Italy Trip Report Part 2 - Tuscany (Long)
There is not much that you can say about Tuscany that has not been already said. It is exactly like the pictures, but obviously more in person. As my fiancée & I were saying to each other in a sarcastic tone; “Look there is another idyllic picturesque rolling countryside with a beautiful villa on top surrounded by cypress trees.” We both wished we had more time here as it was the most relaxing part of our trip, which it should be. I spent the mornings riding my bike through the countryside, while she sat in the monastery garden reading her book. Afternoons were spent wine tasting, eating cheese and just driving through the countryside.
La Buca Delle Fate – We really wanted to go to Latte di Luna, which I have read about here and was also one of two recommendations by our agriturismo. Unfortunately they were closed for the season. Since I knew the quality of the di Luna beforehand, I assumed that delle Fate would also be very good based on our agriturismo’s recommendation. We started off with a mixed sample of the various pecorino cheeses which Pienza is famous for. These were obviously very good. Next up was the misto della casa, a mixed plate of meats & crostini. The meats were good, but not the best we had. The crostini was decent with one exception: the pate. This was some of the best pate that I have had, and my fiancée who doesn’t normally like pate loved it. We thought we were in for another great meal. Next came the secondi: tagliatelle with ragu, bistecca ai ferri, and mista o verde. The fried vegetables were average at best, the bisteca too salty and the tagliatelle noodles were something I could have picked up in a local supermarket. It was quite a difference from the previous meals where the pasta was super silky, and obviously homemade. The ragu was an extreme letdown. Until this meal we were beginning to think that exceptional ragu was the norm, obviously not the case. This was our worst meal of the trip. To clarify, by no means was anything inedible. It was just not as good as we were becoming accustomed to.
Agriturismo Saint Anna in Camprena – Technically this was not a restaurant. This is where we stayed. It is an old 13th century monastery turned into an agriturismo. Roughly twice a week the woman who runs the monastery along with her mother offer a home cooked meal for the guests who are staying there. I don’t think it is on a set schedule. My suspicion is that it is more or less when they feel like cooking, and/or there are enough quests. There is no menu. You just eat what they put in front of you with unlimited house wine. Luckily they were cooking dinner our first night so we could relax after several hectic days in Rome. The first dish was bread soaked in fresh crushed tomatoes that are grown on the property. It was served warm and was delicious. The second dish was gnocchi in a pesto sauce made from basil leaves grown next to our room and olives oil from olives grown 100 yards away. The gnocchi was super light and the pesto sauce, something I normally can “give or take”, was unbelievable. The final dish consisted of sausages and veal medallions. Raspberry cheesecake was the dessert. This was one of the best meals of our trip and all for 20 euros.
We had a second meal there a few days later, on our last night. We were really debating whether or not to eat dinner here, as we were going to spend the afternoon in Montalcino wine tasting and we did not want to be rushed. After a bit of flip flopping we decided to eat our last meal at the monastery. I really can’t tell you what the first two things we ate were. Not because they were anything less than spectacular, far from it. It is because we were served the best, most delectable slow roasted duck that I have ever had. Period! I cannot even describe how good this was. I like duck, but I don’t go out of my way to order it. But if you asked me what the best meat dish I ever had, it would be this duck. The meat was succulent and the skin was so crispy and delicious. I had to basically force feed the skin to my fiancé to get her to try it as she was trying to avoid anything too caloric. (This was day 9 of our Italian food binge and even our “fat” clothes were starting to get tight.) She took her first bite of the skin, shook her head, laughed then proceeded to eat all the skin she could get her hands on. After finally coming out of my duck trance, only because it was completely devoured, I looked around and saw the other quests gnawing on duck bones (When have you ever seen someone gnaw on a duck bone?) or digging like animals for any scrap of meat or skin that they could find. This included the couple that initially complained that they were given way too much duck and that there was no way they could finish. Afterwards everyone looked at each other in complete disbelief at what they had just eaten. The duck was followed up by a dessert that was absolutely delicious, but that I completely forget.
The town was dead, nary a soul. We really wanted to go to Gambe di Gatto, but they were closed, as were most other places and all of the stores. It was almost like a ghost town. Luckily we saw that Osteria dell' Acquacheta was open. So we stepped in and were immediately asked if we had reservations. We said “No” and they said “Sorry.” We walked up to the eerily quiet market square and saw only one place open. Looking to the left and saw another place far down at the end of the street was also open. Knowing what you normally get in the market square we both felt uneasy, but, at this point, we did not have much of a choice. Luckily a nice English group was walking through the square who were staying in Montepulciano and stated that both places were very good. So we couldn’t go wrong. And right they were. We had an excellent meal with a beautiful bottle of Nobile. I forget the name of the place but if you walk up to the square and take a left behind the church it is at the end of the street on the left.
Bar Paninoteca San Paolo - Il Campo - We found this place in Rick Steve’s book. A nice little sandwich shop right off of Il Campo. It fit the bill perfectly for our 3 hour excursion in Siena.
Below are the other reports from our trip:
Im going to thank you once for this series of very good and orderly reports. Glad you had so many good meals and were willing to share them with us!
We found Florence to be difficult in September as well - it seems to be very busy with a lot closed. I thing the harvest season in tuscany affects openings too during this season. People who are tuscan hands may be able to comment on this phenomenon. Rome is a big city (like NY or London) and after the August break I am sure business, conventions, government etc get very busy. Anyway, thanks again, congratulations, and welcome back!
I just wanted to let you know that I loved your review of Sant'Anna. In fact, I clipped out the portions you wrote about Sant'Anna and printed them out, and brought it with me on my trip to Tuscany I just returned from. We ate twice at Sant'Anna and I agree-- it was by far the best meals of our trip. Our second meal was also the duck which was just as phenomenal as you described-- I won't bother trying to beat your description. I made sure to tell Ornella about how I had read such wonderful things about her cooking-- she seemed very pleased so I pulled out your review and handed it to her. The night they cooked the duck, Stefano (the guy who helped Ornella with serving, I wouldn't exactly call him a waiter as I suspect he does this as a favor to the monastery or Ornella), read your review aloud to the entire kitchen, translating from english to italian! Apparently everyone was thrilled, but somewhat stressed about it living up to expectations! No worries as I assured them it did. Just thought you would like to know! I am posting some pics of that dinner-- the plate of the duck was our second-- and we actually couldn't wait to take the pic-- we both grabbed the duck immediately and I made us put the bitten pieces back on the plate so I could take the pic. : ) The dessert also did not make the pic for similar reasons!