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Sep 23, 2011 06:02 AM

Tuscan Coast

We’ve been going to Lorenzo, in Forte dei Marmi, for almost 30 years, probably 15 times, ever since the late great restaurateur, Sauro Brunicardi of La Mora in Ponte a Moriano near Lucca, first took us there.

We hadn’t been there in four or five years even though we live just a few blocks away.

Eight of us went for lunch yesterday. Simply spectacular meal. Lorenzo Viani has always been the consummate host, looking to make sure your meal is very enjoyable. He does it with a mixture professionalism, friendliness, courtesy and warmth, day after day. He and the restaurant continue to be at the top of “their” game” and at the top of the restaurants we enjoy in Italy.

Lunch was everything a great meal should be. Absolutely first rate ingredients (none better), very skillful cooking, an excellent extensive menu (both fish and terra, although most people go for fish), a world class wine list, superb service (professional, but informal, and unobtrusive) extremely comfortable restaurant, a friendly relaxed atmosphere.

The food was everything that great food should be, and it is doubly more impressive that this was a Tuscan meal. IMO, there are only two truly outstanding restaurants in Tuscany. Here is one of them and it is deceptively outstanding because of the nature of Tuscan food. Tuscan food at its best is simple, very simple. Most visitors do not understand that. I’ve seen one well known food snob’s blog which said about a certain restaurant something like “that was really excellent but nothing I couldn’t do.” Well first you have to have the ingredients, then you have to have the skill, then you have to understand that less is more; he didn't have any of those things. You come out of Lorenzo saying that was a great meal, but it is hard to put your finger on what made it great and, of course, that’s what made it great.

The ingredients of the dishes are so extraordinary, and so skillfully prepared, that one person at our table tasted (one of) the calamari al forno (one of the restaurant's signature dishes) that I had as my main course, and promptly asked if she could order a second secondo of the same because the calamaro she had had, was one of the best things she had ever eaten. Ever, which was quite a statement for someone who knows her food.

Among the dishes we had were an exquisite risotto with fish and shellfish (for two); bavette con scampetti, sparnocchi, totani, seppioline e gamberi bianchi; ravioli ripieno di branzino (light as could be pasta with a strong filling); calmarata con broccoletti e pesce di fondale; and for a number at the table pesce nero, which Lorenzo said we had never seen before, and he was correct, and you rarely see it, and it was superb, and he was correct on that as well. Excellent desserts (I had the Sfera di guanaja farcita di bavarese
profumata al cardamomo, salsa di agrumi e amarena).

And, of course, a few fantastic amuses (oh, those tiny lightly fried translucent gamberi bianchi!), thrown in, at the beginning of the meal while you wait for your first course.

Lorenzo has been and continues to be a very special place. Very few in Italy know how to do what Lorenzo is doing. Expensive, but well worth it. Go!!!

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  1. Inspirational report! Lorenzo sounds ike a must on your coast.

    Via Giosuè Carducci,61, Forte dei Marmi, Toscana 55042, IT

    1. I'm always hoping to get to Forte dei Marmi to check out its museum of satire, so I am pleased to have this tip.

      You might be interested to see this recent video from the BBC about Forte dei Marmi, although I doubt it will tell you anything you haven't heard before:

      22 Replies
      1. re: barberinibee

        Many thanks for posting that clip. A little exaggerated, but not by that much. Forte has changed in the 36 years we've been coming here and in the last ten the Russians, with a tremendous amount of wealth to spend here in this small town, have been contributing to that change. It was always the place where wealthy Italians had their summer homes (Gianni Agnelli put it on the map; wherever Gianni went, so did the rest of a certain class of Italian), but it was always understated. Giorgio Armani could ride around on his no speed bike and no one would care.

        The person who was briefly interviewed (in Italian) as having told the story of the couple who ordered the two bottles of 1300 euro (each) wine, and only had a glass, was Lorenzo.

        Aside from the museum of satire, because you live near Chiavari, knowing what I know, for food and a great meal, I'd go to Conchiglia d'Oro in Varigotti before Lorenzo. Both wonderful, but the Ligurian meal at Varigotti beats the Tuscan meal at Lorenzo. Totally different dishes, tastes, type of restaurant, of course, but my preference for the flavor of Ligurian food wins out over the Tuscan.

