It's all kind of come around full circle for chef Michael Toscano. In 2012, after several years making pasta and such for the then Mario Batali empire, Toscano signed on to open Gabriel Stulman's Italian restaurant Perla, located at the base of Minetta Lane. There were great reviews, and crowds waiting for tables, but two years later Toscano and his wife Caitlin, also a long-time NYC restaurant pro, decamped to Charleston, South Carolina with their two kids.

Down south the two of them built another hit, Le Farfalle, and life was good, but then last year the landlord of the old Perla building contacted Toscano, and asked him to return to his old digs, and do with it whatever he wanted. It was an offer the couple couldn't refuse. And so now we once again have Michael cooking in our city, and Caitlin managing everything else, at da Toscano (opening the week of February 3rd). The contemporary Italian spot luxuriates in high-end presentations and piling on the hearty, meaty flavors.

Toscano's food is muscular and exciting, and he often brings a dish right to the point where it feels like it's about to be too much, but then in fact turns out to be exactly right. Take the Barbecued Oxtail Agrodolce, for example, one of a half dozen dishes the kitchen prepared for us last week at a press preview dinner. This is an outrageously plump patty of pulled oxtail prepared with the traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce, topped with a fancy slaw, with a small pile of short nostrale rice to smooth things out. This is no one's idea of a light meal, yet somehow, as Toscano put it, "it's not a gut bomb either."

There are ten pastas on the menu, in varieties such as gnudi, orecchiette, fideo, and lasagna involving things like skate, duck cracklings, rock shrimp, and sausage. We ate two of them, and both were superb. The Agnolotti were fat with lamb's neck and juicy with "drippings," the Spaghetti was fiery with chili and featured a trio of massive mezzalune stuffed with lobster. Again, you almost feel like you won't be able to handle all the richness here, and then a few minutes later you look down at your plate and it's empty.

The starters all sound appealing, if you like things like Beef Tongue Panino, Artichoke Piccata, Butter Beans, Roasted Oysters with crab fat, and Minestra Maritata, or "snout to tail pork and greens soup." Toscano made us two winners in this department, a dramatic Octopus Carpaccio with tomatoes, pickled eggplant, and some obscenely good fried bread; and buttery Braised Leeks covered in a spicy sauce and laden with funky chanterelles.

And when you're done with your Veal Head Parmigiana, or Dry Aged Prime Ribeye, or Porchetta Chop, or Whole Branzino, or whatever it is you've just spent a lot of money feasting upon, definitely plunge ahead into dessert, many of which are made from Caitlin Toscano's family recipes. The creamy, tangy Cheesecake is sublime, and the ragged-looking Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting is a strong early contender for dessert of the year. There's a lengthy wine list, mostly Italian, as well as a full slate of unfussy cocktails.

The space itself is narrow but deep, with several mini-areas as you move from the entrance on Minetta to the open kitchen in the back. It's cozy and rustic in here for sure, with creaky wooden floors, exposed brick, and a giant highly-oxidized mirror. But the seating, at various banquettes and two-tops and bar stools, are all of a more contemporary character (those blue velvets are the most comfortable). On the walls hang a series of large paintings by Isaac Mann, who happened to be working as a server at one of Toscano's endeavors, and the two became friends.

da Toscano is located 24 Minetta Lane, at Sixth Avenue, and opens the week of February 3rd. Hours will be 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. Weekday lunch will follow shortly. (212-606-4054;