch of Italy restaurant has grown into one of our region’s premier locales for Italian-American cuisine.

Now located just up the busy Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township, Touch of Italy has recently undergone a major interior renovation, creating a more intimate atmosphere despite its enormous size. Now sprawling into multiple rooms, connected via Tuscan-influenced archways and artfully decorated, the facility offers a variety of seating sections and dining experiences.

We opted for a cozy wooden booth near the expanded lounge area. It’s a great space for people and/or sports watching, with views of the main dining room and adjoining bar. Conveniently, this included big-screen TVs, which just happened to be featuring NFL contests on this balmy first weekend of fall. Go figure.

Food began with my clams oreganata — eight top necks, bright, briny, juicy and delicious. Topped by a light layer of breadcrumbs and quickly broiled, the golden crust helped maintain all of their natural, pleasantly salty, oceanic essence. But this covering also served a flavorful purpose. The moist mixture contained an oregano and garlic blend, which flexed its muscles just enough to not interfere with the clams themselves.

We always like to say that good soups are a prime barometer of a well-run kitchen. Demonstrating this principle, we sampled both offered on this night, escarole and pasta fagiole.

The former was a lighter broth, giving the assertive, mildly bitter greens every opportunity to strut. Loaded within was a vegetative gold mine. In addition to the escarole, a classic trinity of onion, celery and carrots, plus smooth white beans, all swam together happily.

The pasta fagiole was denser, heartier and definitely began its life with an infusion of smoky pork flavor.

My dining partner’s entrée, chicken sorrentino, delivered two well-trimmed boneless breasts of chicken, pan seared then topped by eggplant, proscuitto and mozzarella cheese. Finished in an oven, the chicken was consummated with a white wine sauce, delicate and fruity. The overall result, a confluence of these elements, is not unlike a horizontal version of classic roulade dishes, where the palate receives multiple sensory signals from different directions at the same moment.

Our other selection was one of a half dozen nightly specials, retro classic steak Diane. Touch of Italy’s version started with a 12-ounce New York strip, nicely grilled and sauced with a red wine, mushroom and onion blend. Dark and viscous, it paired well with the beef’s taste and we loved the big cuts of assorted mushrooms.

Accompanying entrees are a choice of side pasta or vegetable of the day. On this night, we both went with asparagus, tender shoots quickly seared and served simply with olive oil and garlic.

Desserts, presented tableside, bore all the indications of being made in-house. Mine, called a Blue Hawaii, featured a layer of pineapple mousse, including sexy chunks of the tropical fruit. Their sweetness was mirrored in their vehicle, a pale white pudding sandwiched on both sides by yellow cake. Riding atop was a coconut crust and cool looking electric blue-colored icing.

My partner went the more ethnically correct route, choosing the Italian rum cake. Much lighter than we expected, it also possessed a lovely, sophisticated, tart quality.

Touch of Italy
Address: 6629 Black Horse Pike, EHT
Phone: 646-1855
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 4-10:30pm, Sun. 2-10pm
Details: Liquor license; major credit cards accepted

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