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Siena: La Torre

Via Salicotto, 69 , Phone: 577.28.7548

Closing day: Thursday

Reviewed by: JDeQ from Canada, review #2971

When: 2008

Fodors lists this as one of their top 10 restaurants in Siena – I rate it one of my top 10 dining disappointments in Italy!

Trattoria La Torre Kitchen, photo by J DeQuetteville

This trattoria in the heart of Siena has been a reference point for anyone looking for Tuscan specialties for the past 50 years. There are many positive reviews of it out on the net and on slowtravel itself. Because of this we thought that we would give it a try – it was our worst eating experience on this trip. Some of the reviews I have read state that this is the best restaurant the reviewers have ever eaten in – that says extremely little about the rest of the restaurant world in my opinion! I have never eaten such boring, over-cooked, under-flavoured, and over-priced food.

There is no printed menu – the server (Grandpa?) read the selections for the day and we indicated what we wanted. We ate two small plates of pasta, an order of chicken and a slice of tough veal. We also had an order of the mushiest asparagus I have ever eaten (and that includes the truly regrettable canned asparagus!) The bill (including a ½ l of house red and sparkling water) was 50 euro. I was shocked when I received the bill. The same amount of food (although of a far better quality) in Acqui Terme was 22 euro, I know we were paying for being near the campo in Siena but this was highway robbery.

The restaurant was not full at all when we were there – in fact there were only four other tables in the place. All of the patrons were tourists and most everyone looked equally disappointed.

The kitchen opens on to the dining room so you can watch the food being prepared. It looked as if much of the food was prepared in advance and was just being taken form a steam table and placed on plates. This resemblance to a high school cafeteria is clearly not a good indication, in my opinion. The presence of the ‘kitchen’ this close to the eating area also made the room quite hot; the meager air conditioning was ready to give out at any time.

I love food and don’t mind spending money on good food – I sure resent spending it on mediocre food. This was the first time we have left food behind on our plates in Italy; in fact, I’d have to say it was one of the worst meals that we have eaten while in Italy.

There are many restaurants in Siena – take my advice and search them out.

Reviewed by: Kevin Clark from Italy, review #2091

When: 2006

Maybe we need a "yes, but" recommendation category! A decent meal, but nothing special. A disappointment after all the rave reviews.

This well-known spot just off the Campo is small with only 10 or so tables. The kitchen is in the corner, so you can watch all the action which was interesting. There's no actual menu, despite the one posted by the door. The proprietor or waitress recites the day's choices at your table and you take your pick.

This has sometimes been reviewed as being great entertainment, but on this night was just an quick recitation with a foot-tapping impatience if you hesitated over your choice. There were about 5 or 6 pastas and probably a similar number of mains to choose from.

No mention of antipasti, so we started with paglia e fieno with ragu and ravioli of spinach and ricotta with butter and sage. Both were decent, though my pasta was badly overcooked. The ragu was good as were the ravioli. For secondi, I had roasted veal and Kim had roasted lamb, both with mixed salads. (We weren't even offered the bistecca fiorentina or grilled sole we saw being served to others - perhaps they were sold out, or maybe different tables get different options.) Again both mains were good without being anything special. Homemade tiramisu was very good though portions were small. With house wine, water, and coffee the meal cost €65.

Why not a better recommendation? Perhaps we felt let down after all the good reviews we'd read of the place. I think it has more to do with the abrupt, almost rude, service and the fact that the food was just OK in a city where we found many meals that were much better.

We're also perhaps not as impressed/amused by the "no menu" concept since it's fairly routine in our area. I wouldn't refuse to go back sometime but have no pressing desire to do so either.

Reviewed by: jgk from FL, review #2033

When: 2006

Not as good as I remembered. Still love the duck and the wild boar was wonderful, a little too salty. E97 for 4 with wine and 2 vin santo & cantucci

The thing about La Torre is the owner. He is the show--telling everyone what to eat and drinking his little glass of something on the side. Nice to see the open kitchen, too. The night we were there the place was all Americans and Brits. Anyone arriving after 8:00 didn't get in.

