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Siena: Antica Osteria Da Divo

Via Franciosa 25-29 , Phone: 0577.286054

Reviewed by: Harry from OH, review #2875

When: 2008

We had an apartment in Siena for one month. Ate at many "recommended" restaurants and were disappointed. Da Divo has a nice atmosphere and the food is very good.

We stayed in Siena for one month. Having tried many "recommended" restaurants in Siena, we were very disappointed. We found that most of them to cater to tourists and are uninterested in the craft of cooking. I can cook equally as good or better than most of them. I don't particularly care that much about atmosphere, but good food is critical.

We walked to La Canto (Michelin starred) only to find out that it was closed for lunch and was fully booked at night for weeks. Luckily, we did not have to walk back and managed to get a taxi. We talked with the driver about restaurants in Siena and he mentioned three that he thought were the best... he was well traveled, not your average taxi driver. He took us to Da Diva for lunch (just around the corner from our apartment). It would be a little hard to find if he had not taken us there.

Now normally, I am a little skeptical about "taxi driver" recommendations as I figure they are either going to get a cut of the bill, or a reduced bill the next time they eat there.

On entering, we were politely whisked to a table in the main room. The room's walls were a concoction of tufa, bricks and stone. The small rooms below are reportedly Etruscan Tombs. High ceilings in the main rooms have exposed beams. There are tablecloths, cloth napkins, candles, and comfortable chairs.

The menu has a few traditional Tuscan dishes, but otherwise reflects the creativity of the chef. Appetizers averaged 8-12 euro, first courses 10-12 euro, and second courses 22-24 euro - not inexpensive. The wine list is comprehensive and reasonably priced.

The chef helped take our order and select wines for the dishes. He was exuberant about his craft, marriage of ingredients and flavors. He came by often to chat and discuss the food and wines, but he was not overwhelming or interfering.

For my appetizer, I ordered browned scallops in a pea mousse covered with fried zucchini flowers. It was absolutely fabulous. The combination of flavors, especially topped off with the flowers, was delicately complex but blended flawlessly. The last time I had something similar was at Vissini's (2 Michelin stars in Baschi) and this might have surpassed it. My wife ordered the pastry stuffed with spring mushrooms and pecorino cheese served on a salad base with a balsalmic reduction. I thought that the dish was good but lacking. The chosen mushrooms were lost in the flavor combination.

Next, I selected tuna medallions coated with poppy seeds in a caper sauce, accompanied by potato chips (the chef highly recomended this.) When it first arrived, I thought I had made a mistake. It looked suspiously like your basic seared tuna, only lacking soy sauce and wasabi. However, the caper sauce changed my mind completely. While the treatment of the tuna itself was banal, the sauce made the dish uniquely special. I would defintely order it again.

My wife ordered crispy guinea fowl in a wine and chestnut sauce accompanied by a small serving of eggplant parmesan. The half fowl was arranged on a small bed of mashed potatoes... not mentioned on the menu, but delicious. Once again the sauce was truly outstanding. Fowl can be difficult to cook as it can dry out quickly, but this was not. The eggplant had an exceptional flavor as something was added that as not mentioned on the menu.

We went back that night to see if the lunch was just a fluke. It wasn't. We repeated some dishes to test the consistency of the kitchen and found it flawless. In addtion, my wife had oysters heated in prosecco with a julienne of cucumbers and strawberry mousse. I don't know what got into her. She hates oysters. However the dish was excellent and she said she would order it again. We split the pappardelle flavored with rosemary in a wild boar sauce with black olives. OK, every restaurant in Siena has this dish. Right? Wrong! The combination of the carrots, rosemary and black olives gave this traditional dish a unique flavor. I talked with the chef and he said that he had the special olives brought in fom the north. They are small and have a very different flavor than one associates with black olives. Excellent.

We also had two racks of herb-encrusted lamb accompanied by a wild chicory tart. The tart and the lamb were perfect together. I must admit that this chef knows his sauces. They are perfectly balanced and marry perfectly with the dish. The lamb had the cooked ends removed to show the perfect pink center. After the lamb is cooked, the coating is applied and put in a salamander to finish it. The chicory tart was tremendous, especially as a compliment to the lamb.

I would recommend any of the desserts as ours were very good, and they all seem to be wonderful.

I highly recommend this restaurant... OK, at the price maybe for a special occasion. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by: Jeff Whiteaker from CA, review #2591

When: 2007

A chi-chi restaurant nestled in ancient, Etruscan ruins that serves freshly prepared, yet ultimately mediorce food to tourists with too much money.

We'd read some promising reviews of da Divo, but failed to take note of how every review took great pains to emphasize the restaurant's location among Etruscan ruins. It turns out that should've been a red flag, as the Etruscan ruins might have been the most interesting thing about the place. I mean, sure, I love Etruscan ruins as much as the next person. But, Da Divo seems to be coasting by on this particular characteristic, using that - instead of genuinely great food - as its reason to exist.

In our defense, the menu posted out front did have an interesting and seemingly adventurous selection of dishes that went beyond the scope of the usual cinghiale-pici-ribolita-etc... We love those Tuscan staples, obviously, but a break from traditional Tuscan fare seemed appealing to us that night, and despite high-ish prices on the menu, we threw caution to the wind and walked in.

But, as soon as we were seated, it was clear we'd walked straight into a tourist trap. There was not one single Italian in the joint. The wait staff all spoke flawless English, and the patrons were strictly of the pink-button down shirt with white sweater over the shoulders and khakis variety; all of them were American.

Despite the cool, rustic decor of exposed, jagged stone, vaulted ceilings and splintery wood beams, the food failed to truly impress. The primi we ordered were fresh and certainly had potential, but fell short of greatness in the flavor department. For some reason I neglected to jot these down in my notes, but I ordered some kind of Tortelli that came in a frustratingly bland pesto sauce with pine nuts scattered on top. I remember thinking it should've been so much better than it really was. My girlfriend ordered a Pecorino Risotto which, again, should've been far richer and more potent than it was.

We split a secondo of pork wrapped around black cabbage, swimming in truffle oil with cream sauce. This was really the only dish that made any impact on our taste buds, and that largely had to do with the tartufo factor (if you read my other reviews, you'll know I'm psychotically obsessed with the rich, earthy flavor of truffles). This dish was tasty but not strong enough to make me want to return, as better Truffle-based dishes can be found elsewhere.

So, I'll give da Divo a point for trying to do something different, but the generally bland results made for a disappointingly mediocre experience. I think that if they made truly mind-blowing food, there'd be no need for all the fuss over the Etruscan ruins. I'm probably being generous by giving da Divo a neutral rating. Catch me on a different day and I might dole out the "frown face" rating. Either way, based on my one experience here I wouldn't return.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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