La Tellina in Siena – All in the Family

Italy - 2013 1449I don’t know why it took me so long to write about La Tellina.  Its not like I was busy writing about more important things.  But the truth is this was a memorable and fun lunch.  Picking this particular one I remember wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t able to find many bloggers or Chowhounders out there talking about Siena.  But as much as I prefer not to follow TripAdvisor forum recommendations, I’ve decided in this case to trust the Siena expert with a pizza avatar from Alaska.  Forum helpers with food, wine glass or Borat icons usually know their food.  Do not trust those with cute animals or pictures of their babies.

If you look at the dictionary for classic family trattoria, you may see a picture of La Tellina, inside and out.  Husband cooks, wife serves, and sister and mistress are in the act as well, if I understood correctly, not really sure.  La Tellina specializes in seafood and cuisine from the south (cook from Naples) which was completely fine with us after a Pici filled 4 days in Tuscany.

We started with a fine and refreshing Caprese salad. Absolutely fantastic fresh mussels with “I’m not washing my hands anytime soon” addictive sauce.  I was dipping everything in there including fingers and car keys.  Grilled polenta with some of the best tasting porcini of the trip was spot on.

Homemade meatballs were as solid as traditional meatballs can get.  I live in the meatball capital of the world and these were some great melt in your mouth balls. Spaghetti with fresh mussels and clams – garlicky, packed with flavor. Simply grilled whole sea bass was perfectly cooked.  We love to grill whole branzinos at home and this one was better than we ever did.

La Tellina - Caprese La Tellina  -Mussels La Tellina - Poricini La Tellina  -meatballs La Tellina Spaghetti La Tellina Staff La Tellina

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Lazy Post – Siena in Pictures

Italy - 2013 1477Top 5 reasons for a lazy post today…

5)  Last minute kids dentist appointment.  Meaning, I remembered in the last minute that I have to take the kids to the dentist

4)  I had to take out the dishes from the dishwasher.  Note:  I’m only allowed to take them out, not put them in.  Mrs Ziggy doesnt like the method I use to put them in.

3)  I had to help the kids with their homework.  By help I mean take their new phones away from them

2)  I would like to watch the MLB playoffs, please, for a change

1)  I’m lazy

The 2 scenic shots below are from the stunning drive from Siena to Asciano.  Enjoy!

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Piccola Trattoria Guastini – Meal Of The Year

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 however, hasnt missed a beat.  A super versatile chef who is like Houdini in that kitchen.

Piccola Trattoria Guastini - Faraona

One can spend hours on that terrace.  And we did.  But before you knew it, we were munching on delicate eggplant parm featuring fresh, tangy tomato with buffalo mozzarella.  Then came the same great crostini with creamy chicken liver, onion and apple we had last time.  Superb Pici topped with tomatoless Ragu of Chianina, the local cattle so prized its announced on the menu.  It always amazes me how the Tuscan extract so much flavor from such little meat.  And of course there was Tortelli again, packed with that addictive fresh ricotta.

That versatility is especially showing with meats, particularly game birds.  This time we enjoyed a fantastic, most tender Faraona (guinea fowlwith pistachios and raisins.  And a roasted Maialino – delightfully salty, crunchy, and fatty in all the right places.  Like slow dancing with your mother-in-law.  A proper Tiramisu, and an even better Ricotta with honey.  All enjoyed with a Pieropan 2015 Soave.  GO!

September 10, 2013 Post (Old Location)

The “Saving the best for last” cliché doesn’t quite make sense to me in this context.  How do you know its the best if you haven’t done it yet.  Surely it can turn out merely “pretty good”, or perhaps one of the earlier meals rises to the occasion.  With that said, I cant help but anticipate and suspect whether I’m leaving the best for last sometimes.  Piccola Trattoria Guastini, our last meal in Tuscany was not only the best meal in Tuscany, it was the best meal of the entire 12 day trip which included about 20 pretty good ones.

