One week in Tuscany - dining in Florence, Chianti, Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Pienza, Montalcino, Montepulciano...suggestions?
I'll be in Florence for 3 nights, and then driving through Tuscany, with a base near Siena for 5 nights, and want to plan some terrific lunches and dinners (they can be cheap, expensive or in-between). Here is what I've come up with, I'd love some feedback. Thank you!
I Due G
I' Cche' c'e c'e
Vini e Vecchi Sapori (for lunch)
Buca di Sant'Antonio
Gli Orti di Via Elisa
Vineria I'Santi (for charcuterie)
SAN GIMIGNANO/BETWEEN SAN G & SIENA
Albergacio di Castellina
MONTALCINO, MONTEPULCIANO, PIENZA
Latte di Luna, Pienza
Osteria La Solita Zuppa, Chiusi
Osteria del Vecchio Castello, near Montalcino
La Grotta, Montepulciano
Osteria Le Logge
Spent 3 nights in Florence a couple of weeks ago (there's a lengthy post regarding the trip on the board). Like nycreba I ate at 4 Leoni and for lunch it was fine (and especially on a hot day it would be a nice cool spot) so long as you stuck to more basic items. Very much enjoyed Cinghiale Bianco and Trattoria Garga. We found our morning coffee at a small place (could not possibly tell you the name) but it was across the street and a half block down from the Roberto Cavalli Cafe (strange way to remember I know). They had very good lattes, fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit. They also don't upcharge the out-of-towners so it was quite inexpensive so if your hotel doesn't have the greatest coffee or breakfast this is a nice option.
i think Beth Elon's 'A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany' is a an excellent guide. She doesn't do the obvious areas, like chianti, but focusses on small indigenous restaurants along several off beat routes, many very simple, though not all. whenever we've eaten at one of her recommendations we've been delighted. she also focusses on small places of interest, to see, or, with food, to buy specialties. she's lived near prato/pistoia/lucca since the early 70s.
not your usual guidebook. true slow food.
I hate to say it again but if you're going to Tuscany—and especially Florence—then you are really not going to get the best Italian food.
The best meal I've had in Tuscany is at Mondo X, the monastery near Cetona, which I drove to from Montepuliciano. The longtime chef is from Milan, though, and the ingredients come from about 30 other monasteries up and down Italy so it is not particularly Tuscan per se. You should know that Mondo X is part of La Frateria di Padre Eligio, which is a Franciscan order mostly for former drug addicts and "lost souls" who fix up ruined sites and live off the land. It's apparently a favorite charity for wealthy Italians—there's a helipad outside the dining room. Dinner was 120 euros per person for 7-8 very generous portions.
Back in 2009, before I went to Mondo X, I thought Giglio in Lucca was probably better than other places I went to in Tuscany. Not that it was amazing, but everything was actually tasty. La Mora, another Mark Bittman recommendation outside of Lucca that year, wasn't bad but nothing stood out.
La Porta in Pienza and the old Cibreo Trattoria in Florence are the only other places I can say you will get a meal that won't be disappointing if you're used to good food from Emilia-Romagna, Piedmonte, Lombardy or even Apulia or Marche.
I also went to Enoteca Pinchiorri in 2009 and spent $800+ per person on completely forgettable food, but some amazing wine. I missed my lunch reservation at Arnolfo last year in Colle di Val d'Elsa so I can't comment about that, but I have heard from others I respect that it is sort of tired like San Domenico in Imola.
If you're going to splurge, instead find a way to get to Da Vittorio (Brusaporto) or Le Calandre (Padova). Or as slightly less amazing options: Combal.Zero (Rivoli), La Madonnina Del Pescatore (Senigallia, but don't stray from the seafood dishes), or Osteria Francescana (Modena). As much as I like everything about Mondo X, all these places are a huge step above it.
What a depressing report. I don't agree with W42 that the food in Tuscany is not good or very Italian.
There are a number of good restaurants in Pienza - La Porta is not one of them and it is actually at Monticchiello. (Look at the many previous posts.) If you want the true Tuscan country cooking experience (cucina contadina) take a trip east of your base to Da Toto at Lucignano. Just follow the main road from Siena to the A1 and it is about a 35 minute drive. Chef Boris will give you a really terrific lunch or dinner.
Obviously we all have different tastes and, judging by your screenname, I wouldn't want to criticize you for what you love. If you are actually Tuscan by heritage, then I hope I didn't offend you.
My larger concern was that I recognized many of the places that jrrnyc listed and found them to be forgettable and/or overrun by tourists (I enjoyed trying to remember my year of Japanese more than the food at Latini). I think it is worth pointing out that a lot of the same questions get asked on the internet everyday so it takes some serious dedication to keep responding with recommendations. Thus, a small sampling of internet users, many of whom are not locals or chefs, ends up directing tourists to same places again, the tourists report back, and the cycle repeats.
