Lucca, Volterra, Siena, Montepulciano and area report
Part 2 of 3 of our Italy trip. Part 1 is here...
I'll break this one down by city..
Pizzeria da Felice di Grazzini Marisa - Big name, big flavors. Came here twice this day, second for the Cecina (I wanted a fresh one from the oven). First we had the some nice thin slices with prosciutto and another with salami. Then came back for the cecina, like a crispy flat chickpea pancake. Delicious! Add some pepper, delicious-er.
Giusti - The smells alone in Giusti is enough reason to go. Great focaccia, buccellato, focaccia with cheese, little thin flat pizzas. Really good stuff.
Barrala - Very good dinner. Started with an antipasti dish that rivaled all the great antipasti we had in Florence. On the menu it says "cured meats with pickles" but actually it was.. sopressata - really good but totally different than the sopressata I know and love. Various salamis, bread soaked in vinegar with onions tomato and basil (sounds awful but so good), farro with sundried tomatoes, and pickled onion olives and artichoke. Loved the pasta courses here. Seeing truffles on the menu finally was like seeing David. These were black truffles from San Miniato and they were a little skimpy with the shavings on the tagliolini so every little piece counted big time especially now that the entire family is into them. And of course I had to try the Tortelli Luchese, like Russian Siberian pilmeni, stuffed with mystery meat with a meat ragu on top. Really enjoyed this dish. The big trend this trip is great first 2 courses followed by less than great to mediocre 3rd. The Bistecca Di Chianina was surprisingly overcooked (more like medium) and a little chewy. The rabbit cacciatora was more like it. Tender and tasty. Good tiramisu and a fantastic parfait with pistachios and dark chocolate. A fine meal overall.
Annie Adair from Tuscan Tours took us to L'Incontro, one of the most popular bars in town. Fantastic lunch. Another great charcuterie board of more great Salami, Prosciutto and all sorts of Pecorino cheeses, but the highlight was a Porchetta they just happened to have that day. Highly recommend having lunch here when in town
La Tellina - Very very good lunch. Not exactly Tuscan fair - owner from Naples. Fine Caprese salad. Fantastic fresh mussels with "I'm not washing my hands anytime soon" sauce. Grilled polenta with some of the best tasting porcini of the trip. Homemade meatballs were the bomb. I live in the meatball capital of the world and these were some great melt in your fork balls. Spaghetti with fresh mussels and clams - garlicky, packed with deliciousness. Simply grilled whole sea bass, perfectly cooked. We love to grill whole branzinos at home and this one was better than we ever did. Very satisfied with La Tellina and the nice seafoody change of pace
Villa Grazianella - Had a very nice dinner at our villa on the first night. I read about Patrizia's cooking before the trip and got all sorts of confirmations from guests by the pool on the first day.
Pappa al Pomodorro - while not quite as the eye opener of Rugerro in Florence, really really good. Garganelli with sausage and zucchini ragu - a top dish of the trip nominee. In nyc Garganelli comes in all shapes and sizes. This was the perfect shape and texture. No secondi misses here. A very flavorful chicken cacciatore with green beans. Nice lemon mousse to finish. No menu, you just have what she cooks that day which is different every day of the week. The folks at the pool said her ravioli from the night before was the best thing they ate on the entire trip. They also make great wine here called Fattoria dal Cerro
Podere il Casale - Amazing cheese tasting in this farm, and one of the highlights of the trip. We learned about the various cheese making techniques and got greeted to a tremendous Sheep and goat cheese tasting. The aged pecorino with walnut leaf was like eating cheese for the very first time. Casale recently received a govt sponsorship to open stores oversees as long as all the products come from Tuscan farms. And the current project is to open a mini Eataly if you will, in nyc near Union Square (6th/16th). Spectacular views from the farm and your table makes this even more worthwhile
Il Pozzo in San Angelo in Colle - A gorgeous pasta fest lunch. More Pici or Pinci as they call it in the Montalcino area. Tagliatelle with meat ragu. my favorite here was probably the ravioli with ricotta and spinach with butter and sage. Great stop for lunch after a visit to Santantimo.
Gattavecchi in Montepulciano - What a glorious lunch this was. Great setting, a little away from the crowds. Daniella Gattavecchi gave us a tour of the cellars and told us the history of the winery, but the story here is Lilian the brazilian cook. I spent a few minutes in her kitchen with her staff and it didnt take long to notice the passion. A great salumi plate including addictive truffled salami. Bruschetta plate was like I've gone to bruschetta heaven. Salsa verde with melted cheese, savory liver pâté (best of the trip - Lilian makes it with wine and fruit), all kinds of great concoctions in a cup including potatoes-onion-bell pepper thingy, and my fave white beans spread with bread and veggies (ribolita?) A plate as spectacular as the views around. Then excellent gnocchi and Taglietelle to finish another fantastic meal
Da Roberto in Montisi. One of the most memorable meals of the trip. Like eating at your uncle's backyard. Roberto is very interesting and passionate about what he serves. "I'm not a cook, I'm not a chef, I just bring to you the ingredients". And what ingredients they were. Fantastic Insalata lagumi - 5 different beans with pecorino, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, carrots, stem of garlic, olive oil. All work together like a beautiful symphony. No added salt anywhere. The only salt around is on the table and for the pasta water. Pici with Chianina ragu excellent. Even more satisfying was more fresh pici with pork sausage, pecorino and sweet onions. Roast of Chianina - no overcooked secondi here. I had to add some seasoning here but it was tender and delicious nonetheless. Another sausage dish was even better. One of those meals
La porta in Monticchiello - An ok dinner. Partially really due to my oldest being a little sick, partially due to her dad turning into Ziggy Andretti zigzagging on the way to Sant'antimo abbey earlier. A bit of a cloudy memory here as a result. A few dishes with light cream sauces, rabbit, and a few more I cant remember. Nothing really stood out but nothing to complain about either. Daria the owner was beyond nice. The views from the terrace cant be beat although it can get uncomfortably windy and cold. The village itself is worth a detour.
The meal of the trip..
Emanuela and Davide Guastini run Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the tiny village of Valiano not too far from Montupulciano. Sunflower galore on the way there from the Cortona direction. Gorgeous terrace overlooking the area I keep forgetting the name. I call it the other side of A1 but it doesn't sound as sexy. And the food was sublime. Crostini with chicken liver and caramelized onions - sweet and savory. Delicate Caprese salad. Ravioli with pigeon was absolutely terrific, comes with 2 succulent pieces of pigeon in addition to the fillings. Tortelli with ricotta and fresh tomatoes and basil can't get much better than this. Fried rabbit lightly battered. Like a delicious fried chicken. Glorious duck encrusted with fennel you can smell as soon as it arrives. Love all the fennel stuff in the region. I had a long talk with Davide about food and after voicing my slight disappointment with the Bisteccas here, he comes back with a plate full of sliced bloody rare Chianina that was absolutely outstanding. Great desserts of pana cotta with chocolate, ricotta mousse with honey and hazelnuts (seems like a specialty here in the region) and a fine tiramisu. By the time we left the terrace was buzzing with local families, a rarity for us on this trip