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Dean's Tuscany Restaurant List

Dean Gold (Dean)

Star Ratings

* means that if you are there, it is a place to go
** means that if you are nearby, go out of your way to try it
*** means plan your day or your trip so you can go there

Why are there no zero * places? Because life it too short to drink mediocre wine and to eat at mediocre places.

The restaurants are roughly grouped by area in Tuscany from south then going north to Florence (Firenze).

Lastly a word of philosophy. When we find some place fun and with good food, we like to return. The owners and waitstaff love it and they really make a fuss over you on even a second visit. This is when they will make recommendations or give you little tastes etc. There are a number of places we have been to over and over again (Il Pestello, Bar Orso, Cibreo Trattoria, Il Tufo Allegro).

Maremma (Southern Tuscany)

Montemerano

**Passaparola
Vicolo delle Mura 21, tel: 0564-602835
Located in an old oil mill. We have a lovely meal with incredible acquacotta and a great bottle of Eric Banti Ciabata. Very warm and aromatic, a bit funky but with a nice spice. Great buy for under 20. Kay had bruschetta dripping with house made olive oil, gnudi di ricotta (ravioli without the noodle) and fagioli. In addition to my soup, I had crostini di pate di olive and an incredibly aromatic coniglio flavored with orange. We had ciccoria and fagioli to accompany.

Our second meal there was even better than the first. Kay forced herself to eat a couple of truffle dishes. I had a bean and arugula bruschetta, a delicious zuppa di funghi and wild boar in sauce. Kay had tagliatelle con ragu danatra e tartufi bianchi followed by faroana (guinea hen) with truffles. I had fagiolini and Kay tomatoes and onions as our vegetables. We drank Poggio Valente from Le Pupile, a superb Morellino that was awarded 3 bicchiere by Gambero Rosso. When I asked the waiter what to drink, his answer is that you expect Safreddi to be good (this is Le Pupiles very famous "super Tuscan" Morellino) but for a wine for 35. (and at that he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger and extending his three remaining fingers made the gesture of drawing his had under his nose and inhaling that means incredible in Italian). It was. Dinner for 2 with a good bottle of wine around 80 to 100.

Pitigliano

***Il Tufo Allegro
Vicolo della Costituzione, 5, tel: 0564/616192
What a find. Pitigliano is an ancient city carved out of the Tufo on a huge outcrop. It is surrounded by three rivers which have carved out gorges that make for a dramatic setting for the city. As you approach the city, it is a wonder. Pitigliano sits on a bluff, and especially at night, when it is brightly lit, it seems to grow from the ancient stone. The restaurant is house in an old house that sits over 5 levels of cellar carved into the tufo. There are paleo Christian style crucifixes carved into the walls.

We were expecting just the run of the mill Tuscan menu and we got a marvelous meal. Kay had crostini di fegatini (assorted treatments of liver and other parts) and I had a super rich pate of fagionelli (some sort of bird, maybe pheasant) with chestnuts and a jelly made from balsamico. We accompanied this with a bottle of Quarz from Cantina Terlano, a massive and crisp sauvignon blanc made in Alto Adige. Next up were Lombrichelli al ragu delanatra and papardelle (made with saffron) with lamb sauce. These were incredible. Kay lightened up with agrodolce di verdure, roasted vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce with grapes, almonds and tarragon vinegar. I had a huge roast porcini. We drank 1997 Avvotore from Moris Farms, one of the 2-3 most famous wines from Morellino di Scansano. Its a cabernet, warm and smooth from the 2 years age.

We also ate at IL Tufo Allegro for our final meal in the Maremma. Kay wanted something light to drink so I ordered Lunare, Cantina Terlanos gewrztraminer from Alto Adige. Gianfranco, the waiter told us it was finito, so I could not restrain myself any longer and went for the Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni from Arnolfo Caprai. From a crisp light gewrztraminer to a huge and tannic red.. Kay is a real trooper when it comes to indulging me. We were both glad we went with the Caprai as it turned out to be a fantastic bottle. We sat in the basement in one of the two rooms carved out from the tufo. There were crucifixes carved into the wall just like those of the Christian shrine by Sovana ,and we wondered if they were ancient or if they were modern touches but we did not ask. The chef was down to deliver every course and to talk about our love of wine. Kay started with a salad of warm bacala with potatoes and a puree of ceci and a pesto of zucchini while I had zuppa di porcini. Kay went on to cinghiale while I had the buglione di agnello. We finished with a tiny bit of cheese- gutus and escarum. One is a blue aged pecorino and the other is a plain aged pecorino but I forget which is which. The cheeses were superb especially with the huge red wine. The wine was so good that I asked Gianfranco if I could buy 2 bottles "da asporto" and they let us. The wine shop in town had the wine but it was already closed and the next day we were off. I think I paid about 5 more at the restaurant than I would have at the shop. The meal with the 3 bottles was under 250 but 180 of that was wine. A meal this good for 70 just amazes.

Saturnia

*Il Due Cippi
Piazza Via Veneto, 26a, tel: 0564/601074
We were excited to have lunch here given all we had heard (here on the board and from other sources) but it was nothing special. Nice food but a little less earthy and intense than either Passaparola or Tufo Allegro. The acquacotta was too fancy and not peasanty, the grilled porcini lacked their stems (the best part) but my mushroom soup was nice with fresh Ovuli mushrooms. We drank a favorite Brunello, one that we have never seen outside Montalcino, Agostino Pieri 97. It was superb! Lunch was about 120 but the wine was a pretty hefty portion of that.

Sovana

**Scilla
Via Rodolfo Siviero 1/3, tel: 0564-616 531
We are charmed by the old photos of Sovana on the walls and we saw my friend Francesco Daddis Chianti in the wine cabinet. Again, we were just hoping for something good and we got a truly sublime meal. Kays antipasti was perhaps the best dish of the trip- insalata di grano con prosciutto- a grain salad with bits of very good local prosciutto that had been sauteed for just a few seconds, only enough to make the fat turn translucent and slightly darken the meat. Her secondo was a zuppa di ricotta made with local cheese. I had tortelli alla Maremma which was spinach and ricotta with lots of nutmeg with a light duck sauce followed by buglioni di Agnello which turned out to be lamb chunks in a tomato sauce. There is far more sauce than lamb which is okay by me as I sop it up with good bread. We drank a Traminer from Jermann and finished with incredible caffe macchiato. We had a second round of the caffe. We left the restaurant just as a wedding party of 170 was arriving. Under 100 euro with a good bottle of wine.

Montalcino and surroundings

SantAngelo in Colle

*Il Pozzo
We had a very nice, rustic meal. I had zuppa di faro followed by pici with garlic and olive oil followed by boiled tongue with green sauce and fagioli. Kay had a spicy chicken stew and grilled eggplant. Our wine was a terribly disappointing Col dOrcia Rosso di Montalcino 2000. Very cheap, 40 euro.