It seems expensive to me for what is very home-style cooking. Yes, the pasta is fresh and the meats are well braised and tasty but over $100 for 4 people just seems too much for this kind of very casual, crowded space and this style of cuisine.

Reviewed by: jgk from FL, review #1385

When: 2005

Tuscan style, family run, open kitchen, solid food including a variety of fresh pasta and roasted meats. Warning: They want you all to have the same pasta.

La Torre was one of the favorites of our teenagers. The place was nearly empty when we were there on a Sunday night.

The man in charge (owner?) helped us order and before we knew it we were all getting tortellini with spinach and cheese with butter and sage. Lucky for us it was fantastic, but too big to be followed by a big meat course. I loved the roast duck. Others at the table had pork and beef and all thought it was great. Very simple preparations. The asparagus were divine--perfectly cooked with olive oil poured on at the table by the waiter, who wouldn't have accepted "no" if we had chosen to decline, and fresh lemon.

Dessert, wine and coffee all good. €107 for all 4 of us.

Reviewed by: SusanCV from PA, review #1050

When: 2004

Great food and fun!

This was our 3rd visit in the past 6 years, and it is still one of our favorites. There is no menu, limited tables, and the owner doesn't speak English. You can watch all the food being prepared since the kitchen is part of the dining room. It is inexpensive and reservations should be made. We had pasta, meats, wine and salads and the bill for 4 was just over €100.

I should warn you, the steak are huge! The German group next to us were served this huge piece of seared meat that hung over the plate. To her credit, she finished it! One of us had the fish and it was wonderful. I had the osso bucca; heavenly. The other 2 ordered chicken and loved it. The 4 staff members (including the owner, waiter and 2 cooks) were friendly and fun. For dessert and coffee, the waiter ran next door to another shop!

Reviewed by: KenC from MA, review #928

When: 2004

Family trattoria with good food in Siena.

Lunch at La Torre, photo by KenC

La Torre is a small family owned trattoria with lots of charm and character. We felt as if we were sitting in someone’s kitchen--they treat you like family! We enjoyed lunch with wine, desert, and Vin Santo for €32. While we were there an accordion player and guitarist came in to entertain diners. This is a fun place to have a good lunch in Siena.

Reviewed by: Monica Pileggi from MD, review #897

When: 2004

Another very good meal in Siena.

Directions: Just next to the tower in the Campo.

This is another small place that Alexandria (from Piccolo Hotel Oliveta) recommended to me. After dining at Nella's I wanted to go there again. However, Alexandria told us to dine at La Torre for a different experience. I'm glad we went.

Being fond of ricotta/spinach tortellini, I ordered it here. It was made fresh that day, as well as all the other pastas. I also had the Osso bucco. Reenie splurged and ordered the Florentine steak - bistecca a la Fiorentina. She was a little disappointed as it was not rare enough for her. We both had a side dish of asparagus. We had our own small carafe of wine. Dinner was good. Equivalent of US$97 (note: the Florentine steak alone was 30 euros). My meal was $36.

Reviewed by: Jean from MI, review #796

When: 2004

Love this restaurant!

Much has already been written about La Torre, and we totally agree with all the praises it has received. The food and the service were excellent. And the pasta and the chicken were some of the best we had on our trip.

Reviewed by: colleenk from MA, review #1693

When: 2003

Tuscan home cooking in a jovial atmosphere

I have to add my praises to the chorus of good reviews for La Torre. I think it may be more for the great fun our group had in putting our dinner in the hands of the staff than the excellence of the food. Don't get me wrong, the food was very good but it was just so much fun joking with the waiters, watching the cooks in the open kitchen and exclaiming over the course after course brought to our table.

If I remember correctly, we had a good insalata misto to start, some spinach tortellini, a huge platter of mixed grilled meats that were delicious, and some fresh melon for desert. The house wine flowed freely and everyone was happy with the inexpensive bill. The cook came out to kiss the ladies in our group as we departed. A really fun meal that I would be happy to repeat.

Reviewed by: Bill from Montefollonico, review #75

When: 2002

Small trattoria with excellent food.

