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Too Much Tuscan Food

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It is only Day 5 and we are ready for a break. We saw a Chinese restaurant outside of Montepulciano and will go there tonight. Next stop is Panzano in Chianti with a day trip to Florence. Any chowhound recs for Montepulciano, Siena (day trip), Chianti or Florence next 8 days? Could be Asian, Greek or anything other than Tuscan! Thank you!

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  1. I'm assuming that you are an American. Am I right? Well in my experience certain countries in Europe (Italy not being one of them) have a high number and a wide variety of cuisines available. Holland and Britain immediately come to mind. Unfortunately I believe that this is our expectation as Americans sometimes when we travel; that it should be relatively easy to get say "killer Thai" anywhere for example. That just isn't true in all places in Europe.

    1. When it comes to food & dining, Italians tend to be VERY regional and provincial. Outside of the biggest cities, you will find little or no foreign food worth eating. You will not even find much of the food of one region of Italy in another region of Italy.

      If you visit Pienza (and you should!), I can highly recommend Il Rossellino for dinner. It only has 5-6 tables, so reservations are essential. The phone is 0578-749064.

      The village of San Quirico, near Pienza, is also worth a visit.

      Let us know how the Chinese dinner in Montepulciano goes. Keep your expectations low. Good luck!

      1. You are going to love Montepulciano. What a great town. Give yourself 1/2 a day to stroll the hill top town. Towards the top of the town on the winding main street you will find the most picture perfect right of a vintage Italian movie set cafe. Do not remember the name but it is on your left. As you walk in the is gelato on your right??? and bakery coffee counter to your left. all marble and rounded glass display. Towards the back you see the seating area and French door windows that look out over the valley. It is the most deco perfect place of all time. My wife and I did Italy for our honeymoon and thought this a very romantic spot for our afternoon espresso and gelato. So yes the honeymoon might have influence our mood BUT it is a lovely spot. Some nice galleries. Great pork products. Cannot suggest a restaurant, sorry. In Siena just get a table i the main plaza and watch the world go by.

        Florence, Tratoria Mario by the Duomo is a great place for lunch according to some chef friends there. Its a slow food family run lunch spot.

        1. My heart bleeds for you!

          /sarcasm off

          1. Thanks everyone- especially David. Hong Kong in Montepulicano was OK and a nice change. The Tuscan menus seem to all be the same. We had lunch in Pienza at Luna which was very tasty but just too many days of eating the same type of food over and over. At home we mix it up so maybe we are spending too many days in Tuscany.
            We will try to get to Rosellini which I had also heard was excellent. PPork- I think we drove past the dessert place and it did look wonderful- will go tomorrow after Siena. Montepulciano is very beautiful and we are enjoying our stay here.
            Previously we were in Lucca. We did have one sensational meal so far in Viaregeggio which I will report on when we get back.
            Maybe tomorrow in Siena we can find some more Asian food !!
            Thanks Hounds!

            5 Replies
            1. re: anonj

              The "Great Asian Food Hunt" in Tuscany, Italy. I've heard it all.

              1. re: Chinon00

                And this I think may be the first time I've heard anyone say that perhaps they've spent "too many days in Tuscany." Sheesh.

              2. re: anonj

                I can't imagine what food groups you've been eating in Tuscany that couldn't be varied 100 different ways! Wow! Tired of Tuscan food! Well, there are at least 3 sushi places in Florence that you can try. The friendly blogger at melindagallo.com likes them.

                1. re: anonj

                  Im wondering what you are eating - have you tried the different bruschettas, the delicious sheep cheeses, the wild boar and lamb, pici, do you order contorni with your meal (lots of good vegetables, greens (italian sauteed spinachi is delicious), peppers etc)? risotto with mushrooms? pappa pomodoro? sausages? Have you seen trout on the menus? roasted trout in italy is really good. Porchetta?? Have you gone to the markets and bought some of the delicious fruits?? the muscat grapes are particularly wonderful at this time of year, ditto apples and pears, different from in the US.

                  I think that ribollita and grilled or esp roasted meat (esp veal) could get old, but there are lots of other things, finocchio salami?

                  We tend to rent apartments when we travel in Italy - usually one meal a day with the delicious cheeses, meats, sliced tomatoes, fruit and bread is a good idea - I think that two restaurant meals per day anywhere can get monotonous (the whole experience)

                  1. re: anonj

                    I can't understand your point of view about Tuscan food, but I'll save you from a truly vile meal. Do not patronize the Chinese restaurant in Arezzo; it serves truly vile food. (It's on a street that comes off the Piazza San Francesco. It's easily recognizable by the red Chinese lantern decorations.) Eat there at your peril.

