Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Dean's Tuscany Restaurant List
Dean Gold (Dean)
* means that if you are there, it is a place to go
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)
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.
***Il Tufo Allegro
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.
*Il Due Cippi
Montalcino and surroundings
SantAngelo in Colle
***Bocon di Vino
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).
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
San Quirico dOrcia
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
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!
***La Solita Zuppa
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
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
**Terre di Siena
**La Legenda di Sogni dei Frati
Gelato in Castellina
*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.
The following quartet are among my favorite restaurants not only in Firenze, but in all my travels.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
***Osteria dei Cavalleri
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
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
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.
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
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.
Slow Travel Italy - Restaurants - Wine Notes: Dean's Wine Notes
© Dean Gold, 2004
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