Eating in the Tuscan Countryside + Bologna
I'm planning a (first) trip to Italy in a few weeks and I'm allotting 4 days in between Rome and Florence for Tuscany. I was thinking of spending 3 nights in a small town (Montefollonico) near Pienza and the last night in Siena. Food-wise, would it be better to sleep in some Tuscan towns than others? Or is everything close enough together that it doesn't matter? Are there any particular eating experiences in Tuscany that I shouldn't miss?
I'm also spending one night in Bologna between Florence and Venice. I felt like I shouldn't miss the opportunity for a meal or two in Italy's "food capital". How would you spend your one dinner (and possibly lunch, too) in Bologna?
I also want to add to the growing list of Bologna recommendations:
Il Tartufo, via del Porto, 34.
I can't say exactly how it compares to the other restaurants above, although a quick internet search found it on a list along with Diana and Caminetto d'Oro, etc. I was in Bologna 5 years ago for my honeymoon, and this place was unknown to us but recommended by our hotel owner--almost as a lark, said a friend of his from long ago owns it. We went. We had the best meal of our entire Italy trip. I will simply quote from my food diary (yes, I keep one):
"Il Tartufo, via del Porto, on the outskirts of town. They start us off with their special antipasti--a plate of game sausage and prosciutto, along wtih pecorino tossed with balsamic and onions, another salad of fresh mushrooms and parmesan shavings, and bruschette with five toppings--butter with black truffles, olive paste, spicy tomato sauce, rabbit rillettes, and artichokes. The owner picks, pours, and tastes a wine for us, an amazing Montepulciano d'Abruzzo--a wine I had not cared for previously. He pours it by a machine over a candle. The entire evening is very theatrical--although we are almost the only people there, aside from a large party of Italians with a host who looks like Pasolini, wearing shades.
Then we share primi: a plate of tortelloni, fresh, in an artichoke and tomato sauce, the artichokes almost raw and thinly sliced, the pasta stuffed with ricotta and the whole infused with the taste of ham. And then risotto made with parmiggiano reggiano cheese and served from a hollowed out wheel of the cheese itself, all covered over in the most generous SLICES of truffles in oil I have ever seen. Creamy, delicious beyond belief. [My wife] finishes with a rabbit made with fine herbs and I get the mixed grill--baby lamb chops, sausage, pork wrapped in bacon, and chicken liver wrapped in sage, served wtih potatos and spinach covered in parmegiano. We barely can move on to Tiramisu. We do. And then we stumble around Bologna for quite a while, on a lovely mission to digest before heading back to sleep..."
Can I please eat there tonight....????
You can see if you can locate my food report for Bologna posted in January but if not, the best meal we had there was at Da Cesari....many truffle dishes, in season, just great all around and not all that expensive. Caminetto d"Oro is very good, much more contemporary, bothy on decor and food. Excellent as well. Great culatello to start.
If you make it to Pienza, do not fail to eat at Latte di Luna...amazing roast meats (pig, duck..) and truffle dishes.
In reply to your first question, many towns in the Tuscan countryside are wonderful to spend the night at; you can't go wrong with any of them. Montefollonico is VERY small; are you staying at La Chiusa? Whether or not you're staying there, the food is definitely not to be missed. The entire hotel and terraces are beautiful. I might not want to spend 3 nights in that town, but my only knowledge of it is driving through to get to La Chiusa.
One drawback that hubby and I have about Tuscany is that we prefer not to drive after dinner; the roads are narrow and windy, and I (the designated driver) thus have to be very careful about wine consumption. So we usually stay in the town we eat in (but not always, as was the case with La Chiusa).
In San Gimignano, we have two favorites. Dorando, which is a member of the Slow Food movement. Lovely food, creative preparations based on regional specialties. Nice space, but in the middle of town, so no view. And La Terrazza, which is in the Hotel Cisterna. Big windows overlooking the countryside, and some very fine pasta (too lazy to go look up exactly what we've had there). Some of the world's best gelato is on the edge of Piazza del Cisterna, I think it's called Gelateria del Cisterna; don't miss it!
In Florence, as that's been addressed already, I'll second Buca del'Orafo. We wandered in on our first visit to Florence, many years ago, and have gone back on subsequent visits. Their fresh porcini (in season) are delicious, as is their Bictecca alla'Fiorentina.
In Bologna two years ago, we ate at Trattoria Caminetto d'Oro. It was very good, but I wouldn't rate it up with Dorando, for example. I chose the Trattoria partly because it has outdoor seating, but when we arrived, I noticed that the outdoor seating is on the corner of a busy street and a less-busy street, so we ate inside. I had a sformatina (very wide noodles) with small cubes of pumpkin (not real sweet) and large pieces of grated parmesan; I've been unable to recreate it at home, so they must have been doing something special! Delicious gelato is at Gelateria Gianni, which is on via San Stefano. We had a delightful little lunch at Trattoria da Leonida, on via Alamagne, a small side street. It was us and a bunch of locals, and we filled up on pasta with fresh truffles (we were there in October).
In Siena, I don't have any dinner recs, but there's a great wine bar on the Campo, Liberamente Osteria Wine Bar. The complementary antipasti served with your wine could serve as a light meal! The good gelato here is right by one of the entrances to the Campo, Gelateria la Costarella Caffe (via di citta, 31/33. (Yes, our focuses are food generally, gelato and wine, not always in that order!)
Have a great trip!
In Florence I can recommend heartily the Osteria de Benci on the via di Benci near Santa Croce, Vini e Vecchi Sapori (tiny and supremely delicious food) on the via Magazzini just off the Piazza della Signoria (in a ridiculously touristy area but is very selective about who it lets in!) the Buca Del'Orafo just "under" the Uffizi when approaching it from Pontevecchio and the Osteria Santa Spirito - all very good and pretty reasonable
Quattro Leone good, lovely atmosphere, you can sit outside but not the best. In Siena I've always loved Al Papei
when you are in Florence please dont miss out on lunch at the Quattro Lioni near the Ponte Vechia. Fabulous, traditional food in a great atmosphere populated mostly by locals.
Also in Tuscany, try the restaurant in Borgo San Felice. This is a town that was converted into a peaceful hotel retreat for Florentians. There is a vineyard attached for the Campogiovanni label, if you have the cash buy a bottle of the 95 Montepulciano and prepare to be wowed!
When your in Florence try the Trattoria(not the restaurant)of Il Cibreo. Get there early as they have few seats. The portions are small so you can try a few dishes. Another standout is in the walled town of San Gimignano, Ristorante Dorando. Great food, great wine and a beautiful setting. Every place in Tuscany is a very short drive from one another. In Siena make reservations for Osteria delle Logge.
Note about the Trattoria of Il Cibreo - this is a cash only establishment. They do not take credit cards. You'll be using the nearby ATM machine if you are short of Euros, so be prepared.
DH and I spent three weeks last year motorcycling through the Tuscan countryside and never had a bad meal. One of my standout memories was a tiny roadside hut that served amazing pasta. I had a very simple sage-butter sauce that I remember fondly while my husband enjoyed ravioli with truffles. Enjoy your trip!