        1. re: allende

          Ok! It doesn't take much to convince me to eat more Ligurian food, and I very much enjoy that side of Liguria. I just arrived back at the sea today from Bologna, and I am really very happy to think of all the Ligurian food I now get to eat.

          Funny that was Lorenzo himself in the clip. I appreciated the story. It speaks to his character.

          1. re: barberinibee

            La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona was going to be closed, so we decided to try someplace new for Sunday lunch. It proved to be a very good choice.

            The restaurant La Perla del Mare is at the very (north) end of San Vincenzo, overlooking a nice small stretch of beach. It seats about 50, half on a lovely terrace that captures the sea breezes. Deborah Corsi is the chef and her husband Emanuele runs the sala. Deborah knows how to cook fish and knows how to cook it well. No tricks, just a very skilled hand at the stove. She brings out the flavors well and her sense of what should be on the plate (as well as what should not be) is pitch perfect. Very impressive.

            An excellent (almost) all fish menu with about 10 choices each of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci, so there is plenty to choose from. It was very difficult to decide what to have as so many dishes sounded good, and the ones we had were very good indeed.

            We started with the cacciucchino di pesce in cestino di pane croccante and the concept of the dish and the flavor of the fish was outstanding. I had the chitarrine al nero di sepia (excellent pasta) con calamaretti e cicale. For secondi we had gallinella su bieltoline saltate e cozze and rombo agli aromi dell’orto in sfoglia di melanzana. For desserts, semifreddo al pistachio su salsa cioccolato (very intense pistachio flavor) and meringa in doppia cottura e zabaione al vin santo. I don’t want to overstate anything, but all the dishes were very good.

            The dishes are a touch different (all good) from the normal fish restaurant, very well prepared and extremely well plated.

            The wine list is excellent (we had a 2009 Grattamacco white, all vermentino), with not only lots of choices from the area and from Bolgheri (just to the north), but from all over Italy. The list is very reasonably priced.

            Service is good and pleasant and well paced. The physical setting is lovely. The food is very good. Definitely a place to go if you are in the Maremma. We can’t wait to go back.

            1. re: allende

              About 20 km. south of Livorno is Castiglioncello. Basically a summer seaside town, there wasn't much happening when we went to Scolapasta for lunch on Saturday (yesterday).

              A simple, nicely decorated restaurant with light streaming in from many windows, the restaurant has about a dozen tables in two rooms.

              The Scolapasta menu is written on a blackboard placed at the table and there are six each of antipasti, primi, secondi, and desserts. The menu changes every day and, in fact, when the restaurant runs out of a particular dish, as happened yesterday, the staff erase it. All fish.

              We had the crostini di mare to start and then for the primi, risotto with mussels and gnochetti neri with squid. Then for the secondi, calamaretti ripieni and frutti di mare al cartoccio. For dessert a pineapple sorbetto (really excellent). To drink a 2010 Bastianich Tocai. The check was 124 Euros for the two of us.

              Was this Lorenzo (see above), no. Was it very well prepared fish and seafood. You bet. Excellent ingredients, with a chef who knows how to cook them so the flavors are brought out. Wonderful atmosphere, the restaurant was almost full, the service was casual but very, very good. It was obvious that people were enjoying their food and having a good time as well.

              We'll be going back soon.

              1. re: allende

                We went to Lorenzo today for lunch as we did three weeks ago as well. It is a seven minute bike ride (no speed bikes) from our home, so it’s easy.

                Two spectacular meals, similar to last September. Lorenzo and his daughter have one of our favorite, if not our favorite, restaurant in Italy. From the warmest sincere welcome, to the excellent service, to the menu, food and wine, this is a very special place. As I said in the earlier post, it is hard to think of another restaurant in this country that is doing it as well as he is and in the way he is doing it.