Montalcino

***Bocon di Vino
Loc. Comombaio Tozzi, 201, tel: 0577/8482333
There are several tables in the shaded patio, with a view over the Crete Senese. The menu at lunch is a series of 3 fixed menus, each with a couple of choices. The dinner menu is al la carte. All the food was wonderful. Superb food in a fancy and modern style. Rich and wonderful food, very good with great wine list to choose from.

Our first meal there was with our Slow Travel GTG. We drank 2001 Rosso di Montalcino: Castello di Romitoro and Siro Pacenti. The Romitoro was a lighter style, very complex and stylish. The Siro Pacenti was huge in body and just a blockbuster in terms of fruit. The Siro was so good that we had a second bottle.

Each of us (Kay, Jane and I) chose a different menu. Kay had the cheese platter. There was Talleggio and a rich cows milk cheese that were particularly good with the spicy pear marmalade. The cheese came with an Insalata dInverno. The cheese platter was good but not incredibly exciting. Jane had a chicken liver crostini (wonderful rich and creamy) , seafood crepe (cream and butter!), grilled lamb and a semi freddo, all excellent. I had an antipasto selection of ricotta in carozza di parmigiano, smoked bacala, cece puree and the chicken liver crostini, all followed by gnochetti in a tomato sauce and a crepe with smoked swordfish. My secondo was a cinghiale stew. The crepe was quite rich, a little too much for me, but the ricotta, the gnochetti, the cinghiale and the cece puree were stunning.

We are now quite the stars at Bocon di Vino, having first come in with Diva (who was taken there by the Biondi Santis) and now with Andrea Costanti. Despite eating at lunch time, we were offered the ala carte menu, usually only offered at dinner. I had my, by then, favorite antipasti: achiugha con pesto: fat and briny anchovies with a really good green herb sauce. Kay had oca (goose) with a salad. It was flavorful and almost spicy. Jane had the cheese course. Again, it was nice but not incredible. Jane followed up her cheese with an insalata mista, simple and very good. Kay has a very delicious pinci with wild asparagus and other vegetables. The asparagus were pipe cleaner thin and quite flavorful. I had cervo (deer) with aceto balsamico. We drank a ton of Costanti wines: 2001 Rosso, 2000 Vermiglio (his super Tuscan 100% sangiovese), 1998 Brunello and 2000 Cal Bello (his second winerys cabernet Merlot blend).

***Osteria Osticcio
Via Mateotti, 23, tel: 0577/848271, www.osticcio.com
This is a Slow Food listed osteria, and a wonderful one at that. It is a first rate wine shop with some harder to find Brunelli and Rossi, and quite a selection of regional and national wines. There are tables in a small room at the back here you can sit and eat. The view is stunning. The town drops off steeply behind the building so you look out over a lower quarter of the town and out over the valley in the direction of Pienza and Montepulciano.

The food is simple bar food, all prepared without a stove. Jane had a mixed salumi and cheese plate with a salad. The salumi on Janes plate are pretty standard: good stuff but the cheese is incredible: a capra mucca pecora mix from somewhere in Piemonte that was smooth as butter, an amazing caprino in wild thyme from Piemonte and a pecorino fresco. Kay and I split a plate of misto di Cinta Sinese and a plate of house made bresaola and a plate of anchovies al pesto. The fishies were fat winey things, with a parsley pesto. This is a traditional dish for local peasant farm workers because it was light enough to not slow them down and the fat of the anchovies would give them energy for the hard work ahead. And, Im sure, the indigestion would keep them awake as well! The Cinta Sinese is a local breed of pork that almost died out, but is now being revived. There is a lot more of it available on this trip than the previous October, but it is still a find. It yields salumi of dark color and musky, spicy flavors. It is beautiful to look at. The fat is pearly white with tiny pink threads running throughour while the lean is multihued dark reddish brown and pinks in stripes.

We had prosciutto, coppa, salame Toscano, prosciutto cotto and a bit of lardo or gunwale. I am not a fan of lardo (or guancale) in general, but this was wonderful. The bresaola was also incredible: peppery, dry, chewy, served on a bed of nicely spicy greens. It just paled in comparison to the Cinta Sinese. The portions were generous, for two I would split a plate of Cinta Sinese or Bresaola aloong with the anchovies.

We drank well: 2 glasses of Antinoris 2001 Vermentino from Bolgheri (rich and honeyed yet dry and light all at once, a great value) and a tasting of 4 Brunelli: 98 Cerbaie was nicely rich and soft, the star of the group; 98 Siro Pacenti was overly oaked and not wonderful, but I suspect their style is not suited to an underripe vintage like 98; and 98 Collosorbo which was probably corked but full in body if a little clumsy. We also had a Greppo Mazzoni Ruffino 97, which was not too exciting showing the big winery syndrome typical of wines like that or like Banfi. I wish the big guys would trust the public to like wines that taste of something!

Lunch for 3 was 80 or so, cheap considering the quantity, quality of the food and the huge array of wonderful wine! If we ahd skipped one of the meat plates it would have been closer to 60.

***Taverna Grappolo Blu
Scale di Via Moglio, 1, tel: 0577/847150
A very traditional spot with a fair amount of wooden tables and a very rustic, homey feel. Our host was the King of his Quarter in the Festa della Tondo (held in October) and we have seen him in costume leading his quartiere in the parade.

We enjoyed a 2001 Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino. Our primi were insalata mista, zuppa di fagioli fredda and pappa al pomodoro. The salad was nice enough, but the two cold soups were altogether wonderful. The bean soup was a hearty puree with herbs and garlic, redolent of good olive oil. The pappa was superb. It is a mass of tomatoes and bread splashed with loads of olio. Wonderful on a hot day! These were perhaps the best soups we would have on the entire trip. For secondi, Jane had prosciutto e melone which was nice. I had the house special of stinco al balsamico: lean cubes of beef shank, braised until fork tender in a sauce of a lot of reduced balsamico. It was a sweet and sour sauce, a tart foil for the rich meat. Kay had Cinghiale in white wine and herbs served with warm soft polenta. The caffe was good and strong.

*Osteria di Porta al Cassero
Via della Liberta, 9 or Via Ricasoli , 32, tel: 0577/847196
Small place with two entrances on different streets. Just down the street from the Fortezza. Very rustic and simple and incredibly cheap. I had a rich and hearty minestra di farro followed by lengua con salsa verde (tongue with green sauce). Kay enjoyed pici and then had the cingiale which was a touch dry but very flavorful. We split an order of incredible baked vegetables in agrodolce (sweet and sour). Our wine was an incredible 99 Canalacchio di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino. Very cheap, 40 or so euro.

 A second meal here was also nice- zuppa di ceci is thin with crushed garbanzos, pappa al pomodoro is less thick and more soupy than other versions, pici al pomodoro were very thick, rustic and chewy, bruschetta very nice and the tongue again very earthy and good.

This is a superb place to pick up a reliable meal cheap. You wont be wowed but you will dine well. Its very quick and open long hours.

**Enoteca Fortezza
Piazzale Fortezza, tel: 0577-8490777
We have had several meals here while enjoying glasses of Brunello. The menu consists of platters of cheese and or meats. The prosciutto is Tuscan, with a more peppery flavor, sliced a little thicker than its Parma counterpart. They have very good aged pecorino made by Barbi (a famous Brunello producer as well). You can sit outside or inside. Cheap if you drink cheap, moderate if you drink the Riserva.