                    Incidentally, this warning is based on the experience of friends who live in Arezzo. It would never occur to me to seek Asian food in cities/towns that lack large clusters of immigrants from a particular country.

                  2. If you have not been to Florence yet I wanted to share a favorite place to eat. This is from May 2005 Bon appetit and we loved it.
                    Bistecca alla Fiorentina- Via del Porcellana 25R. Reservations advised and no credit cards. We went for lunch just as they opened and got a seat easy. Lots of big businessmen with huge napkins tucked into their collars eating huge steaks and big wines. I had a steak, which they bring out for you to inspect, and my wife had the suggested butter seared and pan roasted chicken breast which was amazing. As were the artichoke app and the trip in creamy tomato sauce app. Total low key serious business lunch place. Dinner too.

                    The other spot we wanted to try but did'nt get to was right on the same block. Loveliest courtyard dining. Trattoria 13 Gobbi- Via del Porcellana 9R.

                    Both not the cheapest but that steak was worth it and it wasnt that much.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pulled pork

                      The restaurant you refer to is not Bistecca alla Fiorentina, that's just the dish they are well-known for. The restaurant is Trattoria Sostanza-Troia, known on the CH boards as Sostanza. And you are right, the chicken in butter sauce is amazing and delicious (so is the steak!).

                      1. re: CJT

                        CJT, thanks for the correction. I will be back there in February and looking forward to it.

                    2. As I state in my chowhound profile my best meal ever was September 1996 - Ristorante La Valle Dell'Inferno 52023 Terranuova Bracciolini , Florence (Italy) , 055 918 0031. It included remarkable antipasti, a thoroughly truffled pasta course and a final "carni" course of steak. The times I've wished that I were back there, at that place, at that time. It was absolutely remarkable.
                      And beyond that there were the trattoria and pizzeria and even the supermarkets that had fantastic food. One evening back at our villa we talked and ate cheese and ham and drank wine amongst the dead silence of the countryside.
                      I never wanted to come home.

                      1. Thanks everyone... we finally have had some excellent meals... strangely up til now everything was sort of mediocre and yesterday I was longing for a grilled cheese sandwich...something simple and American...also they dont seem to be into vegetables in Tuscany except for the ubiquitous Mixed Salad. Osteria Teatro in Cortona was outstanding -my husband the carnivore said best beef he has ever had- a filet with grape sauce and bacon. Last night another fabulous meal at Ristorante Le Logge del Vignola in Montepulciano- husband says best rack of lamb he has ever had.
                        Next we plan to check out Il Bucchero in Chiusi- we ran into some Americans who raved about it.
                        Lunch today in Montep at Caffe Poliziano was a nice change.. I was able to get an omelette... they called it a frittata which it was not.. the view and ambiance were wonderful and food was OK. I have to confess I am a fish vegetarian so the Tuscan meals are not as ideal for me...very meat heavy and some strange things like horsemeat tartare in Lucca and last night I swear to God they had "small donkey" on the menu at Le Logge.
                        I will give a complete report when we get back. Feeling heavenly about Tuscany now... I think we were having an off day when I posted. Thanks Hounds!!

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: anonj

                          >>they dont seem to be into vegetables in Tuscany<<

                          Have you looked at the menu listings for "contorni"?

                          >>an omelette... they called it a frittata which it was not.. <<

                          You're in Italy and it's not your definition of a frittata that applies but the definition in Italian, which is omelette.

                          >>they had "small donkey" on the menu at Le Logge<<

                          Are you sure you didn't misread "agnello" as "asinello"? "Agnello" is simply lamb.

                          1. re: zerlina

                            It could have been "agnello" - lamb, or "asinina/o" - donkey. Italians do eat donkey meat, especially in the north and is considered no different from eating lamb, beef, pork, chicken or horse.

                          2. re: anonj

                            Okay, you've earned some sympathy. Tuscan cuisine -- from the non-coastal areas of Tuscany -- does tend to be meat intensive. So here's a hint: Go during Lent. You'll find special Lenten menus everywhere featuring fish.

                            My one trip to eastern Tuscany that occurred during Lent, I ordered course after course from the special fish menu. This was the result a personal preference for fish to meat, but Tuscan restaurant owners must have thought I was an amazingly devout Catholic.

