Italy

Piccola Trattoria Guastini – Meal Of The Year

Eating With Ziggy

Guastini - Caprese

August 21st, 2019 Update

Allora, so which is my favorite restaurant in Tuscany? A question I get asked often.  Its actually easier for me to answer this than naming my favorite NY restaurant these days.  The answer is Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the little hamlet I call Torrita di Siena, because thats what its called.  The post I’m bumping is also to announce a location change.  Emanuela and Davide Guastini moved the restaurant from close to home in Valiano to the other side of the Autostrada, 12 km north of Montepulciano.

The title refers to the meal we had here in 2013.  But this one was not too shabby either.  New location, same family, new atmospheric terrace with some of the best views in town.  Although Davide seemed to age a little so I dont know if I can wait another 6 years to visit this gem.  His wife Emanueala…

View original post 647 more words

Advertisements
Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Leave a comment

Cappun Magru {Manarola} – What’s in a Name? Everything

Cappun Magru - the dishTo say that Cappun Magru offers the best Cappun Magru in Cinque Terre is a fair assessment.  Its the only one making it.  This old Ligurian specialty is slowly disappearing from Ligurian menus, even in Genoa where its most associated.  Cappun Magru is an elaborate seafood and veggie salad to put in the simplest of forms.  Its most common spelling is Cappon Magro, but here at the headquarters of EWZ, with the tagline “Eating Well, Spelling Pourly” we dont care about spelling all that much.  My guess is that Cappun Magru is the more ancient spelling.  Sort of like Giovanni da Verrazzano ancient spelling had only one Z.  If only NYC would have known about it before spending millions to change the name.

When you talk to Christina, the owner of Cappun Magru, you can easily forget that you are in Cinque Terre.  This is not a place I expected to easily find Slow Food.  Two hours prior I was elbowing my way through a sea of tourists, pizzas, and Limoncelos in a boot in Vernazza.  Since Rick Steves discovered this corner of Italy, restaurants dont need to go through great lengths to please us tourists.  But Christina and husband who moved Cappun Magru from the mountains, closer to the sea, continue to march on, trying to preserve whatever tradition left.

There’s no one universal way to prepare this monster.  But its often involved shrimp, mussels, oysters, fresh fish, and a Parsley led complex green sauce that involves eggs, anchovies and a slew of other ingredients.  Its not a simple dish by any means, but the reward is a feast to all senses.  Even the non photographers on the table will reach for their phones.  It a rich poor people’s food.  It goes back to the days when fishermen would indulge in the leftovers of their bosses rich feasts.  It then became a feast in itself, and a popular lent preparation in Liguria.  There’s no meat involved of course but the name sort of means “light fat chicken” (Capon is a type of fatty chicken).  Like.. “I’m a vegetarian”.  “Oh, in that case here’s a little lamb”.

And did I mention that its delicious?  So are the smartly crafted sandwiches like the shrimp with fish roe, Zucchini, and Egg.  And while Cappun Magru does have a good wine selection (Its more of a wine bar), this is a good place to take a break from wine, and indulge in some beer.  Italy’s craft beer is some of the most underrated in the world.

Cappun Magru is ideal after a long hike.  But dont come too late as they close at around 7:30 (in the summer at least).  A light early dinner at 6 is perfect because you are after all in Monorola, and you dont want to miss sunset.  Thats the reason you are here.

Manarola

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

This is Scheggino (and Osteria Baciafemmine)

IMG_1380This was supposed to be a post about Osteria Baciafemmine, one of Umbria’s most hidden (quite literally here) gems.  But something happened during this visit.  A twist.  The kind I only see in South Korean movies.  As good as this meal was, the little village of Scheggino, with a population of 463 (we counted) upstaged the meal.  To the point that we changed plans on the last day to visit the village again.

Scheggino is a village nestled vertically at the foot of a mountain.  From the outside it may look like something you may have seen before.  But once you start climbing those narrow pedestrian streets, its like a fairy tale village.  One without tourists which is a rarity nowadays.  But that’s Umbria for you.  The unappreciated belly of Italy.  No wonder there was a wedding during our second visit.  When you visit a place this small, and there’s a wedding going on, you essentially become part of it.  We wished them a big Mazal-Tov, and sent them off with a fondue set.  I always carry one in the car in case of emergencies.