We had a Slow Trav GTG wine tasting here. For 18 we got a flight of 6 wines, a Rosso, a Brunello 97, a Brunello 98 from each of two woneries. The glasses are all labeled with the names and vintages of the wine. It is not a great bargain, it would be cheaper if you just buy the bottles but only if you have 8 people. But then you would not have the cool round labels on the glasses identifying what you are drinking. So for a small group, it is a good deal. The Enoteca Fortezza is now under the same ownership as Enoteca Drogheria Franci and some changes are probably in store. Still in all its a wonderful place to taste wine.

We have often gone to the Fortezza to sample wines from the wine bar. They will usually have a selection of Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello and Brunello Riserva by the glass. The glassware is good and the help very knowledgeable and they enjoy talking about wine. There is no language barrier here.

For a few euro you can get a ticket to go upstairs to visit the Fortezza. The highlight here is not the art exhibit or the troops quarters, but the ramparts over 1000 feet above the piazza and hundreds of meters above the surrounding country side. Montalcino is the highest hill town in Toscana and the ramparts are high above its highest point. The view is superb. It has low walls along the walkway so it is a superb place to rid yourselves of troublesome children or significant others, or to have someone take a picture of you and your loved ones.

***Caffe Alle Logge di Piazza
Piazza del Popolo, 1, tel: 0577/846186
This "artily" decorated place is probably our second favorite caffe in Toscana (after Bar Orso in Monteriggioni). Be sure to check out the bathroom, I want one that nice in my house!

The cappuccini are served in large cups with the foam swirled into a heart. The food is superb: pastries and panini in the morning and a rich and tempting assortment of snacks served with drinks in the afternoon. Although we did not try it, they have a light lunch menu as well. But the enjoyment of having a Campari or Aperol rocks and a plate of gooey rich crostini topped with tuna and egg salad with homemade mayo made with local olio, while sitting under umbrellas next to 500 year old logge, all for 14, well..

**Il Re Di Macchia
We wandered in sin prenotazione and were lucky to get seated. There were two large parties that night! We sat and ordered a glass each of Rosso di Brunello Castelgioncondo 2001. Kay started off with an insalata di coniglio- large chunks of roasted rabbit in a balsamico dressing. I had zuppa di pane which was greens, beans, bread served with a bowl of thinly sliced red onion and strongly spiced olio. It was heaven. We went onto a shared glass of Cerbaia 98 Brunello which was quite lush and berry flavored. I had miale arrista, a couple of slabs of very good roast port with salty but good boiled and sauteed spinach and great roasted and crusty potatoes. Kay had a winner in Pici al Cinghiale, hand rolled thick pasta with a dense and spicy wild boar ragu. We ordered some white beans.

Montefollonico

***/**La Chiusa
Via della Madonina, tel: 0577/669668
We have eaten at La Chiusa 3 times- once for lunch, once for dinner and once for breakfast. Two of the three meals were fantastic. The first was a spur of the moment lunch. It was getting to 13.30 and we were racing to Montepulciano from Monte Oliveto Maggiore, trying to get there before all the restaurants closed. Seeing a road sign for La Chiusa, and recalling that it was supposed to be good, we took the turnoff at a very high rate of speed and made our way there. Actually I was asking Kay if she wanted to go as I was power sliding and tires were screaming. I took Kays silence (or white knuckles terror, I forget) as mute acceptance. We followed the signs and found the place with no problem. Kay resumed breathing before we arrived.

We were greeted warmly by the captain, a stiff and formal gentleman properly gresses in tuxedo with ruffles shirt. There were exactly 4 of us in the dining room. We asked about two of the wines on the list and the Captain sent over the owner. Umberto, came over and treated us warmly after we picked out the local Nobile Di Montepulciano to drink (Innocenti Riserva 1995). We let them compose the menu and we proceeded to have 13 different dishes between us. The meal was truly over the top: one of the great food experiences we have ever had. Eggplant flan in tomato sauce, zucchini flower blossoms with ricotta, grilled porcini cap, torte of porcini with porcini slices and parmesan, porcini soup, bean and barley soup, ravioli di zucca with local truffles, ricotta ravioli with local truffles, papardelle with tomatoes and vegetables, veal "carpaccio", boiled marinated goose breast, duck breast roasted with fennel and grilled lamb. What a meal.

Our third meal there was a breakfast included when we stayed in one of their rooms. Fresh baked goods, incredible citrus juice, home made yogurt and jams. Incredible and simple.

The problem meal was the dinner the night before that breakfast. This was our first trip back to Italy after my heart attack and open heart surgery. I was following a very strict diet. We had asked again that the owners compose a meal for us. Instead, they were not there and we had to chose a la carte. The captain, the same fellow in the same tux and ruffled shirt outfit, gave us a lot of suggestions. I was talked into a filet with truffles which I would never have ordered on my own. I was disappointed, not at its quality but at the blandness of the dish. To start, Kay had a wonderful stuffed zucchini blossom again and I had a truly wonderful minestre di pane: bread soup. Next up, Kay had a mushroom soup that was light and brimming with the aroma of porcini mushrooms, while I had tagliolini with porcini. It was a little oily. While I was having my fileto, Kay had an incredible warm bacala with a pesto-like sauce and potatoes. We had an incredible pecorino stagionate con miele (aged sheeps milk cheese with honey). Much of the meal was quite good, some of it outstanding. The wine was sublime: Agostina Pieri 95 Riserva. But the sum just did not live up to the past meal. Maybe it was because I was trying to stay on my then new diet and was too worried about what I was eating. In all, we felt it to be incredibly expensive for a good to excellent meal. Will we go back? I dont know. Right now its a split vote with my vote being yes and Kays being no. Dinner for 2 with a good bottle of wine runs 250-300.

Buonconvento

*Da Mario
Buonconvento is on the SS2, on the way to Montalcino from Siena. Its on the main street of the old town. Wonderful experience. We sat upstair in a room full of families. The menu looks huge, but Mama will tell you what actually is available. Only about a quarter of it will be. And, only the tourists (which is anyone who is not from the town, and anyone who does not eat there regularly, and whom Mama knows not only by name and what they like to eat, but by family history) will see the menu. When we were there, Mama knew what everyone else on the floor wanted to eat without their having to order. Either that or she was telling them what to have! Its that kind of place. We dined upstairs. Papa rules the roost downstairs. I think you have to be one of his drinking buddies to dine down there. We had a great rustic lunch for 4 for $38.00 or so. Good basic pastas. We had ravioli and pici, both very simple and tasty. For entrees we had carpaccio (wonderful), rabbit (small pieces stewed in white wine and olive oil chewy, bony and very tasty) and roast chicken (a quarter of a chicken for about $3.50 a plate). Our veggies were beans and french fries (simply superb). The house wine is nothing great but a good accompaniment to the food.