GuastiniEmanuela and Davide Guastini run this popular spot in the tiny village of Valiano not too far from Montepulciano.  Sunflower galore on the way there from the Cortona direction. Gorgeous terrace overlooking the area I can only describe as “the other side of A1” which doesn’t sound as sexy as the real name I keep forgetting (Val di Chiana).  Everything was working that night – the sublime food, the wine, the mood, the comfort, the gracious hosts, and the one ingredient missing from just about every other place we visited, locals.  Guastini - Crostini

Started with, what else, more amazing crostini this time with chicken liver and caramelized onions – sweet and savory.  Followed that with an ultra fresh Caprese salad.  Cant get much better than this.  Tortelli with ricotta were topped with fresh tomatoes and basil, almost resulted in a family feud (I won simply by staring).  One particular stunner was the ravioli stuffed with pigeon with 2 succulent pieces to boot.  Our first pigeon of the trip resulted in a messy moment of silence.Guastini - Ravioli Guastini - Tortelli

More deliciousness followed in the form of fried rabbit which we couldnt get enough of.  Glorious duck encrusted with fennel, one of those dishes you know will be good as soon as it arrives.  My nose and sense of smell were working overtime that night.

Guastini - rabbit Guastini - Duck

I had a long talk with Davide about food and after voicing my slight disappointment with the Bisteccas in Florence and the region, he comes back minutes later with a full plate of Tagliata, sliced Chianina beef perfectly cooked with olive oil.  This was absolutely delicious.  Who knew that the best steak of the trip would be the free one.  Great desserts here as well.  Panna Cotta with chocolate sauce, ricotta mousse with honey and hazelnuts (seems like a specialty here in the region) and a fine tiramisu. Guastini - Chianina

It was packed with locals which was not surprising considering the restaurant was suggested by a restaurant owner in Montepulciano.  Reservations are a must.  If you want a quick meal, this is certainty not the place.  Like Da Roberto and many of the other places we visited, Guastini oozes Slow Food freshness.  A meal you need to experience at least once on vacation.  Guastini is why I come to ItalyGuastini - Pana Cotta

Guastini patio

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Parking in Tuscany – The Survival Guide


After reading the helpful tips below, click here to view the parking maps.

So you decided to rent a car in Tuscany?  Mazal Tov!  Here’s what you need to do first…

1)  Get up and dim the lights

2)  Open that bottle of Prosecco you were saving for that special occasion.  The special occasion is here.

3)  Open your laptop and pump up this baby in the background

4)  Go to Google Maps and start “Google Driving” all over Tuscany.  Thats it.  Rinse and repeat the next day

What is Google Driving you ask?  Its driving using Google’s “Street View” feature.  If you haven’t been using it to prepare for a trip somewhere, you need to start now.

While you are at it, you need to get familiar with ZTL

And now, everything you always wanted to know about parking in Tuscany (But were too afraid to ask).  Thats one of the most common questions on the boards and I spent more than my fair share looking for the most convenient lots while avoiding the dreaded ZTL signs.  Your GPS doesnt care about ZTL zones.  But Ziggy does!

So here’s what you need to know.  Click on each map to enlarge and save the locations to your maps as needed.  Disregard the “A” flags on the map and focus on where the little guy is

Note: I had to move the map to this page


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24 Hours in Lucca

Lucca - San Michele in ForoWe started our Lucca adventure with a missed turn and ended with something we feared will happen eventually but not in a foreign country.  Lets start with the missed turn

Looking at the map roughly 8,754 times prior to the trip did not stop me from missing the most important turn leading to the Alla Dimora Lucense hotel.  We circled for a little bit trying to get back to the hotel but to no avail, so I just had no choice but park on the street 200 meters away from our hotel.

