Italy Trip Report
Just got back from a week in Italy. Here's a report of the places we went around Lucca (we went to all the restaurants that the NY Times mentioned in the travel section from three weeks ago)
Trattoria Da Leo--great family run restaurant. No one speaks English and the wait staff (which includes the elderly mother who was our waitress) will spontaneously break into opera songs, which is interesting. Lots of locals and really simple but great food. I had stewed eggplants as a contorni which were great and a tortellini in brodo that was simple but flawless.
Francesco--lots of outdoor seating, which is were we sat. Service is pretty slow, even by Italy standards (waited half an hour for water and drinks). Food, which the NY times seemed to love, was actually pretty mediocre. I had a bolognese sauce that was rather bland and dry and a mushroom pizza that had canned stewed mushrooms on it.
Giglio--One of the more expensive restaurants in Lucca. Much more professional service than the trattoria, which the price reflects. Pasta there was some of the best around, with the local dish, tortelli luchesi, being especially good (its basically a meat ravioli topped with a meat ragu sauce).
Il Santi--A little wine bar we stopped in for afternoon snacks. This place rocked. Great wine list and great food. I had a grilled tomini cheese (basically like a brie they just threw on the grill so when you break the rind, the warm cheese oozes out) with a pesto sauce, another full cheese plate (parmesan with local Lucca honey was noteworthy) and a cured meat plate (blood sausage and all).
Trattoria Gigi--so good I went to it twice in one day. Probably the best pasta in Lucca. Rigatoni with speck and saffron was unbeliveable, as well as orrechiate with sausage and gorgonzola and macaroni with porcini (by macornoi, Italians mean pasta ribbons). I also had a zuchini custard in a mushroom sauce that was served warm. Really different (didn't see it on any other means in Lucca) and it was spectacular.
La Mora--a one Michelin star joint about 15 minutes north of Lucca. Very professional service (the owner was our waiter and we had a sommelier) and really great food. Surprisingly, it was not overly expensive. It ended up being about 50 euro per person with tax and tip. I was with a chef from Paul Bartolotta's place at the Wynn in Las Vegas so they sent us out some extra goodies, like whole fried anchovies and small prawns as well as some extras for dessert. The experience was different than the other restaurants around Lucca since they also seemed to focus on presentation much more and served on more modern dishes, something I did not see a lot of. Pasta dishes were very good (tortelli luchesi again, polenta stuffed ravioli) and the antipasti were great (stuffed zuchinni flowers, goose liver pate, which they served with a glass of dessert wine). Difinitely worth the drive.
If anyone is looking for a place to stay in Tuscany, Lucca is truly a great spot, and not just because of the restaurants. I will highly recommend it. Big enough that you have a lot to do and a lot of options, but small enough so that it is not overrun by tourists and difficult to get around. After spending the day in Florence, I was glad I stayed in Lucca.