                            1. re: anonj

                              there is plenty of veg food but there is not a "vegetarian" focus - the culture of poverty (which dominates the cuisine in that part of italy because it was a poor region) is a vegetarian cuisine. Crostini - bruschetti - bean soups, pappa pomodoro (tomato soup with bread in it) panzarella (bread-tomato etc salad) - cheese dishes eggplant, mushrooms - I would recommend, at the beginning of your meal, asking the waiter what contorni (veg side dishes) they have - they will have several different vegetable dishes which you can use to make up a meal to match with your husband's second course. THESE will NOT be on the menu, most likely - if you dont know what the waiter is saying, just order a couple!

                              My sister in law just got back from Tuscany and loved the ignudi (some places called strozzopreti) - ricotta gnocchi made with spinach or other greens, delicate and wonderful! Do try some of the bean dishes, other dishes with the new olive oil, porcini dishes, etc. Keep at it!

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                Jen, based on what I know, I'm surprised that your sister found restaurants using both the terms ignudi/nudi and strozzopreti to describe the same dish. I've understood ignudi/nudi to be the Italian name for the delicate dish that is essentially the filling of ricotta-spinach ravioli prepared without the pasta wrapper. Your your label, spinach gnocchi, is a good match. However, I thought strozzopreti ("strangled priest') describes a long pasta that is twisted leaving a hollow center core -- something quite different from nudi.

                                1. re: Indy 67

                                  One think endearing about Italy is that the country (esp pasta dish names) just isnt standardized.
                                  My sister in law didnt remember what the dish she at in Siena was called, but Ive seen it with several names. I first saw them in Paula Wolferts original Mediterranean cookbook - there they were called gnocci di spinachi (a very good recipe bty though I like them better with butter and sage than the gorgonzola cream she suggests)

                                  The restaurant Al di La in Brooklyn calls them malfatti.

                                  Cinghiale Bianco trattoria in Florence calls them strozzapreti and serves them with sage butter too. Its easy to imagine that a name like strozzapreti could have been attached to more than one dish over time in different parts of Italy. There are different ways to strangle a priest!

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    "I first saw them in Paula Wolferts original Mediterranean cookbook - there they were called gnocci di spinachi (a very good recipe bty though I like them better with butter and sage than the gorgonzola cream she suggests)"

                                    Got it. Page 242. Thanks!

                                    We were introduced to strozzopreti in Ravenna. Possibly, we've got an Emilia-Romagna VS Tuscany thing going on the names.

                                    Have you ever eaten in the tower room at Cinghiale Bianco? It's supposed to be a special experience.

                                    1. re: Indy 67

                                      One hears lots of explanations for the name strozzapreti: priest-chokers, priest stranglers, etc. Some say the name comes from a priest who ate so many he choked. Reality is more likely that the "choker" was a type of collar worn by priests long ago. They did not always wear the "Roman collar" one sees today. The pasta was most likely named after this type of collar, not to reflect anti-clerical bias in Italy. In any case, they are delicious and make an unusual gift to bring home from Italy.

                                      1. re: Indy 67

                                        Indy, Ive heard about that room but we had a very disappointing meal (food and service) in the restaurant and I would not choose to return

                                        CJT, I guess you wouldnt bring the delicate spinach gnocchi home - you must mean the other kind?

                                2. re: anonj

                                  Il Bucchero in Chiusi is not particularly happening - barely one step up from a pizzeria, and not a particularly good pizzeria. In Chiusi, La Solita Zuppa is a little stuffy, but the food is quite good; Zaira has killer roast pigeon and the definitive lucamone, a local dish of pasta with ham and cheese, as well as a gigantic wine list; and La Ribollita, by the entrance to the A1, has a good antipasto table (lots and lots of vegetables!) and a dynamite dish of pork spit roasted with lardo, as well as the namesake bread-vegetable soup.

                                  1. re: condiment

                                    Just a comment about La Solita Zuppa being "stuffy" (this could be a whole new thread unto itself...). I was so excited to try this restaurant. I'm crazy about soup, and I read some great reviews. But we never ended up eating here because of the ridiculous "ordering rules." Upon sitting down we were handed menus and explained about ordering "in the typical Tuscan style." Yeah, yeah, at this point we had been in Italy for nearly two weeks and had become pretty familiar with the app, primi, secondi, contorni drill. And, we always ordered however we wanted, without a single issue. But, this guy seemed so insistent on a certain ordering "style" that I just checked with him that it was OK if I got an app and a primi. He shook his head and again went into his speech about ordering in the "typical style" as if Stupid American Tourist did not understand. So, I made it clear to him that we would order plenty of food and wine (and this was only at lunch) but that I didn't want a secondi. I even decided to throw a contorni into the mix. He went back into his robotic speech, and would not back down from his "typical ordering" stance, so we walked out. And he was happy to let us walk out. I was very unhappy because I really wanted to eat there, but I just couldn't force myself to order a secondi that I had no interest in.