Ester, our fantastic host:  “Oh no you cant leave your car there.  You will get fined since you are not a local”

Me:  “Ok, so how do I get to your garage”

Ester: “Oh its very easy.  I’ll show you”

Me thinking: Oh thank goodness.  I thought the only way is something drastic like completely leave the old city

Easter: “You need to leave the old city” pointing on the map how easily it can be done

LuccaOh well, out of the gates and back to the same gate we came from and this time I knew exactly where to turn.  After showing Ester how an American backs into an Italian garage with minimum sweat, off we go with some major eating, I’m talking about 5 meals sight seeing.

I just took a moment to think about how to best describe Lucca and I’m having a hard time.  Its either indescribable or the show I’m currently watching (chopped) is interfering with my writing.  (Mrs Ziggy if you reading: I think its time for me to get an office now that my blogging career is taking off.  I highly doubt Katie Parla is writing posts from a noisy living room.  And we are out of Halva).  But Lucca is unique, and being in Lucca just felt different to me in ways I cant quite explain.

First stop:  Palazzo Pfanner and its lovely garden right by our hotel.  We really enjoyed this place and spent a bit too much time here, mostly taking roughly 100 pictures of ourselves jumping from a bench.  I would show you my shots but its NSFW.Lucca - Palazzo Pfanner

Instead of having the customary 2 meals in Lucca I chose to snack around during the day.  We wound up going to 2 particular places 4 times (2 each).

Da Felice is the oldest Pizza in town, and the the most popular with locals.  We sampled some delicious pizza with salami, and another one with prosciutto that blended nicely with the rest of the ingredients.  But to be honest, I wasnt there for the pizza.  I came for the Cecina, thin  pancake like or crepe if you will made of chickpea flour.  But since they were down to the last few slices I opted to come back later for a fresh batch.Giusti

And around the corner is another local favorite, Forno Giusti.  The smells alone in this bakery worth going in.  People love candle scents, perfume, etc, while I feel at home inside a bakery like this.  We sampled some focaccia (plain and with cheese) and Buccellato, a simple sweet sticky cake with raisins.  But everything else including the fine looking focaccia sandwiches looked amazing.  By the end of the trip “Forno” became my new favorite Italian word.  Surpassing Tartufo and Finocchiona.Lucca -Forno Lucca - Giusti

Turn the corner again and you are staring at one of the most stunning church exteriors in all of Tuscany, in my opinion at least, San Michele in Foro (top picture) or San Michele near “Forno” as I call it.  Built on top of a Roman Forum (hence “Foro”), this Romanesque beauty and its ornate facade is not to be missed.  Same goes for their Duomo, Cathedral of San Martino and to a lesser degree the peaceful Basilica of San Frediano.  The good news is that you will not find a more walkable city, so seeing all three and all the sites in Lucca is fairly simple.  Although we biked to the DuomoLucca - San Martino Lucca - Basilica of San Frediano

Right near San Michele is a little square that is all about Lucca’s claim to fame, Puccini.  The composer’s house which is now a small museum, and a statue dominate the square.

We then proceeded with a little bit of shopping.  By shopping I mean the girls went inside a large store while I waited outside with other annoyed husbands.  They were inside long enough for me to get invited to a Bat Mitsvah in Israel.

“My name is Lucca and I live on the second floor” couldnt get the song out of my head.  Especially after numerous stops at our hotel where we stayed on the second floor.  Italian 2nd floor, like American 3rd floor.  In Lucca you have to stay inside the walls to maximize convenience and Alla Dimora Lucense really did the trick with its clean and spacious accommodation for the 4 of us.  Breakfast by Ester not too shabby either.  More on what we left behind soon

Lucca - lawnsInternet connection issues limited my ability to explain to the family some of the sites.  I was relying on some websites I had saved but couldn’t open them.  So in order to make it interesting for the kids I had to invent things.

Me: “And here you have what looks like a statue of Lenin” (some statue that sort of reminded me of Lenin)”

kid 1: “John Lenin?”

