(Stevensville, MI) — When December 31st rolls around, we typically opt to stay at home—either having a few friends over to ring in the new year, or just the two of us having a nice meal and sipping on some champagne. Seldom do we stay up for the countdown. This year, however, we’re feeling somewhat frisky and decide to go out for an early dinner at Tosi’s before returning home to relax. We bundle up against the cold and head out for some Italian food...

He Fed:

Juliet called a couple days ago to make reservations for early dinner and was told they weren’t taking reservations...but we’d be put on a list? We’re not sure what to expect when we pull into the Tosi’s lot. The first thing we notice is the stretch Escalade limo blocking the entrance. Turns out, someone got married earlier and the small dinner reception is at Tosi’s...on New Year’s Eve. We finally pull up and are told it’s only valet parking tonight. I hand over the keys and we go chaos. The entry is choked with early revelers clutching cocktails like life preservers. Somehow we check our coats and I muscle my way up to the host stand. “Hi...we’re on some sort of list?” The hostess asks our name, grabs two menus, then bids us follow. That was easy!

We’re seated in the same small dining area as on a previous visit, with a glimpse into the open air kitchen. I can see a monstrous side of beef, coated with garlic and other seasonings, slowly roasting on a grill cooktop. The chefs peer out at the diners with a look of excitement and trepidation. Since Tosi’s will be closed the next two weeks, this final night will be a deluge of hungry patrons demanding a good time. I almost feel sorry for them.

Our table is a four-top awkwardly situated next to the fireplace, where servers must squeeze through. They frequently bump into my chair and mutter, exasperated. I ask Juliet to push her seat back a few inches, which allows me to situate the table enough that it gives the waitresses more room to pass. The bumping stops and so do the complaints. We settle in for food.

Next door to Tosi’s is Bit of Swiss bakery, who supplies the restaurant with bread. Thick chunks of foccacia, dunked into olive oil and parmesan, are delectable bites of manna. If you’re not careful, you’ll fill up way too easily. Demonstrating great willpower, I limit my intake to just one piece. To wash it down, I get a pint of Saugatuck Brewing Neapolitan, creamy sweet beer.

While Juliet gravitates to the coconut shrimp, I decide to try the baked brie. The mild cheese inside the thick puff pastry ensconcing it is not as melted as I would like, though the berry compote adds just the right touch of sugar. I’ve definitely had better baked brie, but it’s still a nice starter. Half of it goes home with me.

A frisee salad precedes my entree, covered in chunky blue cheese dressing. While the greens, cucumber, and red onion seem fresh-picked, the roma tomatoes are virtually tasteless. Again, the salad is fine but not out of the ordinary. By this time, I’m sipping The Livery’s Nummerz, a sessionable pale ale that might as well be water. There’s no body and the taste profile is very subdued.

Our entrees arrive. I chose the Short Rib Risotto, deciding to splurge on beef. I’ve had this dish at many other restaurants, usually served with a red wine reduction. Tosi’s version is freshly pastoral, with shards of steamed asparagus and chopped tomatoes. The short rib is shredded finely and has not been overly marinated in anything other than its own juices, it seems. The risotto is a tad overcooked; I prefer al dente, with some tooth left. Still, it’s a fresh-tasting, comforting dish, well seasoned and satisfying. Overall, I’m happy with my choice.

No dessert tonight, but a bottle of Greenbush Dungräs sounds like the right nightcap. I pour it out to discover absolutely no head. Flat as a pancake, I complain to our server, who promptly replaces it with a fresh bottle that is adequately carbonated. She turns out to be knowledgeable about microbrews, so we have a pleasant discussion about the area’s offerings before paying the bill.

The exit is even more clogged with party people, and a fresh influx of hungry folk. Somehow we manage to fight our way to our coats, then back outside. During our 90 minute visit, the snow has evidently been falling more and more steadily again. Our car is coated in a couple inches of fluffy white which the valet failed to brush off. After I give the Prius a quick sweep, we’re sluicing down the back roads to home.

She Fed:

I’ve been to Tosi’s a handful of times over the past six years, always for business dinners or other work-related occasions. Most of the locals (and Chicago tourists) rave about the place, but in all honesty I’ve never been very impressed. The food and service always struck me as relatively mediocre which is probably why I only go for business. For some reason, I suggest it as an option for our anniversary dinner in December and as it turns out, our dining experience was so positive, we head back for an early New Year’s Eve supper.

Due to a major snowstorm—one of many we seem to be plagued by this winter—we opt to show up ultra-early and walk in at 5 pm. Jeremy tells the hostess we’re on a list (Tosi’s doesn’t take reservations but you can put your name on a “preferred” list) and she takes us to a roomy four top right by the fireplace. Coincidentally we were seated near that same fireplace during our first visit together. It’s a great spot to see the kitchen and people watch.

On a previous visit, I had one of the best preparations of sea bass I’d ever had in my life and I’ve been dreaming about that fish ever since. I know sea bass isn’t the most sustainable choice but I’m hoping people can overlook my ordering it once and only once in 2013! (Fabulous sidebar: We have a Sonoma chef friend who shared “Chilean sea bass” is actually a name made-up for the Patagonian toothfish that eats penguins. All that penguin blubber makes for a buttery rich fish, but no one would order Patagonian toothfish here in the states so the name was changed on menus to Chilean sea bass.)

A quick scan of the menu shows neither Patagonian toothfish nor Chilean sea bass, but there’s lots of other fish choices as well as some New Year’s Eve specials. We’ve been cutting back significantly on the amount of meat we eat, both at home and when dining out, but holy moley does the prime rib special sounds good. I keep going back and forth between the prime rib and the seafood pasta arrabbiata with shrimp, scallops, and lobster.

I’ll sit on a final decision a bit while I enjoy some bubbles and apps. Jeremy orders the Baked Brie and I opt for the Gamberetti al Coco, black tiger shrimp with a coconut curry aioli. I want to start with some bubbles and would normally go with the cava, but since we’re at an Italian place I order the Zonin prosecco. My mistake, as it’s incredibly acidic and does not sit well. I leave half of it in the glass and move on to the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, which I know will be a safe choice.

Turns out the shrimp are coated in a coconut breading and come with a curry mayo, not exactly what the menu described, but they’re incredibly flavorful and the mayo is addictive. I end up dunking a crust of bread in it towards the end. Jeremy's brie is tasty, but it’s not that ooey gooey melty brie when he cuts into it, which I think is half the fun. On our prior visit, a goat cheese and marinara appetizer was a favorite of ours. Served with warmed pita triangles we had to refrain from filling up on it before our dinners arrived.

After all my debating, I end up ordering the Lake Superior Whitefish, with a side of fettuccine alfredo instead of the sweet potato gratin it normally comes with. I had a huge salad for lunch so I opt for a cup of the soup of the day, Creamy Wild Mushroom and Jeremy goes for a green salad. The soup is packed with several varieties of mushies, giving it a hearty meaty flavor, while the whitefish is flat-out fabulous with a light horseradish-Parmesan crumb crust and a drizzle of garlic basil aioli. The housemade fettuccine is in a alfredo sauce that seems lighter, not heavy or overly rich tasting. And I’ve got a good sized broccoli crown on the side. It’s a generous amount of food and I should stick with just the fish and the veg, but it’s so amazingly delicious that I end up devouring it all.

Both tonight and on our previous visit, the service was top-notch, both much better than I remember. We’re too full for dessert, but I suspect we’ll be back for more soon.

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