**Da Duccio
Via Soccini N76, tel: 0577/807042
Da Duccio is also in the historic center of Buonconvento. It is a Slow Food recommended restaurant. The specialty is Fiorentina made from Chianina beef, served extremely rare. Da Duccio is a medium sized restaurant with lots of wood and lots of artifacts of the wine industry on the walls (old bills of sale from Biondi Santi Brunello etc). Jane had a platter of crostini e salumi which was quite good. Kay had home cured bresaola and I had a passato di ceci. The bresaola was good (if not quite up to the quality of Osticcio in Montalcino) and my passato was a flavorful and rustic version. The broth was very thin, flavored with a touch of tomato, and the beans were crushed into little bits rather than smoothly pureed. The Bistecca was large and rare. The flavor was superb. We had grilled eggplant and zucchini that were truly spectacular, and a bowl of fagioli. We drank a bottle of Dei Nobile di Montepulciano for 22. Desserts were quite superb gelati: Limone served in a carved out limone and tartufo bianco. The cafe was hot and strong: a perfect ending.

San Quirico dOrcia

**AllAntico Forno
We dined there with Bill and Patty Sutherland who are friends with the owner and we were warmly welcomed. We sat near a cozy fireplace and looked at the menu. I was entrusted with the wine choice and I forgot what wine we drank, but I recall it being fairly good. Bill had the lardo di Colonata while I had pici with duck ragu. Both were quite good. Patty and Kay both enjoyed a zuppa di farro e porcini, the spelt soup thick and sprinkled heavily with cheese. For secondi, Kay and Patty had fritatte while Bill had a mailalino al forno (roast baby pig with the skin as crisp as cracklings) while I enjoyed cinghiale in a spicy sauce. We had some ceci and roast potatoes. All in all it was quite a nice meal.

Trequanda

***Conte Matto
Via Maresca 1, tel:0577 622079, www.contematto.it
The town is a little picture postcard of a hill town. It is all awash in Yellow and gold shades of the Crete Senesi. We quickly found Conte Matto- a Slow Food recommended restaurant. It was starting to snow and so we went in to enjoy lunch. The place was totally empty. In fact, by the time we left only one other person came in to enjoy lunch. Since there were three folk preparing and serving our lunch, we were struck by the prospect of keeping afloat during the off season in a small village. The dining room was fairly large and there are several small private rooms off to one side. The ceiling was wood beamed with a wall of windows looking out over the newer part of town surrounded by green trees, sharp hills and a beautiful skyline. It was snowing as we sat and we were mesmerized at the cottony huge flakes falling over this beautiful scene. Of course we were a little worried that we might be snowed in!

I started with a Cinta Sinese assortment. There was testa, salami, prosciutto (strong and chewy) coppa and lardo di Colonata. The meats were incredible with strong chewy texture and loads of flavor. We enjoyed a chardonnay frizzante di Trequanda with the antipasto as our wine aired. We drank a Mazzei Morelino di Scansano Belguardo Poggio Bronzone. Mazzei is the family that owns Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico and this is a new wine project for them. In the states this is a $50 or more bottle. Here it was 25 or so. It was very nicely spicy and loaded with fruit but after a bit of air, the specter of new oak came to dominate. Kay had a primo of ravioli di Pecorino di fossa with a saffron egg wash as a sauce. The cheese filling was incredible. The fossa was mixed with a little ricotta. The topping was beaten egg and saffron. I had a zuppa di farro con fagioli and passato di zucca gialla. It was not too thick. I was given a bottle of spicy olio and a pepper mill to top the soup. The food thus far was wondrous. We decided we were enjoying this experience far more than we had our meals at La Chiusa (totally different experiences)!

By now we were chatting with Davide the owner. The restaurant had been in the family for 23 years and Davide had run it for 8. The cellar had 350 wines on it but he would increase that to 600 for the season. He had a beautiful original cellar that he used as a store in the summer. In winter it was too cold to have customers in. Davide has a web site and a mail order wine business in Europe. His cellar features vertical runs of many wines and he offers tasting in season. We will be back ! He has been offered the money to open a restaurant in such cities as Bologna, Roma and elsewhere, but he loves his hometown of Trequanda and we can see why!

Our secondi were Kays Piccione al Forno. The breast was stuffed with a rich and spicy forcemeat and then the whole was wrapped in a thick slice of prosciutto and roasted in the oven. Mine was a breast of duck, not too fatty, roasted and served with a lemon and orange gravy. We had fried potatoes (only good not great) and sweet and sour onions (intensely flavored). Dessert was a parfait al Mandorle. This was a frozen disk of almond ice, almost a semi freddo, topped with almond praline with an almost toffee flavor. I ordered a glass of Laubere dOlive 1988 Armagnac for under 10. Considering that if you can find it, the bottle of Armagnac would go for $120 or 150, it was a bargain. Our meal, an antipasto, 2 primi, 2 secondi, a nice bottle, dessert, espressi and armagnac, came to 96. What a bargain! Conte Matto was now our favorite restaurant in the vicinity, a distinction it would hold for only two days!

Lupompesi (just outside of Vescovado di Murlo)

***Bosco della Spina
Lupompesi 13, tel:0577 814605, www.boscodellaspina.com
We drove south and tried to find Bosco della Spina. We knew it was in a little speck of a town called Lupompesi just outside of Vescovado di Murlo. We followed the signs for Vescovado as there is a hotel there. Of course there was no sign for Lupompesi but we guessed right and drove off. We found the turnoff for Lupompesi. It is a collection of the hotel, a few houses and a large new building project of either apartments or condominiums surrounded by a few businesses. It was a bit dreary but less so than Vescovado di Murlo itself. We walked into the modern and highly designed place feeling a little grubby after our padding around the ruined castle at Crevole earlier that evening. There was a huge fireplace designed for grilling and the chairs were slip covered in bright fabrics. The lighting was high tech and there was modern art on the walls. Two walls of the place are glass and lookout over the unspoiled valley below. The tables were old monastery trestle tables, very heavy and slightly wobbly. But our waiter finally got our table stabilized. There were a total of 12 or so people dining in the restaurant. The waiter was slightly Germanic in feel, very formal and stiff.

We looked at the menu and there was so much that looked appealing. Angelina from the Enotecca Fortezza had said this was her altogether favorite restaurant so we decided to go all out. We ordered a 95 Brunello Vignetto Manichaira from Silvio Nardi. Nardi makes very nice wines that offers a lot of value for the money. Vignetto Manachaira is his "riserva". The 95 was just now rounding into perfection. The waiter decanted it into a very modern and cool looking decanter and we ordered the rest of the meal as the wine breathed. At 57, it was cheaper than I could find it in town! The wine was rich and starting to get mature, and simply excellent with the food to follow.