Me:  “Ahhm Yes, John Lenin.  Liberator of Lucca”

Kid 2: “I’m hungry”

Lucca bikingMe: “But we just…never mind”  It suddenly hit me that all the numerous “but we just ate” arguments never really went anywhere

After a short rest it was time to take advantage of Lucca’s main attraction.  The one of a kind Lucca walls, a 4 km park encircling around the old town.  We picked up the bikes in Piazza Santa Maria but there are bike rentals all over town.  Some of them I pointed on the map below.  We simply had a blast biking all the way around.  And to truly appreciate this scenic town biking around it is the way to go.  Dont forget to look outside of the walls for more views, and to go down occasionally to visit other areas of the old town and some gelato of course.

Lucca Walls

Time for Cecina.  Delicios!  Add a little bit of seasoning, Delicious-er!  And since we are already in the neighborhood, more yumminess from the Forno where we enjoyed mini flat pizzas.  Basically I just went in to get another whiff and wound up buying more food

Lucca - Cecina Lucca Giusti Pizza

Lucca - De FeliceAfter another short break we went on to climb Guinigi Tower, one of numerous towers all over Tuscany built by wealthy families to either symbolize wealth or for protection (the towers of San Gimignano).  Again, I have to use the word unique here as on the top of the tower you find shade in 2 oak trees, with plenty of breathtaking views to go around.  No wonder John Lenin found refuge here as a small child.Lucca anfiteatro

Lucca Guinigi TowerAt this point most of the tourists are gone and walking around is a little more pleasant, although you dont mind the tourists here so much.  I couldnt help but notice the Lucca dogs dont stop to poop but do it while walking.  Possibly foreign dogs walking around marveling at the architecture while their owners desperately trying to clean their mess.  I almost felt like grabbing a few napkins to help this poor woman.  Almost!

On the way to dinner we bumped into a lovely couple I met on Trip Advisor.  They drive to Lucca every year from England and stay for a while.  It was very cool meeting them.

Lucca - Piazza AntfiteatroOne benefit of staying in Lucca overnight is visiting Piazza Anfiteatro during the day and night.  The site of a former Amphitheater holding 10,000 spectators.  And of course the site of John Lenin’s eventual execution for giving away Chianina secrets to the Florentines, as I explained to the family.

For dinner I chose a place called Baralla and was very pleased with the meal overall.  A fantastic antipasti including a very different Sopressata, farro with sundried tomatoes, bread soaked with vinegar and onion and basil which tasted much better than it sounds.  I got spoiled with all the Tuscan spoiled bread specialties.Lucca - Baralla Starters

Loved the pastas here. Seeing truffles on the menu finally was like seeing David.  These were black truffles from San Miniato shaved on tagliolini and although summer black truffles arent the best quality 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 which reminded me of Russian Siberian pilmeni stuffed with mystery meat with a meat ragu on top. Really enjoyed this one.Lucca - Baralla Truffles Lucca - Baralla tortelli Lucchese

The Bistecca Di Chianina was surprisingly a little overcooked (more like medium) which I didnt think was possible in Italy.  The rabbit cacciatora was more like it.  Tender and flavorful.  Good tiramisu and a fantastic parfait with pistachios and dark chocolate capped a fine meal overall.Lucca - Baralla Chianina Lucca - Baralla Rabbit Lucca - Baralla

As we were saying our goodbyes to Lucca it was time to say our hellos to… Lucca.  We expected this moment to happen as we’ve seen it happen to all our friends numerous times, sometimes even digging through the trash cans outside with gloves.  But we never expected it to happen in a foreign country.  My oldest forgot her retainer inside a napkin over breakfast and so we had come back.  Basically just delaying my next anxious moment:  Taking pictures of people trying to straighten the tower of Pisa.Pisa

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Da Roberto in Montisi – Slow Food Nation

Da Roberto - Insalata lagumi“We are far from Da Roberto” is a phrase I’ve used more than once already.  The first time was in Rome’s Le Mani in Pasta where we got treated like second class citizens. The last time was in my house where Mrs Ziggy flat out refused to disclose where she got the couscous. I suspect now that it wasnt organic couscous.

