Lake Geneva on a hot summer weekend can be crowded and crazy, and the Saturday we went was no exception.
The weekend crowd was in full swing, despite the heat. Thankfully, Tuscan Tavern and Grill didn’t have lines running out the door when we arrived for lunch. As a bonus, there also was free parking.
With a stone and stucco facade, the Tuscan Tavern has a rustic and inviting vibe. The main dining room has ample space for a crowd with several tables and booths. Wood ceiling beams and chandeliers beautify the area along with a stone archway that gives restaurant patrons a sneak peek at the wood-fired pizza oven. A short flight of stairs takes guests to an intimate dining space where five more booths are housed. The oversized lounge has pub tables and plenty of stools at the bar.
We chose to sit in the “indoor porch,” where prints of historic Lake Geneva adorn the walls. Vaulted ceilings and skylights, as well as windows on three sides, make the space bright and cheery, and we were able to stay cool. If outdoor seating is your preference, Tuscan Tavern offers a beautiful covered deck with a half-dozen tables.
The restaurant has a fun seasonal drink menu that includes a “Stable of Mules” and a selection of summer bellinis. I tried one with limoncello, Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) and Prosecco ($8.53). Nikki cooled off with a strawberry basil lemonade ($1.90)
Selecting an appetizer was tough, but the eggplant Caprese ($11) ended up a delicious choice. Beautifully presented, the sliced eggplant, tomato, mozzarella and basil shined on the plate under a festive drizzle of balsamic and basil oil. The tomato slices were pretty anemic (it was too early in the season for juicy, ripe summer tomatoes), but the large, fragrant basil leaves saved the day.
As I was craving protein, I ordered the 8-ounce beef tenderloin filet ($35). It was perfectly done—very tender, with a sharp blue cheese crust. The dish was accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and a huge chunk of broccoli. The soup choices were minestrone or broccoli cheddar, but it was too hot for soup, so I opted for the classic Caesar salad.
Nikki was excited to see a wedge salad ($10) on the menu and asked if it was big enough to stand in as an entree. Our server assured her it was, and she was not exaggerating.
Half a head of iceberg lettuce was smothered with a creamy blue cheese dressing, extra blue cheese crumbles, bacon, chopped tomatoes and diced cucumbers. A pile of julienned carrots added a cheerful pop of color to one corner of the plate. Nikki didn’t realize until later that there were no onions, but that didn’t detract from the overall taste. It was the perfect cool and refreshing choice for a summer lunch.
Jennifer decided to order the special of the day: almond-crusted salmon ($16). Her dish came with a salad, a huge serving of garlic mashed potatoes and fresh broccoli.
Like me, she bypassed the soup and went instead for a side salad made with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and croutons and an outstanding, sweet and tangy balsamic dressing.
The salmon was to die for: Perfectly prepared, the outer “crust” was somewhat crispy with a very flaky, moist center. Fresh lemon squeezed on top gave it an added brightness.
The garlic mashed potatoes made with skin-on red potatoes and seasoned with just the right amount of garlic were delightful, although Jennifer could barely make a dent in them. There was just so much food!
Although we all had plenty to eat, we always enjoy sampling a dessert. Our server presented a tray with all of the daily sweet offerings, and we ordered the mango cheesecake ($6.50) to split between us. What stood out most about the dessert was the coconut flavor in the crust. It had a nice mango taste, as well, and it was refreshing on a day where the heat index rose to 105 degrees.
If you’re looking for a place that specializes in Italian classics in a premiere destination, the Tuscan Tavern and Grill is certainly worth the drive to Lake Geneva.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.