Kay started with pepperoni agrodolce, fat slices of yellow and orange peppers, roasted and peeled and then marinated in a sweet and sour style. I had a cinta sinese plate that had one pepper on it surrounded by Capicola Lonza, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, olive verdi and a crostino alle funghi porcini. All was superb on my generous plate. Kay had tortellini danatra, duck filled pasta in a butter and sage sauce. Although it was a touch salty, it was full of flavor and quite good. I had homemade trefoli, a rich pasta with porcini. The pasta was good a chewy, a sophisticated alternative to pici. For a secondo, Kay had sliced roast veal, quite pink in the center in a lemon and herb olio sauce. Her side was peas, onions and pancetta, the whole cooked until the peas were pale green and mushy. I loved it. I had a pork mixed grill with a few pieces of sparerib, a bit of sirloin and a sausage grilled till crispy accompanied by Swiss chard. Our dessert was a yogurt parfait with pineapple pulp. One of our best ever meals in Toscana. We commented we are so over La Chiusa. For the cost of one great meal at La Chiusa we have eaten at both Bosco della Spina and Conte Matto and have euro left over! Somehow, the drive home That night was much longer than expected!

Chiusi

***La Solita Zuppa
Via Porsenna 21, tel: 0578/21006
La Solita Zuppa is a restaurant of rare intelligence, able to combine traditional, even scholarly, flavors with modern elements in a non-showy, non fussy-manner. This is a restaurant with a sure hand and a well thought out principles of cuisine. We arrived just at then end of lunch so our experienced was a touch rushed, but not in an unfriendly way. The only unfortunate part of the meal is that I did not get to peruse the outstanding wine list. We had a carafe of rosso di Montalcino that was nice but not great.

Owner Roberto recited the menu starting with a long list of soups and other primi. I had wonderful pasta with a yellow pepper sauce. Kay tried a carrot and ginger soup and Jane had rich gnudi- little balls of ricotta and spinach in a butter sauce. For secondi, we had pork with apples, chicken with warm spices and a slice of roast chianina beef served cold with a green salsa. Everything was superb. And there were so many things on the menu we would have like to have tried. We will be back.

In the Castellina in Chianti area

**/***Gallopappa
In Castellina
There is a sottoporteggio or underground walkway in Castellina. Here you will find store rooms for the residences and businesses above, plus one business itself. Gallopappa is a cellar in that underground passageway that has been converted into a restaurant. Crammed with tables and people, its a great place to eat beef. This is a younger crowd bent on having a good time. The beef is from Dario in Panzano who is one of the great butchers in all of Toscana. One specialty of the house is a rib eye roast, a similar cut to Bistecca but cooked in a large single piece as a roast, off the bone, and sliced into inch thick steaks. I prefer the traditional Bistecca. Great salumi antipasti. Very nice wine list with bottles scattered all over the place. Expect your meal to be interrupted several times by the owner looking for a particular bottle of wine that is standing in a niche behind your table. Did not pay so I cant say how much. I understand they have a new chef and the menu is a little more adventurous than previously.

**Il Pestello
On the Poggibonsi to Castellina road s429
It is in the middle of nowhere; but it is very busy and fun. You can dine on a thatch covered patio in the warmer months. The inside is a series of rooms that have recently been remodeled but made a little sterile. The building used to be a horse stop where people would change animals on a long journey. The restaurant is in the former stables. The service is very friendly and warm. The menu is completely traditional. We have eaten there at least 5 times so this review is a compendium from all our visits. I think we have eaten here as often as anywhere else in Italy (actually tied with Fiaschetteria Toscana in Venezia which is a totally different experience). The menu and the quality have remained the same and the wine list gets better each time we visit. Prices have also remained reasonable.

Our first visit to Il Pestello came on a cold and rainy night. We had seen the crowd of cars before, and came back very hungry and grumpy. We entered the bar area which is dark, dusty and uninviting. The old men at the bar and behind it just stared at us. But just as we were about to leave, a waiter holding an armful of porcini came and seated us. We will follow a man with huge parcini almost anywhere and we are glad we did in this case. In fact, we returned again the day after.

The antipasti are good. The fettuna (grilled bread rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with salt and drenched in olive oil) is fine. The mixed crostini are substantial. Other antipasti include boar sausage, local prosciutto and other solid offerings.

Primi include excellent soups and nice homemade pasta. Il Pestello offers 4 different soups. I loved the zuppa di funghi among the soups. They have an unusually good insalata di grano with a barley or spelt base, bits of chicken and vegetables. Pastas are typical and very good. Most are home made and the sauces simple and substantial. They have a pasta similar to Pici but calle, I think, strozapretti. They are rough lengths of pasta very chewy and topped with a meat sauce.

You can see the wood burning grill at the back of one of the rooms so stick with the grilled meats for your secondo. Great lamb with rosemary and salt is my favorite dish. I almost always have it when we are here. The lamb is a little fattier than most American lamb but with a much more distinct flavor from the grass feed. You get a number of cuts from various portions of the animal. Rabbit, capriolio (kid) have been very good as well. They have the best grilled porcini in season. We never fail to order a porcini or two to accompany our meal, when available Two smaller ones would make a wonderful vegetable entree. They will bring by a box for you to choose and the price is by the weight. The procini are slow roasted over the coals so the edges of the caps are crispy and the stems perfectly chewy and meaty. They are douses with salt and rosemary. Sage roasted potatoes are superb: the sage crispy and the taters soft and creamy. Order the potatoes and porcini at the start of the meal as they take 25 minutes to roast. Nice local wines, especially Fonterutoli and La Leccia. Pass on the cheese plate if offered. Desserts tend to be okay although our nephews liked the Panna Cotta with caramel sauce. Figure on 30 to 50 a person depending on how elaborate you eat and drink.

**Cantioniera di Vescine
On the 222 just north of Castellina take the Radda cutoff
A small house converted into a surprisingly sophisticated Tuscan restaurant. Insalata autunno consisted of caprino (fresh young goat cheese), noci (hazelnuts) and alici (white anchovies that have been marinated in vinegar), Prosciutto di angello topped with pate di olive (black olive paste), porcini arostitti, faraona con spinaci, petto doca (roasted goose breast with red cabbage and roasted potatoes). This is the type of place where the dog was begging at our table. He got a lot of sympathy and no food!

*Osteria Fonterutoli
A tiny place with a Tuscan grandma cooking with about 10 tables. Great and cheap. We had house made pasta, crostini, roast stuffed sliced rabbit and grilled vegetables. The wines by the glass are from Fonterutoli. We ate there during a rainstorm, and the lights went out. The waiters just lit candles and we continued eating by candlelight. Located a few Km south (in the direction of Siena) of Castellina. Cheap 40 before wine and good wine is available by the glass.

**Bar Orso
At the Monteriggioni off ramp of the Siena Firenze super strada
This is simply our favorite bar in all of Italy. They serve Illy caffe and they do it perfectly. An assortment of uniformed women who still speak with the now fading Tuscan dialect serve "haupiccino" in this traditional meeting place. In the front bar, while being overlooked by hundreds of various images of the Bear (Orso) you can get excellent paste (pastries) and some of the best caffe you will ever have. In the back room, there is a sandwich bar that is an amazing find. The specialty of the house is porchetta. You come face to face with your meal, lying there on a marble slab awaiting the knife. A huge pile of meat is tossed on a round roll and makes a light meal for 2. My nephews adore their panino di mozzarella e pomodoro. Served on a foccacia bread, it contains incredible fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes. They have great Tuscan prosciutto, various salumi etc. Plus the bathroom is a technical wonder with an electronically controlled door and lighting system. Panini under 5, standard prices on caffe. We have been here well over 20 times. Its our basic hangout in Castellina. The staff cries when they see us go (probably because we spend so much there!).