                                    I have to say that this was the first and ONLY time that we encountered anything like this on our entire two week trip through Tuscany and Rome. Sometimes we ordered in his "typical" way and sometimes we did not. In fact, at one very nice restaurant I really wanted soup and pasta, so I ordered two primi. Perhaps the server thought I was nuts, but she didn't even flinch and I ended up with a lovely bowl of Tuscan soup and a delicious pici! You should have seen the smile on my face after that meal!

                                    1. re: CookingGirl

                                      This is not the first time I've heard about the "ordering rules" at La Solita Zuppa. The other people I heard it from also walked out...

                                      1. re: zerlina

                                        They are very, very strict there. I once made a reservation for 8 people, but showed up with nine. They reset the table for nine, but refused to give us a ninth chair. Oddly enough, most of us stayed, but it was the last time any of us went there.

                                        And they make even young children order three courses.

                                3. I spent a semester in Siena and loved it. You'll be hard-pressed to find non-Italian food here, aside from a few pretty terrible Chinese places. There are, however, two kebab places in town (kebab in the European sense, like shawarma). My favorite is Aladino's, though I have no idea of the address - kind of downhill past the McDonald's from Piazza Gramschi, where all the busses come in, maybe 15 minutes' walk from the Campo. Ask around, the locals will know. That place saved my sanity on many occasions when the thought of going home for another pasta dinner was just unbearable. If you do want good Tuscan food, Papei in Piazza del Mercato (behind the Palazzo Publico) has incredible pici and coniglio.

                                  1. Don't do the Chinese!!! Chinese in Italy on the whole, is terrible, if you like Chinese food. Get rec's from the locals for Sardinian chefs or chefs from Naples or Venice, or any restaurant that specializes in a different cuisine from another region. You're in Italy for godsakes; take advantage of it. Get some cheese and salami and beautiful fresh figs and have a picnic. fayefood.com

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: fayehess

                                      In Florence try Mesopotamia for excellent donner kebab. I found this to be a great way to eat "different" food in most cities in Italy.

                                    2. I just returned from Tuscany yesterday and can appreciate the reference to reptitive menus. In Florence across the river try il Santo Bevitore at S. Spirito 64. Great modern takes on traditional elements, hip neighborhood and clientele, good prices, nice atmosphere (non rustic). If they have the pici with lobster, go for it. Best Chianina beef ( used for steak florentine), was had there in the form of steak tartare. We ate there twice.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: rempartner

                                        I love Chowhound! Thanks for all the replies. Here's my report as promised:
                                        We got a second wind right after the first desperation post on Asian food.

                                        Food in Lucca was quite disappointing:
                                        Trattoria Da Giulio- great atmosphere and reasonable prices but food kind of mediocre. Husband thought the brick flattened (?) chicken was pretty good.
                                        Hotel Noblesse- we were too tired to look for a restaurant and ate at our hotel the first night- wonderful service but mediocre food except for a few good dishes such as a regional quiche-like appetizer and good Pecorino cheese plate.
                                        Osteria via S Georgio (AKA Osteria Pesce) located at 26 via S Georgio was our best meal. The polenta with smoked octopus was delicious. Their phone # is 0583 953233.
                                        We also went to a forgettable pizzeria that had been recommended on slowtrav.

                                        We drove 30 mins to Viareggio, a somewhat seedy beach town but interesting and tried several restaurants a Hound had recommended but it was a Wed I think and they were closed. Fortuitously, we stumbled on an incredible place, Ilpuntodivino located at 229 via Miazzini, phone 0584 31046.
                                        I had the most amazing pasta dish I have ever eaten. OMG. It was made with special Morelli brand pasta (contains wheat germ according to a google search). The shelled clams- no grit or sand- just perfect and squid atop the pasta were sublime. It was so rich and flavorful. My husband asked how they made it and we were surprised to find out it didn't contain any butter- just olive oil and some concentrated stock from the seafood and maybe some garlic and fresh sage (can't remember the herbs now). Everything at ilpuntodivino was of the highest quality- the best olive oil of our trip on the table, best bread, fabulous dessert etc etc. They get a fork and spoon on Michelin and I think they have a website. Definitely worth a detour. Will continue with base #2 Montepulciano.

                                      2. I forgot to mention that we did not eat at Buca Sant Antonio in Lucca- reviews too mixed. But if we return would try it along with Da Leo.