                I won’t repeat much of what I said in September, but all that I said holds true. Fish as you’ve never tasted it, simple, but sublime. Cooking that puts other top restaurants to shame. No gimmicks, just incredible dishes served in three lovely well appointed rooms, with the sun shining through the windows and a happy and contented clientele. Oh, did I mention a fantastic wine list!

                Today, to start, we had the house cured (not smoked) Norwegian salmon, about a half in thick; it just melted in your mouth. Then we had seppioline di fondale gratinate in forno al profumo di aglio gentile. For primi: paccheri di Gradnano con triglia, pesce bianco sfilettato, seppie in guazzetto di arselle, cozze e vonole; and bavette sul pesce. For secondi: calamaretti di sabbia in forno; and branzino con patate profumate al rosmarino, pomodoro e basilico. For dessert, Sfera di guanaja farcita di bavarese
profumata al cardamomo, salsa di agrumi; soffice di cioccolato con cuore fondente,
mango caramellato e gelato al pistacchio. A 2009 Livio Feluga Friulano to drink.

                Some other things we could have had: insalatina tiepida di mare con orzo perlato e purea di patate; ravioli farciti di pesce bianco in salsa di totanini e popa di granchio; brodetto chiaro di pesce di fondale; taglierini con salmone affumicato; San Pietro dorato in guazzetto, vongole veraci e crostacei; bocconcini di rana pescatrice in erbe aromatiche su zuppetta ristretta di lenticchie di Castelluccio.

                All very simple dishes, but so difficult to cook to perfection. Exquisite ingredients (many days I see Lorenzo unloading his truck after having gone to the fish market in Viareggio) and chefs who are among the finest we’ve ever seen in cooking fish and shellfish (and that includes those fantastic fish chefs in France, which is, for us, the norm). After three hours plus, you walk out of there smiling because you had such a wonderful time; everything was as close to perfection as could be. What more could one ask for. As I said, right now for us, there is no place even close in terms of what Lorenzo offers in his restaurant. This is a must for anyone going to Tuscany or southern Liguria.

                1. re: allende

                  What are calamaretti di sabbia?

                  I appreciate how simple many of these dishes are and the skill required to cook them "to perfection."

                  1. re: barberinibee

                    Calamaretti di sabbia are smaller than normal calamaretti. Why the sabbia? Don't know.

                      1. re: barberinibee

                        Back to Scolapasta in Castiglioncello (see above) for a Thursday lunch. Still pretty quite in the town. We and a table of five men (locals) were the only customers.

                        The trattoria was as good this time as when we first went in February.The menu is appealing and different from the normal seafood trattoria. The chef knows what he is doing. Excellent ingredients, dishes very well plated, but not fussy. Good wine list, very reasonably priced; good glasses. A pleasant atmosphere with very attentive but casual service.

                        Almost a totally different menu from the last time. A sformato di cicala and tagliolini freschi con riciola e bottarga to start. Both excellent. The two main courses we had were calamaretti ripieni (con crostaci and zucchini); parago al forno con verdure di stagione (datterini and tiny zucchini) e patate.

                        A bottle of 2010 Villa Russiz Tocai. Total 120 Euros.

                        As mentioned above, menu changes every day depending on what is available in the market
                        Really good seafood trattoria close to Livorno. Go.

                        1. re: allende

                          Another great meal at Lorenzo last night. Totanini; stuffed calamaretti; seppioline, bavette with scampetti, totanini, and gamberetti.

                          If you are very serious about food, anyone going to Firenze should come to Forte and eat at Lorenzo for lunch or dinner. Definitely, one of the best restaurants in Italy as far as we're concerned. Nothing like it: quality of the fish and shellfish; service; atmosphere; one of Italy's great wine lists.

                          1. re: allende

                            Luciano Zazzeri’s place remains in top form. Success hasn’t spoiled him and the next generation is now right there (his two sons, one heading up the kitchen and one in the dining room... both under their father's tutelage).