**Terre di Siena
Inside Monteriggioni, on the left of the main square, at the end of small alleyway lined with wine. Not a restaurant, but a wine shop with interesting food products. Great cheeses. Just trust them and put your choices in their hands. Great wine pricing for a spot in a tourist haven. Fresh local truffles in season. Great Brunello selection, very good Chianti Classico and Morellino di Scansano selection.

**La Legenda di Sogni dei Frati
Isola del Abbadia
Off the road from Monteriggioni to Colle Val dElsa in the direction of Strove. Well signed. Abbadia del Isola is a small village built around an old abbey now undergoing restoration. The restaurant is named after a legend of the monks who dreamed of building the Abbey and finally succeeded. The menu is based in tradition but with a modern sensibility. Nothing wild or Nuova Cucina about the place, but a fresh, lightened approach to food. Nice wine list. We were taken here by Francesco Daddi of Castello La Leccia. Incredible dishes included gnocchi with 2 funghi- which looked gray and gloppy but tasted wonderful, malfreddi with ricotta- randomly or "badly cut" (mal=bad) pasta with locally made ricotta, rabbit with prunes- a little dry but very flavorful and quite bony (the best meat is scraped off the bones using your hands and teeth. Very good cafe. Be sure to look up the care taker and see the chapel for some incredible frescoed decorations. It gives you an idea of how wealthy a community this out of the way place was way back when. Looked like medium to medium high pricing but we did not pay for the meal.

*Casalta
Past Abbadia del Isola on same road, in the direction of Strove. Not well signed. Follow the signs marked Casalta and basically drive right into the middle of the town (actually its a Borgo, somewhere between a town and a castle) and there is a restaurant somewhere. It looks like you are going into a house or hotel. Another recommendation from Francesco of La Leccia. If ever there was a destination restaurant, this has to be it. There is no way you could just stumble on it as panic would have set in well before you arrived if you were this lost! Typical upscale food done with a bit of a flair. Things like sformata di verza and pappardelle al sugo, tortelloni di piccioni and tortino di carciofi. Everything was well flavored but on the rich side. Seemed well priced for this type of thing but we did not pay so we are not exactly sure. Excellent local cheeses and nice wines. Again, a guest of our host so no pricing information.

Gelato in Castellina

***Antica Delizie
My favorite Gelateria in Toscana. It is a *** rating in my book. Its one of the two best culinary reasons to go to Castellina (the other being Bar Orso). Antica Delizie is at the north end of town where the 222 and the 429 meet. Can't miss it as there are always people out front enjoying the gelato.

San Gimignano

*Il Pino
Serves Tuscan classics, about $140 for 4 people with good wine. This was recommended to us by a local artist. Family run, serving a traditional menu with a few modern touches. They have a lot of game on the menu. Carpaccio di cervo turned out to be lightly smoked deer that was tender, almost melt in your mouth. Pastas were fine. Cinghiale was incredible as was the pigeon in Vernaccia. Quite good, especially considering the touristy nature of San Gimignano. Excellent wine list including San Polo in Rosso, a wonderful but hard to find Chianti producer. We drank the 1995 Riserva for far less than we would have paid at a retail shop in the US even if we could find it! I recall this meal being about 140 for 4.

*In Volterra, across and down the street from the entrance to the Etruscan museum, there is a little shop with wine, olive oil and a little counter. You can also go down stairs and sit in its brick lined cellar. Great panzanella and salumi. Service is slow and disorganized but the food was great. Wine was by the carafe. We spent about 40 on a light meal.

Florence (Firenze)

The following quartet are among my favorite restaurants not only in Firenze, but in all my travels.

***Cibreo
There are three restaurants at Cibreo, the Ristorante with its higher prices, fine linens and silver, and extensive wine list. Across the street is the caffe which is the cheapest alternative of the three, offering wonderful teas steeped in very old cast iron tea pots, a real treat. The last and my favorite choice is the Trattoria Cibreo which is around the back from the Ristorante. It does not take reservations and has a limited number of large tables. You are seated with others family style and in place of fine linen, you get a paper place mat. The food is a selection from the menu of Cibreo, at considerably lower prices. The crowd, while still fairly international, seems to be more locals than in the Ristorante.

At the Ristorante and the Trattoria I have enjoyed minestra di lampredotto (tripe stew), stuffed rabbit, coda di vitello (veal tail), pancetta (roast loin of pork with fennel and herbs), calfs feet, polenta drenched in butter and herbs, pappa al pomodoro, roast lamb, polpettino and more. Its all based on traditional Tuscan cooking before the introduction of pasta. The wine list at the Ristorante is superb, filled with all the big names, but also with smaller names as well. Look for Castello di San Polo in Rosso and you will also get good recommendations from the staff.

The Trattorias list is a small selection from the larger work. It is filled with lovely wines like Morellino di Scansano from Le Pupile and Chianti from Monte Vertine at superb pricing. The Trattoria runs about 40 to 50 a person and the Ristorante around double.

***Ristorante Ricci
Located in Santo Spirito
At lunch, they offer a typical Tuscan menu. Next door is Cafe Ricci offering a very good cappuccino. But the real gem is Ristorante Ricci at night. There is a sign outside saying "Solo Pesce"only fish. And what fish it is! I started with a crudo mixto. I got 4 kinds of raw fish each marinated lightly in very simple fashion: home smoked salmon with pink peppercorns over a salad of shredded fennel; carpaccio di orata; one perfect briny oyster; a pair of sweet shrimp, impossibly tender. Kay had the chefs fantasy of hot antipasti: Bacala whipped with potatoes and olive oil served with crostini, fried zucchini blossom with fresh ricotta which were superb- light, crisp, very little oil; sieppi in umido- cuttle fish in a rich tomato and herb broth with wine. Each hot antipasto was served as its own course. Next up were a risotto di mare that was perhaps the best risotto we have ever had and a maltagliata con lenticcie e pecorino- "badly cut" pasta, pasta cut in odd little shapes almost at random, with a stew of tiny castellucio lentils (the best in the world!) and slivers of very good aged pecorino.

Next up was the mixed grill of seafood, and because we hear the Japanese chef trying to hit on a Japanese young lady dining at a nearby table recommend it to her, the seared Tuna. Neither dish was exactly necessary in terms of how much food we had already put away. But we really "needed" to have it because for the flavors. The mixed grill could easily have served 2. Perfectly cooked dogfish (swordfish like), sardine, orata and huge gamberoni were all perfectly fresh and properly cooked- moist and tender yet nicely charred from the grill, all bathed in an olive oil and lemon juice topping. Served with incredible grilled vegetables. The tuna was thick slabs of perfect belly tuna seared quickly served with a side of caramelized brussel sprouts. As good as promised.

