Avoid Dinner Desperation with Taste Unique

Sometimes, the thought of going home and having to cook dinner seems about as far-fetched as the possibility of you tearing open your belted beige raincoat on the crowded evening Max train to reveal your sexy pink polyester Ann Taylor sweater set and screaming, “Take me, take me NOW, DERANGED SMELLY MAN WHO VERY VAGUELY RESEMBLES JAVIER BARDEM!” **

Fortunately, you don’t have to do either. If you desperately need a date and some nookie, please see this new match.com ad that I am very fond of. If you desperately need an exquisitely fresh, pre-prepared Italian dinner that tastes and smells deliciously homemade (if you were channeling your Umbrian grandmother that is) please exit the Max train immediately and get to Taste Unique as quickly as possible.

tuext3Sandwiched in between Bar Avignon and Twill in the 2100 block of SE Division, Taste Unique is your new go-to destination in times of “It’s 6:30pm and I have no idea what to make for dinner nor the desire to so much as touch a cooking utensil” need.

Describing their venture as “somewhere between a bistro and a deli,” owners and husband & wife team Stefania Toscano and Lawrence McCormick offer strikingly authentic lasagnas, risottos, raviolis, pastas, sauces, canneloni, potato pie, polenta, soup and tiramisu. Stefania, who will charm you instantly with her delightful Italian accent and gracious manner, helms the kitchen, cooking the food she learned to make growing up in her native Perugia. Lawrence, who does not have an Italian accent but is very charming nonetheless, is the general manager.

Taste Unique allows you to procure beautiful Italian take-out that goes straight from your car/bike/knapsack into the oven. Items to be baked are packaged in disposable oven-safe cookware, with directions on the lid. Save the lid–IF you have leftovers, you can snap it back on and pop the container in the fridge for later. You can buy fresh pasta by the pound, and then purchase pancetta and hot pepper-laced Amatriciana sauce or creamy, sausage-laden Norcina sauce or summery Pesto Trapanese to swirl it with. You can buy a tray of dreamy tiramisu or a nutty Torta Mantovana cake, then plate it on fine china or eat it straight from the container.

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The restaurant also serves lunch in its tiny 10-seat dining room, and you can find the daily specials on their Facebook page. Try not to drool on your keyboard reading them. Stefania and Lawrence will accommodate private dinner parties most nights with advance arrangements, and if you want to learn how to make your own Spaghetti alla Carbonara or Rigatoni Cacio & Pepe, take one of their weekly classes–attendance is capped at five, making for an intimate hands-on experience.

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Allow me to give you an example of how Taste Unique works. Driving home from work Monday night, I suddenly remembered that I’d promised to make dinner for friends. I love to cook, but this particular night, in the wake of a grueling workday, what I really wanted to do was to go home, eat a box of Sahagun truffles and read my new In Style magazine while I waited for The Bachelor to start.

What to do?! I made a quick decision. Bypassing New Seasons, I zipped up to 22nd & SE Division to Taste Unique’s cozy, warm, lovely-smelling shop, where I selected a ready-to-bake Vegetarian Lasagna (they also have frozen for those of you whom can foresee these sorts of quandaries), a tray of homemade tiramisu, and a piece of soft, chewy Roman flatbread slathered with Nutella and neatly folded.

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Back in the car, I ate the flatbread for strength, headed home, popped the lasagna in the oven, poured a glass of Barbera, cleverly transformed the entire contents of my refrigerator into a quick salad of butter lettuce, slightly withered fresh herbs, pomegranate seeds, and gruyere in a quite literal champagne vinaigrette, and let the house fill with the smells of Italy while I nibbled chocolate and read In Style.

Thirty-five minutes later, I pulled a hot, bubbling lasagna from the oven. Thin, tender sheets of fresh pasta layered with creamy béchamel sauce, fresh mozzarella,  mushrooms, zucchini, herbs, and smoked provolone. It sounds sinful, but the preparation is so light, you don’t feel guilty. If only this sensation of guilt-free decadence could be bottled and sold on the shelf alongside Taste Unique’s selection of Italian wines.

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The doorbell rang and the next hour was a flurry of bechamel, wine, compliments to the “chef” (yes, I ‘fessed up, and my bait ‘n switch was widely praised) and stories about that one time at Ristorante Zeppelin in Orvieto when one of us fell in love with a boisterous Italian waiter named Stefan for like, 24 whole hours.

Our bellies were full, the few dishes produced were done in mere minutes, well before The Bachelor commenced, tiramisu firsts and seconds were served, and everyone’s clothing smelled faintly of bliss and Italy. That’s the magic of Taste Unique.

2134 SE Division St. * 503-206-7059 * www.tasteunique.com * Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Lunch served Mon-Sat 12-2pm

**No disrespect to the mentally ill or smelly intended.