                                        I already mentioned Ristorante Le Logge Del Vignole at 6 via delle Erbe phone 39 0578 717290- this was an excellent,white table cloth,upscale place with cooing, romantic young Italian honeymooners. Yes, there really was Small Donkey on the menu-the owner/maitre d spoke excellent English and the rest of the translation of the menu seemed correct. I had lake fish here which was quite good.

                                        Godimento DiVino Restorante Enoteca at 3 via Delle Stamperia ph 0578 71 61 83 was also very good- husband loved his grilled rabbit and I had my first ever pici with pesto. The Tuscan bean dishes were very good- we were surprised to get black eye peas!

                                        Vineria Bistrot Spazio Arte at Piazza San Francesco (the highest piazza in town just after the Piazza Grande) had delcious appetizers in a beautiful, arty yet relaxed and casual atmosphere.
                                        We stayed at their locanda which was great. The weather had turned cool on our arrival and the steaming bowls of garbanzo bean and canneli soup were good.
                                        The wine bar was recently written up in Food and Wine- the views from the piazza and the locanda make the trek up the steep hill worthwhile.
                                        Caffe Poliziano was actually quite mediocre but the views from the terrace were lovely and as I said before, I enjoyed their more diverse menu and the omelette.

                                        Driving in and out of vertical and confusing Montepulciano was an ordeal and may have contributed to my negative first post.
                                        Hong Kong in Montep was a nice change but it was not Chinese food as we know it. I felt very sorry for them actually- there seem to be few Asians in Italy and no access to Asian foods or markets (?). I had my Marling Menu Master with me but they seemed unfamiliar with any of the veggies I inquired about including spinach!
                                        I think the mixed vegetables we ordered were sauteed in olive oil!

                                        Montepulciano was overrun with tourists esp Americans. Pienza was also a zoo.
                                        I knew about Rosellini but could not find it easily so we decided to go for Trattoria Latte Di Luna which everyone raves about. We had a tasty but sort of average meal here and can't understand what all the excitement is about. In addition, the owner or maitre d was quite mean and turned away many customers with a sour expression and wave of the hand. He did reserve one special outside table for a small group of Americans which he apparently knew and liked- this was the only time we saw him smile.
                                        Next posting Panzano in Chianti.

                                        1. Oops- forgot to mention Il Bucchero in Chiusi at 32 Via Bonci ph 0578 222092.
                                          One person we spoke to dismissed this town as just a rail stop but we loved it.
                                          We didn't see any tourists in the town or at the restaurant. Il Bucchero was wonderful and full of locals. We ate under the grape arbor with grapes hanging off the vines.
                                          The food was excellent- sl funky spot and we requested some of the grapes for dessert which were cut down and given to us in a big bowl of water. Excellent food and atmosphere.
                                          Wish we had known about the Etruscan Museum while in Chiusi.

                                          Panzano in Chianti- we stayed at Villa Le Barone and had wonderful meals every evening for an incredibly low cost with their half board plan- around 15 E per person per
                                          Overall, we thought prices in Italy were quite reasonablecompared to some other European countries. Chianti was gorgeous and surprisingly low on tourists.

                                          Restorante Lamole was one of the best meals of our trip but be forewarned- it takes about 45 to drive 5 miles on the twisty, hilly roads. You could make a day of it by stopping at Villa Vignamaggio for a winery tour.
                                          The fresh porcini mushrooms were pricey and out of this world. Also had a divine pasta dish with fresh truffles shaved on top. Popular- I would make advance reservations.
                                          Osteria Alla Piazza between Castellina and Panzano was just OK- atmosphere was nice... service quite slow and we may have ordered the wrong things but if I was in the area for a long stay would try again.
                                          Some fellow guests raved about Coltibuono up in the hills- we did not get there.

                                          Butcher of Panzano- sampling: a giant bowl of lardo flecked with herbs and some meatloaf. Husband bought some cooked pork which he said was delicious but not quite as good as Asian market pork- too many herbs on the outside.

                                          Thanks for the suggestion about Lent- sounds like a great idea and for all the Florence ideas. One of our kids might do study abroad in Florence next yr and if so, I'll bring your suggestions with us if we visit again. We went to Florence on a short day trip- traffic and crowds were overwhelming but I'm sure it would be a blast for the college aged. Had a delicious spinach and fresh mozzarela panini.
                                          Wish America had sandwich shops like those in Italy.

                                          One of the best sandwiches I had was two yrs ago at the Venice airport and unfortunately, saw nothing similar on this trip. It was packed with fat grams- seemed to consist of thick white stuff like mayonnaise and maybe some whipped cheese and black olives. Incredible! Does anyone know what I'm referring to?
                                          Thank you Hounds!