The wine was a Zamo Tocai Friulano and the bill was an incredibly cheap 120. This is as good a meal as I have ever had in Italy. Most seafood meals of this caliber are much more money. I have spent much more for food that was not as impressive! The restaurant is only 3 years old but the family has been in the caffe business for 30 plus years.

***Beccofino (No longer open for business April 2008)
Went to dinner here with Judy and two of her friends to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. A very trendy interior. We drank some pretty special wines: San Polo in Rosso Cenatine 100% Sangiovese and 1995 Castel in Villa Santa Croce Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of these wines were at original release pricing and truly bargains. If you know your wines, there is much fun to be had here because they dont seem to readjust their pricing on older wines. There are many a hidden gem at great priceing. The food was superb.

Primi included mussels; poached egg on stewed red onion with Acqualagna white truffles; beef tartar with white truffles; spaghetti alla chitarra (so named for the stringed device used to cut these square shaped noodles); and tortellini di patate again with white truffles. For secondi, we had faraona with truffle juice and fava puree and piccione. Desserts included an apple tart and pears in vin santo. I recall this being about 150 for 2 but by the end of the meal I was a little bit fuzzy.

***Cavalo Nero
Via dArglione 26
Tiny spot in OltrArno. Lots of older men and their surgically enhanced granddaughters. Well young enough to be grand daughters. Lot of smoke as well, but worth the pollution for the food. The wine was a superb Sanct Vallentin Gewrztraminer, dry and incredibly aromatic with litchi and peppercorn aromas. Paste were penette con polpo, the octopus slow braised in olive oil till it was both tender and dense, its flavors concentrated, and gnocchi con zucca gialla e vongole veraci- pumpkin and tiny clams. Kay had a piccioni in crosta. I had orata, filleted and laid open, then topped with tomatoes and olives all cooked together in the oven. The side was a large protion of herbed roasted potatoes. Incredible. Not too hard on the pocket book, 140 I believe and the wine was probably 40 alone.

Some cheaper alternatives

*Panini from the tripe sellers carts. This is a Fiorentine specialty. You have a choice between freddo (cold) or caldo (hot). Ripieno, meaning stuffed, means that they tear out the crumb from the roll. Since the bread is usually the traditional Tuscan unsalted variety, I always go for Ripieno. The last choices are sale (salt- say no) and salsa (a lovely green herb sauce, say yes). The whole thing will cost you less than $3.00 with a bottle of minerale.

*The Sandwich Shop next to Antico Noe. Antico Noe is a pretty famous wine bar that has some food offerings as well. Just next door (and I don't know if they are under the same ownership) is a store front that offers made to order sandwiches for under $3.00. Sliced roasted meats topped with choices ranging from roasted eggplant to fresh mozzarella to boiled spinach. Across the street is a schwarma/falafel stand that makes some of the best Middle Eastern sandwiches around. I love the schwarma with everything on it, especially the hot red sauce. Again, maybe $3.00 for the sandwich and the same for a large beer.

*Casalinga in Oltr'Arno district by Santo Spirito. Have heard from folk on the board that it is no longer as good as it was, but I will try it again anyway on a future trip to Firenze. Wonderful, simple rustic food. Very cheap. House wine is horrendous! We ate there in 1998. 25 for 2.

**Nerbonne in Mercato Centrale. This is a classic place to eat. Right in the indoor food market near San Lorenzo, this as a throwback to a much earlier day when the place was the feeding stop for laborers and farmers. They put out a spread at lunchtime of many dishes, both hot and cold. You go through a cafeteria line to choose your food and, if you order a panini, you get a ticket for that. Take that ticket to the sandwich station and they assemble it for you. There is a bank of marble tables across the way (the wrought iron work in the location and in the dining area must be seen to be believed: its an Art Nouveau inspired marvel. The sandwiches (tripe, boiled beef etc) are cut from huge chunks of held is their boiling liquid. Have the sandwich bagnato (or bathed in the cooking juices). Please, please, please dont tell my cardiologist that I had one of these sandwiches!!! 13 for enough food for three.

*ZaZa in Piazza di Mercato. A simple Trattoria with outdoor seating. A little touristy but serving good basic food. We had crostini, minestra, spiedini and insalata. All good enough and the outdoor location was great. Wine not so fine. Actually horrible. Could have been turpentine but I don't think turpentine tastes that rank...... Maybe 30 for 2.

Gelato etc.

When Im in Firenze, I am not a pop into the bar kind of person. First off I am always in a rush to go somewhere else. Secondly, I tend to have a lot of caffe in museum bars, not a culinary highlight. Last, many bars in Firenze itself are nothing special and I did not take note of them here.

***I must confess that my favorite shop is a tiny place somewhere between the train station and San Lorenzo. The problem is that we forgot to take down the name, twice. We have been so taken and entertained by the owners and their incredible gelato that we forget to grab a card or write down the name. They will "force you" to taste several gelati and they will match you personally taste for taste. I think it on the left had side of Via Faenza as you walk towards San Lorenzo from the direction of Via Nazionale. Its a dark brown wood place with a lot of marble. The sugar cones are piled high in a "leaning tower of Pisa" fashion.

**Vivoli, a totally different style of gelato than you usually encounter. Many of the flavors have a rough and coarse texture from the fruit or nut used to make it. This is so different from most gelato that I think there can be a "love it or I dont get it response". I loved it but Vivoli is not my favorite gelato. In fact, when I go by and there is a long wait, I keep walking.

**Rivoli, the etc is their hot chocolate. Thick and almost pudding like, this is an adult treat (and at 9 a cup it is definitely an adult indulgence) that has to be experienced at least once. Great cappuccino and panini and paste (pastries) in the morning.

Pisa

***Osteria dei Cavalleri
Just off the Piazza of the same name, this is a wonderful restaurant where we had an incredible meal. While many come to Pisa to see the tower, I would come back just to dine here! They offer several "tasting" menus but beware, these are just full sized portions strung together until you are bursting. The way I eat now I could not finish a 3 course meal there much less 4 or 5 courses. We spent 140 for 4 including a good bottle of wine. Antipasti included: carpaccio of pesca spada (swordfish), very silky with a drizzle of olive oil,a spritz of sweet lemon and some cavalo nero. Pasta fritta con culatello (fried dough with a special form of prosciutto, culatello is the nugget of meat above the leg made in the same fashion as prosciutto. Because it does not come with the skin on, it cannot be imported to the US. It is tangier and spicier than prosciutto).

Sformata di verdure was a light custard-y flan of vegetables with a tomato sauce. The pastas were incredible with the tagliolini with asparagus and rabbit being especially so. One of the nephews had ravioli with beans spinach and tomatoes. Kay had a zuppa di pane, a bowl of mush with an essence of seafood broth and bits of clams and mussels. Not much to look at but what flavor! Also wondrous was a torte with parmesan and truffles, obscenely rich in a glace di viande sauce. I had a tagliolini with duck sauce spiked with orange zest. Kay also had pasta frutti di mare in a tomato sauce. Entrees included tagliata di manzo, strips of grilled loin of Chiana beef on a bed of spicy arugula, scottaditta or baby lamb chops quickly seared (some of the best lamb I have ever had) and john dory with clams and mussels. We had a little semifreddo, panna cotta and sorbetto with prosecco for desserts. Enough food for 6! One warning, this is a smokers restaurant. We sat in the no smoking sectionthe owner took the ash tray off our table. The owner must have smoked 10 cigarettes while we dined and his desk was right next to our table. We got the last unreserved table in the house, so reserve! Good wine list, we drank a Castello di Rampolla 1998 Chianti Classico.