Scheggino, simply put is the most charming little village I’ve ever seen.  But there are more reasons to visit.  Scheggino is also home to Urbani, the truffle tsar, whose products can be found all over NYC.  You can visit its headquarters just outside the entrance to the village.  But even more accessible is “Truffleland” inside the village where you can participate in several rides like the “Its a Fungus after all” train ride through the mountain.  Ok, not really.  Its just a small museum and store, where you can sample the best “truffle truffles” (a marketing nightmare I imagine) you’ll ever have.

 

IMG_1321Cutting through at the foot of Scheggino is the Nera River producing one of the only seafood items found in Umbria, trout.  You can have it at Osteria Baciafemmine as is, or crusted with crunchy breadcrumbs and parsley.  Osteria Baciafemmine is a local legend, Slow Food fixture, and the reason we came to this village in the first place.  Rustic, all in the family Osteria, dishing out local specialties and meat raised in their own farm.  Mother, father, daughter, cat, all hard at work at a space decorated head to toe with food and drink stuff, almost museum like.  Toto, we are not in Staten Island anymore.

Not much English spoken at the Osteria, but the international language of food is sometimes more powerful than words.  Out of the soup offerings, the pureed chickpea soup was a standout, but the local lentils were not too shabby.  A fragrant and delicious gnocchetti with sheep meat ragu and tomato sauce worked better than the Strangozzi with truffles.  Excellent pork cooked with beer, apple and honey.  Two perfectly cooked and well crafted sausages comes with polenta topped with, what else, truffle spread.  A most memorable meal at a photographer’s dream setting.

 

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

IMG_0813

Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

IMG_0881

Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

italy-2013-1547

Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

IMG_0949

Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

IMG_1090

Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

IMG_1029

Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

IMG_1111

Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

IMG_1107

Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

IMG_0655

Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

italy-2013-1105

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Cavour 21 – Unadulterated in Genoa

Cavour 21 - Trofie PestoThere’s a common belief in the travel community that vacations should be all about you, and what you like to do.  Stay in the type of accommodations you like.  Do the things that interest you.  Eat the things you enjoy the most in the setting you feel most comfortable in. “What type of food do you like?” is a common response to someone seeking dining advice on the travel boards.  It rarely makes sense to me.  But knowing exactly what you want and getting it when you want it, doesnt sound so wrong.  Some may argue its living life to the fullest.  In fact I’m often jealous of people who travel with their favorite cigars, coffee, rum, prunes.  Yes, prunes.  Prunes give people comfort.

But then there’s the camp that believes that vacation is all about experiencing different.  The camp that enjoys adventure, stepping outside the comfort zone, and generating memories.  The camp that leaves their prunes behind.  If you are in that camp, you most likely enjoy places like Cavour 21.  Oy, I didnt mean to go all over-dramatic on you.  I’m just talking about a super casual restaurant in Genoa.  Watching too much Jessica Jones lately, and all that narration is beginning to get to me.

Although we’ve been to local institutions as such (one is Coimbra, Portugal comes to mind) Cavour is as genuine as they come.  Traditional Genoa food, in a rustic, no nonsense environment, with too good to be true prices.  Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.  For us at least.  For the locals it may feel like Wednesday.

Cavour 21 - Lobster pastaYou start this adventure before you even enter the place.  About 15-30 minutes before in fact.  To ensure a table its recommended to come before they open, otherwise you get an approx time slot, or risk missing out.  If its lunch time, and they run out of space and time, they can put you on a list for dinner.  Once they open (may not be on time), everyone surrounds the list reader like he is about to read the chosen names in a high school play, and about to give them free Focaccia.  Then he goes “Prego” and bam, a mad rush inside.  You are shown to your table or table that you’ll share with others.