Da Roberto, in the remote Tuscan village of Montisi, represents everything I love about eating in Italy.  Fantastic setting, great food, local ingredients, and a man whose passion for food is contagious.  I said “Man” instead of “Chef” for a reason.  “I’m not a chef, I’m not a cook, I’m simply here to present the finest local ingredients in the simplest form”.  And what ingredients they were.  Every grain, every bean, every tomato, cow or pig that you will consume at Roberto’s house, its origin will be explained to you in full detail.  Roberto’s freezer is turned off and his has no microwave.  You get fresh or you get nothing.  The only salt in the house is for the pasta water in the kitchen and out on your table. The fact that our American salt demanding palates only reached for the salt once throughout the meal apeaks volumes.Da Roberto in Montisi
As you come in through Roberto’s herb garden and security guards (pictured above) you immediately get the sense that you are not in Kansas anymore.  The 10 or so items you see on the board are carefully selected dishes that showcase what I was trying to describe above.  Meaning, you don’t ask “what’s good here” or “what do you recommend”, or what’s the house specialty.  The board is the specialty.
Some of the things we ate…
Insalata lagumi (top) – 5 different beans with pecorino, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, carrots, stem of garlic, olive oil.  All work together like a beautiful symphony.  A fantastic starter

Pici, the Tuscan specialty we couldn’t get enough of, was well represented here, in a healthier more organic way.  Pici with Chianina ragu – most excellent.  Pici with pork sausage, pecorino and sweet onions was even more satisfying.  The fact that we had Pici for lunch that day and the previous day did not affect our enjoyment.

Da Roberto - pici with sausage Da Roberto - Pici with Chianina ragu

Our short streak of overcooked, dry secondis was stopped here with a lovely, tender roast of chianina.  And “The last sausage of the season from a {vendor name} 15 kilometers away”.  Sorry Roberto’s guests who came in the following days and months. You missed a darn good sausage.

Da Roberto - Sausage Da Roberto - Roast of Chianina

You will be hard pressed finding a better Slow Food ambassador.  “Slow Food”, the fight against fast food and globalization in Italy means fighting a bug that is in its infancy, or hasn’t fully developed yet. While in the USA, its like fighting a late stage cancer.  In Lucca, they recently banned any non-Italian restaurants from opening within the ancient walls, leaving 4 kebab houses as the only ethnic options in the historic center.  While I, ethnic food lover Ziggy, cant even begin to imagine life without ethnic food, I understand what Lucca, and other Tuscan towns like Siena (who banned fast food in its beautiful historic center) are trying to do.  They are trying to prevent the floodgates from opening.  Can you really blame them?  Its a sensitive subject in Italy that deserves its own post.  But as much as I like living in ethnic food capital of the world, New York City, I’m not sure I would mind trading all that for a few Robertos and its farms in my area. Well, at least for a short while.   Gotta have that non-organic couscous eventually.  Da Roberto - Dessert Da Roberto -  Montisi

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Villa Grazianella – Foodie Heaven in Val d’Orcia

Villa GrazianellaFor the past 12 months or so since I started this blog, I deviated from the main subject from time to time.  On occasion I would write about a particular play that we saw, or cereal, among other silly things.  And although we are very fortunate to be able to feed my other obsession, travel, I have never written about any hotel, B&B or any type of accommodation.  In Europe I don’t really care that much for accommodations as I just want a quiet spot and a comfortable bed, even if it means staying outside the city center as we normally do, or getting a room with a view of a brick wall as I opted one time.   In Tuscany however I cared a little more and somehow by pure luck scored a villa that left an impression like no other place we visited.

The idea was simple.  5 night stay (later changed to 4)  in a place where we can relax a little in the middle of a tiring trip, situated in that classic Tuscan setting we only imagined.  Good food and wine was a major plus.  We are normally the last people on earth that would spend dinner in a hotel but this is an entirely different ball of wax.  Villa Grazianella delivered all that and more in a big way, to the point where we briefly considered extending our stay by another day and cutting our time in Rome short.

