I was an the unfamiliar neighborhood of Toluca Lake over the week-end and found Firenze Osteria on a main thoroughfare nearby; I love finding fantastic restaurants no matter where they are located. With Warner Brothers, Disney, and Universal Studios nearby, this place is a great choice for people either taking meetings, tours, taping shows, or simply being tourists.

There is valet parking or street meters, so depending on your luck and parallel parking skills, you can choose your preference. I was pleasantly surprised to find the dining room and bar areas both half full of diners even at 2:30 in the afternoon; either other diners were eating during Italian lunch hours or this place attracts people who like to linger and savor their meals (my guess would be the later).

I was warmly greeted by the host and offered my choice of available tables either facing a big screen tv with a basketball game on ESPN or facing fellow diners; I chose the dining room view. The kitchen is completely open so you can watch as the chefs prepare your meal; it is always a sign of a clean and organized kitchen when they allow you to watch the preparation.

The bread basket was filled with thin slices of warm foccacia which were toasted crunchy by the time it arrived at my table, but that slight annoyance was completely offset by the delicious caponata that was served as a dipping sauce.

For my entree I chose the Linguini Frutti di Mare or Seafood Linguini, ($15.95) made with shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams in a light tomato and white wine sauce. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the seafood was done with a light hand so that every morsel was tender and not over cooked. The sauce was stupendous with flavors of tomato, basil, and seafood in a perfectly balanced composition. I had a glass of Italian Chardonnay ($8) as a complement to my meal and although it was delicious, it could have been chilled much more (it arrived just slightly below room temperature).

The pasta dish was so generous I could not finish it so I did not try any desserts this time, but there are many reasons to go back. Thursdays are wine flight nights from 5 to 7pm you can get flights for $6 and Friday through Sundays they have live music. If you want a truly special meal, reserve the chefs table where they create a special menu for you with wines and martinis; it is the next best thing to having your own private chef.

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