While you wait outside, its hard to miss the “Pesto World Championship” proudly displayed on their front.  And unless you just spent a week in Genoa, its hard to pass on it.  It comes with the traditional Trofie, along with potato, green beans, and it’s outstanding.  But as good as it was, the Pansoti, Ligurian Ravioli with walnut sauce was the real revelation.  It’s a local specialty and unlike anything I’ve had before.  Stuffed with wild herbs, its creamy and ultra nutty.  Delicious even though the “Pansa” which means belly wasn’t super evident here.  They suppose to look like Ravioli with fat beer bellies.

We were on a mission to eat as much seafood as possible in Luguria before moving inland for over a week.  Lobster with Taglierini and tomato sauce was sufficiently flavorful, or divine once you factor the price (I dont remember the exact cost but trust me on this).  Fried and grilled fresh seafood was all good, with the standouts being the shrimp and Langoustines.  They get a pass for the forgettable desserts however.  This is one of two particularly memorable meals in Genoa.  The other being the great Rosmarino.

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

L’oste di Borgo – A Slow Jewel in Colle di Val d’Elsa

L’oste di Borgo - TartareI get cranky when a meal doesnt go my way back at home.  I tend to get very quiet, and everyone at the table usually knows it at some point no matter how hard I try to hide it.  But when it happens on vacation, its closer to a clinical depression.  After months of preparations, somehow I picked a place that just served me cardboard flavored crostini.  I start to doubt my research abilities and sometimes even change plans to maximize probabilities.  On my last trip, midpoint, I cancelled all remaining hotel dining, even though I read nothing but good things about them.

Thankfully the bad meals were few and far between.  The only quibble was that some of the really good ones were very early in their respective legs.  So when we came across similar dishes in the region we were often disappointed.  Such was the case with L’oste di Borgo in the picture perfect Tuscan town of Colle di Val d’Elsa.  Our first meal in Tuscany this time set the bar maybe a little too high.

Finding L’oste di Borgo is easy.  Enter the main gate (Porta Nuova) and walk until you see the first evidence of life conversing with other life.  The young couple that took over the space not too long ago runs the place like a well-oiled machine.  If you are in a rush, this place is probably not for you.  Its “Slow Food” in every sense.  From the wait, to the explanation of the 0 km ingredients (or 5 to be exact), and the enjoyment.  When things taste this good, three hour meals are pure joy.  When its not, its pure Tortura.

L’oste di Borgo - Appetizer mix

The mixed appetizer platter is nothing short of a triumph, especially once you compare it to other places.  Fresh, local, peppery Salami, silky Prosciuto, Crostini with liver and lardo, fruits, various spreads and more.  Impeccable attention to raw material.  Then comes an expertly prepared, Piemonte style, hand chopped Beef Tartare.  Not the prized Chianina but who cares when it tastes so good.  There was also a fine chicken, and Tagliata, but get the Tartare.

The Pici Cacio e Pepe was another big hit, and most likely best I ever had.  We enthusiastically ordered three more of this during this trip and they never got quite as peppery or creamy.  But the most interesting dish was the Paccheri coated with a Scamerita ragu.  Thats a white ragu of the back of the pork neck.  Only in Italy we experience such flavor from such little meat.  And only in Italy you can wash it all down with a nice dry red litter for the price of a NY glass.  One of our new favorites in Tuscany.     

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Colle di Val d’Elsa

IMG_9318What is the perfect base?  Its not rocket science.  Put your destination stars on the map, and pick something in the middle.  The only decision is whether it will be a city, a town, village, or something in the countryside like a villa or Agriturismo.  You’ll find many advantages and disadvantages with all options.  Thats why mixing it up a little works for many.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is a town in central Tuscany, or “North” Tuscany when you look at it from the tourist or wine vantage point, with Val d’Orcia in the south and Chianti in the north.  Its perched on a hill on top of River Elsa and the Esla Valley, hence the name which took us a good three days to pronounce.  Its smack in between the “The Kings of the North”, Siena and San Gimignano.  That makes Chianti well within reach, and Florence less than an hour by car.

But what makes Colle even more unique is the town itself, and the lack of those pesky tourists.  Its not in the destination level of Lucca, Pisa, or Siena as its lacking the monuments and attractions.  But as a base, it offers just enough.  Colle has a picturesque old town (Colle Alta), a new town surrounding a beautiful square, and another “town” which is sort of something in between the old and the new.  The old town sits on top of the new town.  In fact the only modern structure you’ll see in the old town is the elevator connecting it to the new town below.  It looks and functions like a time machine.  I’m slightly influenced by a dark German series I’m watching now on Netflix called well, Dark.  Everything looks like a time machine to me these days.