                            Totally full room at lunch, once again all Italians except for us. Young, older, they all come for the wonderful, and wonderfully fresh, seafood and fish, in various great combinations. Yesterday, we started with pasta e fagioli con cozze e bottarga. Half the beans were pureed and half left whole. The puree was smooth as silk. A generous helping of the sweetest mussels had as a counterpoint just enough bottarga to complement the sweetness and add a different texture. Slightly thick pieces of fresh pasta and a touch of rosemary created an ethereal dish. Absolutely superb! A dish that one dreams of. The other dish to start was straccetti di pasta fresca con le triglie. Rarely, does one find triglie like this. Aside from the usual seafood dishes (i.e. Spaghetti alle vongole veraci; risotto ai frutti di mare), to start, we could have had crema di zucca e calamari ripieni; ravioli di patate e stoccafisso; bavette con calamari, seppioline e salvia. For main courses we had Luciano’s signature dish Cacciucco della Pineta which is unlike any cacciucco you've ever had (I've written about it before)... and a new dish Le Polpette di Luciano. This is exactly what it sounds like. Polpette made with the leftover fish rather than leftover meat. Some of it shaped like a sausage and poached, some in little balls and lightly deep fried; with a light sauce of olive oil flavored with rosemary. Extraordinary. A bottle of 2011 Livio Felluga's "Friulano" (just another abomination from the EU in Brussels as to why it can't be called Tocai... as it had been for more than a hundred years; the bureaucrats in Brussels never learn).

                            Great desserts, a fantastic (reasonably priced) wine list as one might expect near Bolgheri, professional but informal service. Right on the water at the beach. Can't ask for much more than that in a restaurant meal.

                            Roughly 20-25 euros a dish each for antipasti, primi, and secondi, and 15 euros for dessert. Fresh fish and seafood of top quality is expensive in Italy.

                            1. re: allende

                              We've been back to Scolapasta in Castiglioncello a number of times since we first wrote it up (see the two posts above). It is less than 45 minutes from here and it is fast becoming a mainstay for us. Nothing like it exists in Forte dei Marmi or Viareggio or anyplace else around here on the coast (it is very different from Lorenzo in Forte or La Pinetta in Marina di Bibbona). An informal place for truly excellent fish and seafood dishes.

                              We were there twice in the last two weeks, the first times there this year. Nothing has changed from last year; why would it. Take excellent ingredients, a talented chef who respects those ingredients, couple that with causal gracious service by one of the owners and you have a recipe for success. The owners are not about to spoil it.

                              Physically, Scolapasta is a modest place, but extremely comfortable, all you could want in a fish trattoria/ restaurant by the sea. By design it does not cater to foreign tourists; in all the times we've been there, we've been the only non Italians... as one of the owners said to us "we have never had spaghetti con vongole on the menu and never will." It is neither expensive nor inexpensive; figure 60 Euros per person for three courses plus dessert. Great fish and seafood are expensive in Italy and if you go to a place with cut rate prices, it means that the ingredients are not fresh. That is a fact. Here, two weeks ago, a fisherman was bringing his catch, through the dining room, at 3 in the afternoon. That was for dinner that night. A good wine list VERY reasonably priced, served in Riedel glasses. One time we had a 2011 Hofstadter Muller-Thurgau, another the 2010 Schiopetto Tocai, both around 20-22 Euros.

                              The entire menu is on a chalkboard. As the kitchen runs out, the dish is simply erased. Menu changes daily. Excellent bread; really great desserts.

                              This place is a gem. Go!!!

                              1. re: allende

                                I think we will finally get to the area this summer. We have to go to Lucca in a couple of weeks and will probably visit friends in Forte briefly in July. Scolapasta and Lorenzo are on the list.

                                1. re: mbfant

                                  I'm sure you can gather from my notes that Scolapasta and Lorenzo are two very different places.

                                  Lorenzo is very upscale (with great food) and expensive, although in July with all the Russians overrunning Forte, the clientele is definitely not upscale, just very wealthy :) But that's what Forte has become, a wealthy enclave where the only stores in town now are Prada, Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani etc., you name it, we've got it ; what a difference in the 37 years ago we've been coming here... a real shame that it has changed.

                                  Scolapasta is not upscale at all, but is a very comfortable, low key restaurant (service is great) with a wonderful chef and excellent ingredients very well prepared. As I said... a gem.