Just by statistical probability there must be some good places to eat in Tuscany, and if it's your first time in Italy, then I am sure you will have a magical experience. The issue for me is that the warm months in Tuscany are dominated by tourists. The few local I met who were not in the restaurant/hospitality industry all admitted that their neighbors had rented out their apartments and usually do the same as well. I speak apparently passable Italian and have worked with international chefs and Slow Food Italy, UK and US and I just can't think of any that have recommended Tuscany as being the best region for Italian food.
But just to step in before anyone gets offended, I do want to make it clear that I would never claim Tuscan food is not very Italian. Every region has its distinct cuisine, just like France or China. Now of course the concept of just "what is Italian" is a whole can of worms, but I'm not about to touch the half century of il Risorgimento....
As for actual recommendations to help the OP, you're right about La Porta—I was thinking of La Grotta below Montepuliciano that I saw on the OP's list. That's what I get for trying to remember all those towns right before sleep.
I skipped it last night because I wasn't sure if it was the same one, but if you are referring to the Da Delfina in Artimino, then I can say it was at least better than anything I had either time I rented an apartment in Florence. Full disclosure: I was introduced to the owners by Judy Rogers of Zuni cafe in San Francisco, so my dinner might not be representative. But again, nothing special and it would be kind of a pain to get to the top of the hill if you don't have a car or local friend to give you a ride.
I've heard of Da Toto but I must admit it was in the context of a bias against chefs who do TV appearances. I'll keep an open mind though and ask others the next time I am in northern Italy.
You have responded to my post so I presume your comment about "if it's your first time in Italy", was a question for me. FYI, my comment are based on many visits and very recent experience of both Pienza and Lucignano. (I was there in May.)
In addition, Lorenzo Toto, the TV chef, retired a few years ago and his son and daughter have taken over the hotel and restaurant. Hence my recommendation that Chef Boris will look after you. A number of recent visitors have said that the tourist menu is unbelievably good and unbelievably good value at E15 per person.
I am not convinced that all you hounds are talking from recent experience.
since you seem to be from nyc i suggest you go to Locanda Vini e Olii in clinton hill.
a real tuscan, michele, does the cooking. even bakes the tuscan bread every morning--or did anyway.
i should add that we live in chianti and almost never eat in restaurants. in firenze or elsewhere when we need to get a bite, we stick to simple stuff. (vini e vecchi sapori used to be a strictly local lunch spot.)
I've eaten in a few of the places you have mentioned, and here are my recollections for what they are worth:
Solociccia: Great Fun / interesting experience. You get a wide range of tasty and interesting beef dishes (no steak). The tables are large and communal, and the conviviality around our table was good the time we were there. The wine is young, fruity and very cheap (this helps the conviviality!).
Arnolfo: Very small room (6 tables or so), with very modern, refined and quite elaborate dishes. Uses very good quality ingredients. It was quite expensive (I think food is around €100 per head)
Albergaccio di Castellina: Very high quality, but more rustic / traditional (in every respect ) than Arnolfo. The wines were very fairly priced for this type of restaurant.
Castell in'Villa: We stayed in the associated B&B and went to this restaurant with no pre conceptions. The food was stunning! The ambiance was amazing, but we were there in April and had the place to ourselves - a lovely table in front of a blazing fire. The estates wines are are some of Tuscany's best (though they are made in a refined traditional style, so may not be to everyones tastes), and a good range of older vintages are available here at very reasonable prices.
Overall, I would go back to Castell in'villa in a heartbeat, and would also love to try the Albergaccio again. While I enjoyed the other two, I wouldn't be in a hurry back given there are so many other places to try!
ciao- as to your list--- i would switch i latini to Da Giovanni- just around the corner-- one of the original I latini brothers.... Giovanni- much better service and you see a menu. Daughter Caterina is in the dining room too and speaks english, went to Peter Kumps in USA while living there and was in the kitchen.
Da Delfina is a personal favorite of my husbands-- ( he is florentine) but NOT in the same chianti region the others are-- it is west in the hills.
i live out in Certaldo ( have been in italy since 1984- was a pastry chef in a 5 star hotel in SF) there are some fabulous tiny places no one ever writes about. On the ground floor of a funky little hotel between Certaldo and San Gimignano is I latini -- their "other place" always packed with locals. and their buon ricordo place is a favorite of mine, pici with kale and sausage sauce.
In my village there is a tiny place called Dolce Follie-- that in the back room has a tiny dining room with fabulous food and great wine list. i have a dining guide on my website for some simple favorites where I take my husband!
We got married in Certaldo in 2008 and enjoyed some great places in the area, including Il Latini. Do you have any other picks for great places that don't get so much atention? We'll be staying in San Regolo / Brolio for a week soon, but will be travelling throughout central Tuscany so anywhere you particularly enjoy is of interest.