IMG_3612

But lack of tourists can sometimes feel that, lacking, if you dont find a thriving local life.  Thats not a problem with Colle.  Plenty of bakeries, restaurants, markets, atmospheric squares and even a glass museum.  Colle di Val d’Elsa produces 15% of the world’s crystal, and roughly 95% of Italy’s production.  Its the birthplace of the famous artist Arnolfo di Cambio.  One of the most famous restaurants in Tuscany, and the only Michelin star establishment in Colle, took his name.

Stay – Palazzo San Lorenzo.  A former hospital turned into a serviceable, modern hotel.  Easy to get in and out with a car.  Ample parking within 5 minute walk outside the only gate remaining.  Comfortable huge rooms, decent breakfast, with a restaurant and spa.

Eat – L’oste di Borgo.  A  young couple running what looks like one of the more popular restaurants in town.   More to come on this gem very soon

See – The mentioned glass museum, old town and the palazzos lining the main road on top, the new town at night, and more vistas than you can count.  Well, on two hands at least.

 

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa

IMG_E0441Caterina Campodonico was a peasant that worked hard selling necklaces made of nuts and loafs of breads.  Before she died in 1882, she was determined to show her legacy by hiring the most expensive sculptor around, Lorenzo Orengo, and a poet to build her monument.  In order to do that she had to sell a lot of nut necklaces and save all her profits.  So its easy to see why the “Peanut Seller” in the magnificent Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, became a symbol for the hard working people of Genoa.  In the pictures below you can see her proudly wearing one of her necklaces.

Caterina is one of many stories in this outdoor museum.  I’ve seen plenty of interesting cemeteries, but not with so much expression and emotion.  Its worth checking it out just for a handful of angels, like the one we called the William H Macy angel (below), and possibly the sexiest angel in the world.  Around the same time Caterina Campodonico died in 1882, Giulio Monteverde designed this most sensual angel (top picture and one more below) to guard the tomb of of the Oneto family.  No wonder Macy looks grumpy.  He’s nowhere near her.

IMG_0496

There’s also the grave of the Genoa born Giuseppe Mazzini who helped free and unify Italy.  His life and efforts read like a binge worthy Netflix series.  He’s so important to Genoa, that they celebrate him twice, June 22 when he was born, and March 10 when he died.  And then there’s the grave of the estranged wife of Oscar Wilde’s, Constance Lloyd, which I couldnt find.  Not sure how she would feel knowing that her descendants added “Wife of Oscar Wilde” on her stone.  All the info out there suggests she did not want that association.

Genoa gets often shortchanged and overlooked by Italy tourists. The striking Staglieno is perhaps the #1 reason why you should not only visit this city, but stay a while.  And there’s a lot More Than This (the Genoa slogan you see everywhere these days).  I didnt know they were such big fans of Brian Ferry.  Click on the pictures below for a closer look

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Antiche Sere (Bevagna) – Sons of Anarchy

Antiche Sere chickpea soupIf you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick.  Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.  I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it.  “Are you positive this is it?  From the parking lot we passed more inviting places.  Like, all of them.  And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”.  They said none of this out loud of course.  They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.

The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic.  The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos?  I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat.  Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it.  Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home.  So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent.  And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers.  And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot.  The type that know what they are and gained a following.  They type you target, and not bump into by accident.

Antiche Sere

Antiche Sere LogoThis being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive.  One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact.  As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space.  You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean.  And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.

The menu is small.  The first sign that this is gonna be good.  The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it.  I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this.  The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.

Antiche Sere mushroomStarted with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup.  Clams from Ancora and local  chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya).  This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion.  Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day.  Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms.  Eggplant parmigiana was another winner.  And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.

But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”.  A dish more common in pricey French joints.  Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor.  One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local.  All washed down with delicious local beer.

Antiche Sere RavioliAntiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.