When you are situated in a place surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and complete silence, its impossible to capture that in pictures.  Even on the 4th and last morning we found it breathtaking.  The villa, a restored former Montepulciano bishop country home,  is situated a good (welcome to Tuscany via vineyards) 15 minutes from Montepulciano.  However, while most tourists focus on the Val d’Orcia part of the region, the villa is also near the stunning Val di Chiana, or Valdichiana, or the much less sexier name I came up with, “the other side of A1”.  Our  meal of the trip perhaps just happened to be in that region, 15 minutes from the villa.  Much of the vienyards surrounding the villa are their own, Fattoria del Cerro.  In fact if you are using a GPS you may be able to find the villa by this name only, although Google can pinpoint “Villa Grazianella” for you

I read about Patrizia’s legendary cooking before we arrived and the plan was to have dinner at the villa on the first night.  The dinner turned out to be one the most memorable of the entire trip.  Deliciously savory Pappa al Pomodorro, Garganelli with sausage and zucchini ragu one of the yummiest pasta dishes of the trip.  Garganneli in NYC restaurants comes in all shapes and sizes due to improper machinery, but this was the Garganelli I know and love. Chicken Cacciatore with green beans just like mamma used to make.  Well, not my mamma really.  Its just an expression.  After that dinner, coming back every night from a different place to a full dining room of guests felt awkward.  I had to apologize to Patrizia on a nightly basis and keep reminding her how we enjoyed her cooking.  She cooks different items every day of the week by the way.  At the pool, fellow New Yorkers were marvelling about her Ravioli form the night before, “best thing we ate this trip”.  2 days later another American couple was describing the singing they heard from the kitchen while the ladies were making fresh Pici, a common Tuscan pasta.

Well I would start singing too if I lived there.  Alba, Patrizia, grazie mille!  I miss you and hope to see you real soon.

Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella Villa Grazianella

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Florence – Scenes from Nerbone and Mercato Centrale

Italy - 2013 225During dinner an hour ago while we enjoyed overcooked 10% fat flavorless fantastic burgers with fresh mozzarella, I asked the clan what do you remember most from Nerbone and Mercato Centrale.  Here are the results:

Child #1:  It smelled of fish

Child #2:  I need to go to the bathroom

Wife #1:  The lines and confusion at Nerbone but fantastic pastas, market with great assortment and display of things like a cows head.

Agree on all counts.  For all the food lovers out there, and if you are reading this blog, unless you have a bizarre misspelled words fetish, you probably are a food lover – This is the place to visit in Florence.

Lets start with Nerbone, serving the Cucina Povera since 1874, and I got the picture to prove it.  Meaning, the picture of the sign that says since 1874, not a picture from 1874.  Don’t believe anyone can dispute that fact.  This is a very popular place and you cant really miss it inside the market.  You do need to come early (before noon if you can) to beat the crowds and not much later than that as by around 1 to 1:30 they may start running out of things.

You stand on the line leading to the cashier, order the pastas and the sandwiches and pay.  At this point you get the pastas on the spot and get a ticket that shows how many sandwiches you ordered.  You then need to go on another line leading to the counter on the right, present the ticket, and tell them again the sandwich(es) you want.  The ticket will just show the number of sandwiches you paid for.  I suggest doing what we did;  dispatch the kids to find seats while you wait on line, pay, eat the pastas, then dispatch the wife to get the sandwich (what, I did all the work doing all this amazing research)

Available pastas differ every day.  On this day we enjoyed a very good funghi risotto (much better than a risotto we had at a former Michelin star in orvieto later in the trip), a terrific Tagliatelle with rabbit sauce, and an ok Farfale with pesto.  On our first full day in Italy we got a little excited with the pastas so only one sandwich to share.  A very good Bolitto (boiled beef) with salsa verde (green sauce).  Good bread and although I was wishing for more meat, it was an enjoyable Panini.  Highly recommend NerboneItaly - 2013 208 Italy - 2013 210 Italy - 2013 216Italy - 2013 211

When people ask me, “Ziggy, what in your opinion is the top museum in Italy” simple answer for me really; The Rialto market in Venice.  The most colorful, unusual, jaw dropping pieces of art I’ve ever seen.  Ok, no one really asked me that question yet.  But if anyone ever asks me, that would be my answer (can someone please ask me that question in the comment section, so I can finally use that line in cocktail parties in NYC).  Also, can someone please invite me to a cocktail party.

