Steakhouse prices for gourmet food? Yes! On Main Street near the Foothill off-ramp of the 15 freeway, at Victoria Gardens pedestrian shopping mall.
I recently had the pleasure of dining with local reporter/photographer Rhea Frances Tetley, who graciously provided the photographs for this review. We enjoyed a complimentary dinner for two from Brio Tuscan Grille at Victoria Gardens in
Rancho Cucamonga. The server was helpful and attentive, even though she did not know that we were there to review the restaurant. I was not expecting too much from this chain restaurant, but I found myself saying “Wow!” over and over.
Brio is new to the area, having opened at the end of November. They serve lunch and dinner, with lunches starting at about $10 and dinners at about $15.
My first impression, upon entering the lobby, was that the layout reminded me of Hometown Buffet. However, you do not pay in advance, and you do not serve yourself. You can see the sous chefs preparing food out in the open, behind a counter, on a grill (of course), at Brio Tuscan Grille. Everything looks clean and orderly, from their white chef coats to the shining steel cook tops. The tables are topped with white cloth tablecloths, and then covered with white butcher paper. This ensures that the tables are clean and sanitary, since the paper is changed between customers.
You might wait as long as an hour for a table, if you do not have a reservation. They give you a pager, so you can shop at other stores while waiting. The restaurant is very busy, but everybody gets special attention and we never felt rushed. In fact, we were there for almost two hours. You do not need to dress up, and I saw many young people in jeans and T-shirts, but I would recommend business casual.
We kept an eye on the other tables to make sure that we were not getting special attention, and the other diners received the same cheerful service. They looked happy, and not one of them was using a cell phone.
Moreover, their plates displayed equally beautiful presentation. Well, there is one item on the menu that looks plain; it is a roasted half of a chicken with a pile of mashed potatoes on the side. Yes, you can get a meal that seems more American than Italian, but you cannot get spaghetti with meatballs. Tuscan food is not what we imagine when we think of Italian food. You will not find tomato sauce loaded with oregano, and that is fine with me because I despise oregano. I think that it is widely overused. (Side note: Sicilians use basil instead of oregano, as I learned at a small deli where I used to eat during my lunch hour.)
Bread and Coffee
While we were waiting for our meal, First they brought us bread: a half-loaf of sourdough bread still warm from the oven, and four pie-shaped slices of rosemary flax-seed flatbread. The sourdough had a thin, crispy crust and soft, yummy bread inside; it was just warm enough to melt the butter. The flatbread was like a baked tortilla, made from very thin pizza dough. The flavor was amazing, with a hint of garlic and Parmesan cheese. Oh, and rosemary is a delightful herb that I plan to use more often in my own kitchen. It has a sweet aroma and a delicate flavor.
To my mind, if the coffee is no good, the meal is ruined. I am happy to report that the coffee was excellent and the free refills generous. The coffee has a touch of dark-roast flavor to it, but not burned and not as dark as a French roast. It goes down smoothly, and I did not get an acid stomach from it, even though I drank three full cups and half of a fourth cup.
Rhea had iced tea, which she said was also excellent.
We skipped the appetizers, but next time I plan to try the cheese and tomato appetizer. If it is anywhere near as good as the food, I will be delighted. We were simply stuffed as it was, and we both took home take-out boxes with enough for another meal. The portions are quite generous.
Soup and Salad
Rhea ordered tomato bisque, which had bits of lobster and shrimp, and she said that it was creamy and delicious. I had the Caesar salad. The Romaine lettuce was fresh and crispy, the dressing very light and the flavor just right. The croutons were amazing, crispy but so soft that they melted in my mouth, and still warm from the oven. The server came around with a grater and a chunk of fresh Parmesan cheese.
When she asked whether we wanted cheese, of course we did!
Rhea ordered lasagna, and it had only a tiny bit of oregano in the sausage. Two slices of melted mozzarella cheese with a sprinkling of parsley topped her plate, and underneath it had three layers. The pasta was very thin and delicate, quite unlike the fat, rubbery lasagna noodles that we often get at other restaurants. The aroma was delicate and appealing.
I ordered pasta pesto, and it was amazing. If the term “pesto” makes you think of a green mush spooned out of the blender, then you have no idea what they served me. Angel hair pasta lay in a shallow dish, seasoned with light vinaigrette and sprigs of rosemary that gave off a heavenly aroma. On top were cherry tomatoes sliced in half, and leaves of baby spinach. The slices of grilled chicken were generous, tender and flavorful. The pasta was delicate and perfectly al dente. The aroma of rosemary was delightful, even on the half that I took home and reheated.
Once again, the server offered freshly grated Parmesan cheese, which I happily accepted.
For dessert, Rhea had something that looked like a chocolate cake with caramel and ice cream in a parfait glass. She “forced” me to try a bite (not hard to do); it was light, delicate and bursting with flavor. I had crème brulee, which is served in a ramekin (that is a small bowl for custards and puddings) and has a fresh strawberry on top. Once again, my taste buds were immensely pleased. The crunchy flamed sugar on top gave it just that little bit of extra texture that puts it over the top.
On the way out
We strolled around before leaving, to see what else they offer. Brio has a full-service bar with music playing and sports displayed on at large-screen television mounted high on the wall. If you prefer to sit outdoors, they have an area with comfortable upholstered chairs and outdoor heaters enclosed with glass walls just outside the bar. The tables have umbrellas to keep off the sun or rain, but we have neither that evening. In that area, you can see the activity on the sidewalk and street, while you are protected from noise and cold.
They also have comfortable seating just outside the front door, for those who are waiting for a table and do not wish to sit on the benches inside the lobby. The menu is prominently displayed on a board, so you can decide what you want to order while you are waiting. The trash receptacles are handy, but not too close to the door.
Oh, and the restrooms are clean, have no unpleasant odors (not even perfume or air freshener), and have real doors on the stalls. They are like the restrooms in high-end hotels. I am not sure what the deal is with the marble slab across the top of the marble sink, but I suspect that it might have something to do with water conservation. The low-flow faucet is a clue.
Overall, I give Brio Tuscan Grille four and a half stars out of five. The one thing I would like to add to their menu is fresh fruit. It would have gone well with our meal.