                                  We love both, in different ways.

                                  1. re: allende

                                    What advice do you have for two people going to montalcino tomorrow for 5 days?

                                    1. re: weinish

                                      Don't really have any. We go there a lot to buy wine, but haven't found really good restaurants in all the times we've gone. Lots of great wine though and beautiful area.

                                      For a light lunch or light dinner you might try Osteria Osticcio if it's still around. Salumi etc. and excellent wine, but it's really not a restaurant.

                                      1. re: allende

                                        Have written about Scolapasta in Castiglioncello a number of times (see above for example).

                                        If people visiting Viareggio or Lucca want a great fish trattoria, this is the place, just down the coast, about 30 minutes from Viareggio and a touch more from Lucca. As far as we know,there is nothing like it in or around Viareggio or Lucca. It is very different from Lorenzo in Forte dei Marmi, Romano in Viareggio and La Pineta in Marina di Biibbona. It is different from the usual “sameness” of the places in Viareggio, and the quality of the ingredients and the preparation of the dishes is certainly way way above any of them as well (and we've tried a lot of places over a very long period of time).

                                        Since we started going there a couple of years ago, it has become a mainstay for us. The menu, written on a blackboard, changes all the time. That makes it easy to go to a lot. We’ve been there three times in the last three months and each time the menu has been totally different with not one dish repeated. A very good wine list (had a 2011 Muller-Thurgau Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall, 30 euros). Excellent desserts and excellent bread.

                                        Today, at lunch, the place was half full. As I’ve said before, very pleasant surroundings, excellent informal service, with one of the owners in charge of the dining room.

                                        Once again, to give an idea of the type of dishes, this is what we had. Spaghetti con mazzancolle di Bibbona. Papardelle al ragu di tonno (a very rich sauce using not only the belly but the innards e.g. liver, as well). Capponi (sic) local with nice big fat cheeks (the head was served) which were delicious. Cacciuchino… incredibly rich.

                                        Bill for food 100 euros.

                                        As a great alternative to the “sameness” of the restaurants and trattorias in Viareggio and Forte, this is an excellent place and as I said, way way above the others in terms of quality, preparation and different dishes.

                                        1. re: allende

                                          Ate in many different places in Tuscany, but none compared to the creativeness and quality of Boccon Divino.

                                          My vegetarian wife loved it, as did her carnivorous husband.

                                          Most places serve similar fare, and it's usually good, but this place was unique.

                                          Second place was grappolo blu in Montalcino.

                                          Everything else to me wasn't necessarily memorable.

                                          1. re: allende


                                            Will be in Bolgheri in late Oct 14 for 2 nights, and staying in town. I will take your recs on La Pineta for dinner(looking forward!) and Scolapasta for lunch. Will be doing Enoteca Tognoni for another lunch (mostly for the wine list) and Osteria Magona for dinner. How far is Scolopasta from Bolgheri? Will this work timewise if I'm winetasting at 1-2 wineries in Bolgheri before lunch around 1:30pm at Scolapasta. Do you have any opinion on Tognoni and Magona in Bolgheri? Thanks again for all of your informative and detailed posts!! I promise to do the same.

                                            1. re: drewster420

                                              Glad you enjoy the posts.

                                              Re 1:30pm at Scolapasta. On the weekends, absolutely no problem. During the week in October, am not sure. Best bet is to have the place you're staying at in Bolgheri ask the restaurant if 1:30 is good.

                                              We know Tognoni. Used to buy a lot of wine from them. It is very basic osteria, nothing special, but just fine for lunch if you're going mostly for the wine list. Stick to the salumi and a few other basics.

                                              Have not been to Osteria Magona.

        2. Drewster, if you are in Bolgheri then I suggest that you try Taverna del Pittore which I have been to it is traditionally Tuscan country cooking but divine and when I have been in Spring/early summer they put chairs and tables on the streets and block off the street to traffic....Bolgheri is beautiful so I am very jealous

          1 Reply
          1. re: LotsC


            Thx for the recommendation. I will take a look and put it on my short list as I am only there for 2 nights in Oct.