Anyway, really enjoyed walking around this market/museum.  I wouldn’t mind coming here on an empty stomach tasting everything in sight.  So much better than a Sunday in Costco!

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Gattavecchi – Flavor Carnival in Montepulciano

View from MontepulcianoSo where to start?  Great drives, great scenery, great architecture, great George Costanza like statues, GREAT EATS.  What should my first post about this trip be?  I find my answer in my wallet.  A card from Lilian Oliveira, the passionate Brazilian cook at Gattavecchi.  The card momentarily takes me back to Lilian’s kitchen and the moment she gives me the card.  You could see it in her eyes, as if she’s saying “You start with me, little man”.

But lets go back for a second, 2 hours earlier for the “Favor” that led us to Lilian.  We get one ravioli, a small sample of Pici, Tagliatelle, and Pappardelle that we just made from scratch at our fun cooking class in Le Logge del Vignola.  Not enough for a full meal.  As good as it was, the idea that we almost ate our own cooking on that gorgeous day in Montepulciano instead of the once in a lifetime La Cucina di Lilian, makes me shiver slightlyGattavecchi

The Gattavecchi Cantina, lies just outside the city center, an oasis far away from the tourists, at least it seems. The serene garden setting makes you feel like you’ve just driven 15 kilometers (far away in Tuscan country side standards) to eat here.  Step inside and you are transported to a 12th century convent where you’ll find a large convent dining room and the wine cellars.  Daniela Gattavecchi, who gave us a little tour, along with her 2 brothers, are 4th generation proud wine makers.

But we are here for the food.  4 outstanding dishes including a best of the trip nominee.  The salumi platter was one of the best of a very salumi filled trip.  The addictive truffled salami alone elevates this one to another level.  Then, best dish of the trip nominee, an assorted Bruschetta plate we’ve never seen – died and 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 a potatoes-onion-bell pepper thingy (blogger technical term), and my favorite white beans spread with bread and veggies (ribolita?).   A plate as spectacular as the views around itGattavecchi - SalumiGattavecchi - Bruschetta

A second course of excellent gnocchi with mozzarella and light tomato sauce, and Taglietelle with Cinghiale (wild boar) ragu, a carnival in my mouth, capped this memorable meal.  All washed down of course with a great tasting of Gattavecchi’s Rosso di Montepulciano, Nobile di Montepulciano, and Nobile Riserva.

Gattavecchi - GnocchiGattavecchi - Taglietelle

One unforgettable moment was a visit to Lilia’s kitchen.  It didnt take long to see that passion and realize that “We are not in Kansas anymore”, or NYC where I’m from.  You just dont see this in an ordinary looking place like this in America where you may see perhaps 2 people chatting about the new record they just set in Doodle Jump on the last smoking break.  In comparison, you have an army, a team led by a passionate cook that will not let anything less than perfect leave that kitchen.  A kitchen filled only with the freshest, and finest raw ingredients.   An eye opener.

Cant recommend this gem in Montepulciano highly enough.  And special thanks to the local who recommended it.  You know who you areGattavecchi Gattavecchi Gattavecchi Gattavecchi

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Italy – The Itinerary

Italy - 2013 1310So we just came back from 12 days traveling in beautiful Italia.  I was asked a few times already for the complete itinerary so figured I might as well post it here.

