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Jun 17, 2008 03:35 PM

Exceptional Restaurants in Tuscany

In May 2008 we invited some 16 long-time, primarily European friends to join us at our villa on the southern Tuscan-Umbrian border for a week. Each night we selected a different restaurant in the region where our guests would assemble for dinner - doing as they liked during the day. The group was made up of persons used to dining well so the evaluation I share here reflects a unanimous consensus of fairly discerning folks. Two restaurants deserve special recognition and patronage. We feel La Porta may be one of the best kept secrets in southern Tuscany. Well worth the beautiful trip to get there as is Boccon di Vino

1. LA PORTA at Monticchiello by Pienza (SI), Via del Piano 3, Tel/fax 0578.755163 Email See Closed Thursdays. Proprietress: Dania
This charming, comfortably rustic, intimate Tuscan restaurant in the walls of Monticchiello - a walled village about 10 kilometers from Pienza - has both in-door dining and a terrace balcony which overlooks the deep broad valley separating Monticchiello from Pienza, which one sees perched on the other side of the valley.

The local wines, including some produced by Dania's brother, are of the highest standard. The food is truly innovative and exceptional with only the freshest of ingredients. I set out below a menu we had (at one meal!) to give the reader a sense. I might add that the tariff was extremely reasonable by any measure. If the menu and quality of food were offered in New York, you would have to book a month in advance to get a table and be on an expense account. If you try it, please mention my name: Mr.Orban

Antipasti: Asparagus Soufflé with cream of Pienza sheep cheese (Pecorino)
Carpaccio of Chianino beef with fresh black truffles

Prima Piatti: Risotto with very special white asparagus
Pici with guinea fowl sauce and vegetables

Secondi Piatti: Cinta Senese – Pork filets on a crust of pine nuts and herbs

Aged Pecorino cheese served with Brunello wine

Selection of Desserts including an exceptional Siena Pan Forte

Above accompanied by Prosecco, local white and red wines, French Sauterne desert wine and Italian Vinsanto

2. BOCCON DI VINO, Via Traversa dei Monti 201, Montalcino (in a house a few hundred yards before one enters the wall of Montalcino from the east), Tel 0577-848233/Fx 0577-846570 You may also mention my name here.

Even if the food and wine were not exceptional, you should go there for the most stunning view over the undulating Tuscan countryside out of a Renaissance painting - not rivaled by any restaurant I know. It has a terrace and an indoor dining area. Owners : Mario e Vanna Fiorani. Alessandra (younger daughter) does the pastry part and most of the recipes. The cuisine includes old (1500-1600) Tuscan recipes (Mario’s passion), hardly found elsewhere The restaurant has not more than 20 tables. Alessandra (younger daughter) does the pastry part, while Marina manages the room. Her husband is Roberto Cipresso, winemaker who has been named “Italian winemaker of the year “ in 2005 and 2006. An example of a menu is:

Crostone with spread of cured pork fat (lardo di colonnata) and tomatoes

Crostini al caprino e male

Gnocchi di Mario – Gnocchi with mixed cheeses and fresh truffles

Carabaccia (Renaissance era onion soup


Pork tenderloin with Vinosanto

Carrots with and Potatoes with Cheese

Special cream dessert

Fine Cipresso red wine, Brunellos, etc.

3. Though not in the same class as the above, you may want to consider these quite good and colorful restaurants: Borgo Buio (Montepulchiano) that has been around some time with an eclectic interesting decor; La Cantina at Castiglione del Lago on the shore of Lake Trasimeno - well-know for its fish, it offers a diverse menu and is also a pizzeria and has a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the lake; the rustic style Zaira in the center of Chiusi - a fixture in that town for about 100 years, the current owner has had it for 50. Fine local "home-cooked" Tuscan food. An incredible 3,000 bottle wine celler you can visit below the restaurant in the ancient Etruscan caves.

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  1. thanks for the inspirational report! how did you go about selecting your restaurants?