It's always been difficult for us to find a good meal in Siena - especially in a small simple trattoria. La Torre was exactly what we had been searching for. The trattoria is small - only about 10 tables - you might want to stop by earlier in the day and make a reservation. Inside the kitchen is open to the dining area. There is a menu in the window, but our waiter simply recited each course to us. He told us of a number of different pastas, then gave a list of sauces for us to choose from. Later he returned and recited the meat course. We had leg of lamb(the best I remember anywhere) and osso bucco (equally delicious). There was also a half roast chicken, veal chop, and steak. La Torre reminded us more of a small family owned bistro in Paris than the normal trattorias in Tuscany. Everything was cooked to absolute perfection. Total price for 2 people was 43 euro. We will definitely be back and happily recommend it to anyone.

Reviewed by: Doru from Canada, review #12

When: 2002

Where food becomes both a culinary experience and a happening... If you are in Siena, DON'T MISS LA TORRE!!!

The moment we stepped into La Torre to make a reservation should have been a harbinger of things to come: we moved aside the curtain barring the entrance of La Torre and asked whether we can make a reservation for dinner the same evening. The woman who greeted us turned to a gentleman and I repeated the question. The man said "bene, bene" and turned away. Not one ready to leave without closure, I asked whether they want our name. The man turned back, pointed eloquently to his eyes and said: "te conosce, te conosce!". Oh, well, it was obviously the rule of the house, to remember by sight every single stranger who lurks through the doorframe, and we went.

In the evening we arrived at La Torre a bit early. I hate the thought of being the first customer in a restaurant, but it happens so often to me that we just go in, for better or for worse. But, hooray, inside there was already a couple at the table. The gentleman who said he would know us was not in sight but a young man, tall, supple but muscular, long hair down his shoulders, greeted us with large gestures and showed us that we can pick our table. Nobody asked whether we had a reservation.

As we sat, not far from us was the open kitchen, whose two occupants attracted our attention immediately. One of them, a young woman with short, blond hair sticking from under the front of her cap, was working some pots and pans, surrounded by a cloud of steam. The other, a man, cap askew, fingered and tasted through some other pots. As we enjoyed the view, the fourth person came in, the gentleman with whom we've made the reservation. We expected a glance of recognition but, nothing. Oh, we were legitimately seated and let's enjoy the food.

Bread, water and a half liter of red appeared magically on the table. A few more customers appeared. The young man who greeted us came to our table to ask what would we like. Fortunately we were forewarned, for there was no menu in sight and he recited what is obviously the menu in a wonderful cascade of open vowels and double consonants and we thought that he talks about pasta but we were not about to take any chances and, as he started over the repetition of the “Aria della Carta”, we laughed with delight and so did he, because this is obviously what in Brooklyn would be called a "shtick".

And so he gestured to a table up front, on which an incredible collection of ready pastas was available for personalised orders! We got up, we followed him to the table and chose our pastas. As we came back, he started the second aria of the first act, by reciting the available sauces. At this point, we kind of got into the act, he probably slowed down the flood of Italian to molto largo and without incident or menu to read, the pastas were decided, and the kitchen also got into the act, and I must say it is quite fascinating to see that in the very same moment they actually cook for you!

Under our watchful supervision, the pastas arrived: Josette's gnocchi ai fungi porcini, and my tagliatelle verde alla capriolo. The portions were large; a look at Josette and I knew that this is it for her and that I'll have to finish her order too. I enjoyed the tagliatelle, with a sharp and gamy sauce. As we started, others got the benefit of the Pasta Recitativi. I am sure the guy knows English, but the act is wonderful, because it is all dedicated to our food enjoyment.

By then, the small restaurant was, literally, cooking, full with some tourists, some locals, noisy, alive. The Padrone, the Cameriere, The Chef and The Sous-Chef became all characters in a delightful Comedia del'Arte in which we were spectators and participants. When The Padrone disappeared in the back, The Chef came out of the kitchen and served platters to a table next of ours. As the evening advanced, the restaurant was really rocking. People ordered, the Padrone and Cameriere recited, orders were being delivered, a couple of tables of locals created energy.