Lucca and Environs

***Vinarkia
Via Filungo
We shared a sformata di spinaci con lardo which was claimed to be a Caterina di Medici recipe. It was tasty and rich: a torte of pureed vegetables with a covering of paper thin lardo, all warmed in the oven until the lardo was just translucent. We also tried pescaspada affumicato con insalata misticana e Kiwi. This was a beautiful plate of bitter baby greens topped by slices of kiwi and see thru slices of house-smoked, whiskey-cured swordfish. This was also very wonderful. Last up was a huge plate of assorted cheeses, all local pecorini of different ages. It was served with a small dish of truffle honey. We drank some glasses of Falanghina with this. The places is small with a lovely old wooden bar and a wild mosaic in the wall. The bartender was a hip looking pierced young lady who was concerned that we had a good time. The chef/owner was a hipster who spent more time getting into and out of his motorcycle leathers than actually making our food. Shaved headed and with that 3 day unshaven beard look, he also chatted with about half of the folk who walked by. We enjoyed Vinarkia immensely.

On a return visit in the evening, they had a wonderful selection of antipasti (salumi, formaggi, crostini and a insalata di Farro con tonno). We enjoyed some Muller Thurgau from Alto Adige while we munched.

**/***I Santi Vineria Toscana
Via dellAnfiteatro, 29/a, tel: 0583/496124
Very late at night, while walking around the Anfiteatro, we found I Santi. There was good jazz playing on the sound system and lots of bottles of wine all over the room. The staff was young and very friendly. Kay had a steamed chicken salad with melon. The chicken at first seemed bland but as you chewed it, the simple flavors of a non factory farmed chicken developed in your mouth. I had an excellent, very fresh tasting carpaccio di Manzo, followed by an insipid looking but great tasting insalata mista. We drank a couple of glasses of good red.

We returned to I Santi the next day. With great jazz playing on the stereo, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch. Jane had an adventurous grilled tomino (small brie like cheese from Piemonte) with pear and walnuts. The grilling of the cheese made it soft, creamy and runny. Kay started with the insalata mista while I had a wonderful pappa col pomodoro. Kay followed with a quail salad and I had the steak tartare. The waiter made quite a production of dressing the wonderful chopped beef with anchovies, parsley, shallots and a bright orange colored egg yolk. We had a apple tart to finish accompanied by a glass of 1988 Dartilatongue Armagnac. We also had several of the best macchiati of the trip. Our wine was a local Lucchesi Rosso from Colina Verde. It was okay.

**Olivo
Somewhere in Lucca, off of Via Fillungo
We started with an outstanding bottle of gewrztraminer SanctValetin from San Michele Eppian 2002. First up was my antipasto of calamaretti, sauteed and marinated in olive oil and a salsa verde that included anchovies, capers and, allegedly, artichoke. This was an ugly looking concoction with the sauce being a pasty green grey. But the baby squid was grilled to perfection and the sauce nicely pungent. Kay had antipasto misto caldo: a large bowl with a selection of seafood. Steamed fillet of sole, scampi, gamberoni, octopus and squid. The sole was soft and tender, the shell fish extremely fresh and simply prepared. All were topped by local olive oil, light and delicate. Then we shared spaghetti fantasia di mare, with loads of clams, mussels and scampi. The pasta was a little chewy but the sauce was a briny mix of the pan juices from the shellfish, lots of chopped garlic, parsley and a splash of tart white wine. It was the kind of sauce where you sop up every drop. All quite wonderful. We finished with a crostata di frutti del bosco and a macedone di frutti. The meal was not particularly cheap, but not too expensive for an all seafood meal.

Also recommended by the owner of Vinarkia, but not tried were Ristorante Damiani (vicino Castello Autostrada) and Ristorante Celide (Zona Macelli- Porta Elisa). We later drove past both restaurants and they looked good. I will try both the next trip to Lucca.

***Villa La Nina
Montecarlo (Lucca) tel: 0583/22178
What a meal. Here is a country restaurant in the middle of a dreary industrial area that had some spectacularly wonderful food. We talked to the owner about ordering and he asked if we wanted traditional foods or modern. His local customers wanted the modern and visitors from afar wanted traditional food. We said traditional. Jane started off with prosciutto e melone. The dark red ham was presented on the bone and hand sliced: a little thicker than the typical machine sliced stuff. It was properly musty and spicy. Kay had a crepe stuffed with salmon in a cream sauce, a bit of the modern but good, if not over the top rich. I had a warm mixed seafood antipasto which included a small version of the crepe, a scallop au gratin (again rich) and finally a warm seafood salad loaded with garlic. The salad was a saute of calamaretti, scampi, gamberetti, white wine and olio. The seafood salad was an example of superb simple food!

For a primi I had zuppa di farrro. Farro is emmer, an ancient form of wheat, dark brown in color and earthy in taste. The soup was a smooth puree of emmer and dark brown beans topped with a drizzle of very good house olio. For a secondo, Kay had the Pollo al Mattone- chicken grilled under a brick. This is a small free range bird split down the back and flattened. It is then pressed with a super-heated brick and tossed on a hot grill so that both sides cook at once. The bones are crisp and brittle, the skin very crisp and brown, yet the meat is very juicy. Jane had ravioli allasparigi which was very good and very rich with cream. My secondo was grilled scampi, which was quite a production. A heavy cast iron brazier with three hardwood coals was brought out topped with a huge pile of scampi (about the best part of a kilo). Those on the top of the pile were perfectly cooked while those lower down were a little underdone so the heat from the brazier would continue to cook them until I had worked my way down. This led to a scene that could have been out of Tom Jones: I was slurping every morsel of the sweet crustacean from the shell while the juices were getting everywhere. Lamb chops and gamberoni are also given the same treatment although we did not try them. My contorno was pinzimonio- a huge bowl of huge whole vegetables served with a knife. It was served with more of the house olio and a sharp red wine vinegar. Our wine was a bottle of the house wine which had all the charm of a bottle of lemon juice left out in the sun for several weeks before some cats used the bottle as a latrine. If it was even that good! But how do you tell your hosts that their home made wine could take the rust out of the radiator of a 36 Ford pickup if not dissolve the radiator entirely. Get something expensive off of the extensive and wonderful reserve wine list instead. Save the house wine till you need some Drano! Dessert was fresh fruit and strong caffe. The meal was under 200 for a true feast.


Dean Gold lives in Maryland, when he is not in Italy, and owns the Washington DC restaurant Dino, www.dino-dc.com. See Dean's Slow Travel Member page.

© Dean Gold, 2004

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