    1 Reply
    1. re: jen kalb

      Usually through through referrals of reliable sources - preferably locals or ex-locals who know the area I am visiting. On occasions I have stumbled across places and been taken by their menu (example, Zaira in Chiusi) and I have also visted some restaurants as the result of this site, particularly for places with large numbers of restaurants that are always changing such as in Venice.

    2. This all sounds so delicious!! Its so nice that you are sharing your eatring experience as there are SO many places to choose from in Tuscany it is just hard to know. We just returned from Tuscany last night after a 10 day stay in Chianti, in the barberino Val D'Elsa area and we had such a fine time. Eating was a highlight and while I don't have the energy right now to write about it all, I do want to mention one very extraordinary place, so good we went back twice and would have gone back more except we felt we should try other places.

      When in the Barberino area (near Poggibonsi, Tavernalle, etc.), take a drive through the tiny town of Vico D'Elsa and eat at Antica Osteria Di Vico. I regret that I didn't wrtie down the owners' names, but they are a couple, and he is an incredible cook of Tuscan fare--the real thing. Simple, delicious, home-cooked meats, grilled and stewed, pastas, etc. Especially outstanding were primi courses, tagletelle with a very rich game sauce (the night we were there, ther game was rabbit and it was cooked with mushrooms) and the chef's special spagetti with gorgonzola, lemon and orange rind (superb!). Of course, bistecca alla fiorintina t-bone was cooked perfectly, and the other outstanding secondi was the Peposa, traditional Tuscan beef stew in wine and peppercorns--out of this world (I had peposa elsewhere and it wasn't anywhere near as delicious). The chef's wife is also a great cook and she seems to handle the desserts and provides the service. She made a lucious chocolate cake served and creamy, intense lemon ice cream, served in half of a large frozen lemon. The owners are also into making jellies, from wine, basil, etc., which they serve with meats and cheese We purchased some to take home. Good wines, too--and grappa. Also, very reasonably priced, so we ate extremely well and abundantly, with three of us having antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, and dulce courses, with wine (2 bottles of house wine), water, espresso, and grappa--for about 114 euros (plus tip). The place itself is very basic--and old country house with a a patio out back that is wrapped in wild vines. Nothing fancy at all, but rich in so many ways. The owners are really great people and they were very warm and friendly. He is into jazz and they host a small "jazz festival" on the premises in July--wish we could be there! Anyway, give this one a try!

      1. If you like the style of food described here (souffle, sauternes? - it's not why I go to Italy) you will also enjoy the garden Restaurant at the hotel Il Chiostro di Pienza and, also in Pienza, Il Rossellino.

        My wife loves eating at Il Chiostro but I think it misses the mark and is overpriced. We love the hotel itself and stayed there for the fifth time in June this year.

        Went to Il Rossellino for the first time this year, after reading good reports, but we will not be going back. The food was actually fine but not my style and was un po caro, a little expensive. I have never seen any of the anti pasti on any other menu in Italy. (Souffle for example!) A group of ordinary, working class Italians came in while we were there, they had not booked, and the lady owner - front of house - could hardly have been less welcoming.

        By the way, I love Sauternes - but not in Italy.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Tuscanlover

          I agree--Italy is not the place to have souffles and sauternes, even if you love them. Also, we tried to stay away from the "gourmet" restaurant scene in Tuscany. Adapting Tuscan dishes to meet gourmet standards, making them fancier than they are intended to be, misses the point, even if these dishes are interesting and tasty. We did go to one higher end place in Castellina in Chianti that was delicious, but not really authentically Tuscan--and much more pricey. Tuscan dishes are simple, made with fresh seasonal ingredients, whatever is available. When in Tuscany, eat as the Tuscans do and you will get a much better sense of the place--and those who never read Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" should pick this up before traveling/eating in Tuscany.

          1. re: liveforfood

            You and I are obviously on the same wavelength. The food in Tuscany is gourmet standard without being "gastronomique", with all evils that that implies!

            If you are ever in southern Tuscany, in the Sinalunga area (west of Montepulciano) go to Da Toto at Lucignano. You will love it: It is your kind of place.