I was just treated to one of the best Italian meals of my life, at Toto, and I was also taken to Il Portico very recently, both courtesy of a drug company, which means I could order what I wanted.
Toto was fabulous: its owner is perpetually grumpy with his staff, I have been there on three occasions (this was the first time I stayed for dinner), and each time he berated his staff in front of me. I do not know anything about restaurants but I could not imagine, despite excellent reviews, that his place could be that good because of this.
I was wrong. The food was superb. From my scallops appetizer, to my truffled pasta, to spectacular baby lambchops, presentation was beautiful without being precious, the food was delicious, the service always gracious and un-fussy. The desert was a tour de force, a toasted chocolate bread pudding that I had to take home. It was so much better than what you would expect. For a special occasion I cannot imagine how one would do better, except to get someone else to pay like I did, because this place is no bargain. Entrees were 25 dollars, so if one assumes a pasta dish also Italian style, I do not see how one could spend less than 100 dollars/person unless you slum it (and they do have a reasonable bar menu), but of course I made a pig of myself and I could have been just as happy with a salad and a glass of wine, rather than the 2 glasses of wine, appetizer, salad, pasta, entree, and 2 desserts I ordered.
Il Portico was also very good, but I cannot say it was as good. The food was excellent, more rustic than Toto, very expensive too. A fish carpaccio I began with stands in my mind as original and delcious. Ultimately, as good as my boar entree was, its sauce was not as refined as I would have liked. But most importantly, the restaurant is unbelievably shabby. Now, I am not someone absorbed by surroundings, I usually hardly notice. But Portico's rooms are dull and tired-looking enough that they were the first thing I noticed, and I have to say, I found them depressing, particularly in such a pricey place. The service was also very gracious, maybe slightly less attentive than Toto's. but then again, Toto was a lot less busy (and always seems uncrowded when I look in).
So, there you are, two restaurants I would never go to otherwise for complete meals. I have to say, my experience at Toto was so pleasent, I probably will frequent their bar more often for appetizers and wine (the beer selection is bottled and poor) just to relive the experience!