Short Version:  Florence 3 nights, Pick up car, Lucca 1 night, Villa near Montepulciano 4 nights, Rome 4 nights

Long Version:

Day 1)  Florence – Got to the hotel (Palazzo Alfani – no complaints) around noon.  Quick lunch at Pugi pizza.  Just strolled around the center mostly, great ice cream at Carabé, visited Palazzo Medici Riccardi,   Palazzo Vecchio (must) along with an easy climb of its tower.  Good dinner at Sostanza

Day 2)  Florence – Fantastic full day.  Duomo climb in the morning (a must!), Duomo museum,  Bargello gallery, lunch in Nerbone at the Central market, stroll around the market (must), Santa Maria Novella, Procacci for snack/drink, Carapina for ice cream (perhaps best of the trip) lovely dinner at La Pentola

Day 3)  Florence – David at athe Accademia (across the street from the hotel), Pitti Palace + gardens, Lunch at Da Ruggero, Santa Croce church we found closed for an event.  Good Ice Cream at dei Neri, the great synagogue, Basilica di San Miniato al Monte (must!), Piazzale Michelangelo, dinner at Osteria San Niccolò (meh)Italy - 2013 105 Italy - 2013 394 Italy - 2013 475

Day 4)  Lucca – Picked up car in Florence.  Stayed in Alla Dimora Lucense for the night.  All sorts of snacks for lunch between 2 place right near each other, Da Felice and Giusti.  Toured Lucca’s old town all day including biking the walls.  Dinner at Barrala

Day 5)   Pisa/Volterra/Villa Grazianella.  Drove to Pisa, then Volterra where we took a private tour with a local, Annie Adair from Tuscan Tours.  Lunch with Annie at l’incontro.  Drove to Villa Grazianella near Montepulciano and spent the rest of the day there at the pool.  Great dinner at the Villa where we stayed for 4 nightsItaly - 2013 828 Italy - 2013 775 Italy - 2013 625

Day 6)   Villa Grazianella.  Drove all over the region.  Started with cheese tasting and tour at the Il Casale farm (must), Drove to Abbey of Sant’Antimo stopping at Bagno Vignoni on the way.  Lunch at Il Pozzo in S. Angelo In Colle.  Quick stop at Montalcino followed by a visit to spectacular La Foce villa and 5 pm tour.  Dinner at La Porta in Monticchiello

Day 7)  Villa Grazianella.  Pasta making cooking class at Le Logge del Vignola in Montepulciano, toured the town, lunch at Gattavecchi (wow).  Visited the towns of San Quiricio and Pienza.  Dinner at Da Roberto in Montisi

Day 8)  Villa Grazianella.  Day trip to Sienna.  Lunch in La Tellina.  Drive to Asciano for the views.  Dinner at Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the village of ValianoItaly - 2013 1105 Italy - 2013 1124 Italy - 2013 1395 Italy - 2013 1570

Day 9)  Rome.  Heavy regret for not staying one more night in the villa.  Drive to Rome, with a major stop in Orvieto on the way.  Check into our hotel in Rome, Trastevere Colors (4 nights).  Dinner in the Testaccio district.  Pizzeria da Remo, followed by some snacks in 00100 Pizza.

Day 10)  Rome.  Just walked around the Pantheon and Trevi area.  Lunch in La Campana.  Borghese gallery, Spanish Steps.  Dinner in Le Mani in Pasta

Day 11)  Rome.  Colosseum, Forum, walk to campo for the market.  Snack in Roscioli Bakery, Il Farno campo, Monti area including Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and moses in San Pietro in Vincoli.  Dinner at Roscioli

Day 12)  Rome.  Vatican including garden tour.  Lunch in Il Sorpasso,  Piazza Navona, the great synagogue, dinner in Cesare al Casaletto

Day 13)  Staten Island, NY ;(  Walked around Trastevere area in the morning.  Fly back homeItaly - 2013 1889 Italy - 2013 1963 Italy - 2013 2089 Italy - 2013 2172 Italy - 2013 2283 Italy - 2013 2393 Italy - 2013 2510 Italy - 2013 2611

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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