For secondi Josette declared herself looser by a technical knockout, as I expected, although throughout the evening the Padrone, obviously taking pity on her, will tirelessly try to make Josette eat some more by coming to our table from time to time and gently admonishing her: ”Dovete mangiare più, mangi, mangi!”

For me it will be arrosto d'agnello with patate arroste. The lamb arrived in a little bath of consomme, potatoes on a separate plate. I tasted the sauce with a bit of bread and it was delicious. I took a first bite of the lamb and it caught my breath, as the most divine flavours exploded in my mouth. I have been looking for this roast of lamb for at least 40 years, since the last time my mother made it for me! Through an unexplainable coincidence, these are exactly the same flavours I remember from childhood and youth. Since then, I have had roast of lamb in tens of disguises, but this is the real thing and I savour it fibre by fibre, little bite by little bite, willing it to last longer.

When it was over, I looked longingly at the empty plate and I polished meticulously every drop left. 20 years ago, I would have ordered another round. Today, it was only a wish. So was the request for Torta della Nonna: they ran out of it! Still, sated and at peace with the world, I settled for a nice evening show, with Vinsanto and cantucci to while the evening away, observing the action and interaction around me "… and I said to myself: What a wonderful place!".

I read elsewhere that at La Torre they don't serve coffee. I discovered that this is incorrect: they don't make it but they serve it indeed, as they bring it from a bar a bit further down Via Salicotto. The ordered coffee is presented with a flourish and it is still steaming in the humid evening; you wouldn't know it was carried outside, on the rainy street.

Alas, the best was yet to come, as our little Comedia had an epilogue. That came when I asked The Cameriere for the bill. He pointed to The Padrone. We repeated the request using the local lingua franca, i.e. mimicking writing with a pen across a sheet of paper and then waited, expecting The Padrone to present us with the bill. It didn't happen! We waited some more, because it was probably raining outside anyway. Finally, we got up and went to the counter. The Padrone then took a piece of paper and started jotting slowly down a 6000 and another 6000, then a 30000, then turned to us and asked what did we have? And so I told him: "Due paste, un agnello, un patate, acqua, mezzo di rosso, Vinsanto, cantucci" and he ticked off numbers already written or added new ones. A total was finally arrived at: something like 87000. I knew it was Lire: I was a foreign exchange trader. A calculator was then produced and the amount on the little screen became 43.90. I knew it was Euros. We left a very nice tip on top of that, thank you!

We thanked them profusely for a most wonderful evening and then I asked for a receipt, not for the receipt itself since this is a pleasure, not business trip, but because we kind of collect them for the album of photographs, the exact address and sometimes as a prompter on what we had at the restaurant. This didn't unphase the imperturbable Padrone, who took out of a drawer a book of official receipts and wrote generously "2 paste a prezo fisso 42.90"! The most expensive pasta in the universe! Frankly, if we would have had to pay twice as much we would have done it without hesitation!

We all had a good laugh and departed with much "grazie" and handshakes and a bit of a backslap from the Padrone, who was obviously happy with our performance.

If you are in Siena, DON'T MISS LA TORRE!!!

Reviewed by: David from NY (moderator), review #74

When: 2001

The best place we ate the entire week we were based near Siena.

Directions: 30 feet off Il Campo to left of the Palazzo Pubblico. Stand facing the bell tower in the Campo. The little street immediately to the left of the tower is the one you are looking for. La Torre is just about 30 yards down this street on the left.

(Exerpted from David's vacation rental review.)

Being "foodies" (true food snobs and excellent cooks ourselves from New York and proud of it!), we constantly referred to Carla Capalbo's excellent guide to everything relating to food and wine, "The Food Lover's Companion to Tuscany". Every restaurant, market, wine producer, etc. that we visited at the book's recommendation was outstanding. One trattoria that was not in her book that was perhaps the best place we ate the entire week was the La Torre in Siena, right off of the main piazza (Via Salicotto 7-9). Simple, unpretentious and absolutely outstanding.

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

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