Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday in Toscana

This Saturday we travelled to Toscana...

First stop was at the Barbarino Outlet mall just north of Florence. They have great deals on designer products. This trip I focussed exclusively on Dolce and Gabana and I picked up a new, gorgeous, cranberry colored wallet (my friends could attest to how badly I needed a new wallet - the old one was literally in pieces) and a pair of black, skinny dress pants which I hope will take my day to day dress up a notch from the typical jeans.

Next we headed to San Gimignano, one of my favorite villages in Tuscany, for lunch.

The main porta (door) heading into the walled city of San Gimignano
The main piazza

Cinghiale (wild boar) they are ugly but oh so delicious and quite the regional speciality

We had a wonderful lunch at Locanda Di Sant'Agostino a restaurant we went to over a year ago and have longed to go back to ever since. We enjoyed cinghiale in umido con olive which is wild boar cooked slowly in sauce so that once it arrives to the table the meat is falling apart. Thank goodness they served us this dish with plenty of bread to soak up the delicious sauce otherwise we might have just licked our plates. We finished the meal with the house made tiramisu which was somehow creamy and robust without being heavy.

After lunch we set out to find a restaurant we went to last winter where we had the very unique treat of salvia (sage) gelato. The flavor resembles mint but is more delicate and extremely refreshing. We wandered the streets and eventually found the restaurant, Ristorante Peruca. When we went in we found the restaurant closed and the family who owns and runs it sitting together having lunch. We explained to them that we came back especially for their salvia gelato and they graciously offered to serve me some and in the end they refused to let us pay - amazing hospitality!

Sitting out front of the restaurant enjoying the salvia gelato. It was just as good as I remembered it.

The beautiful Tuscan countryside

Then we were off to Panzano in Chianti for the Vino al Vino festival. It is the beginning of the wine harvest so many towns host festivals to highlight the wines of the region and give people a chance to taste them.

The vines are all heavy with dark purple grapes!
The hillside town of Panzano in Chianti

The festival was held in the town's main piazza with twenty different winemakers pouring a range of their wines. For the amazingly low price of 12 euros we each bought a glass (along with the accompanying neck bag/wine glass holder you can see me modeling in the above photo) that enabled us unlimited tastings! Obviously the majority of the wine being poured was Chianti but it was also interesting to taste the Rose and Rosato coming out of the region.

I was also particularly excited to travel to Panzano in Chianti becuase this summer I read Bill Bufford's book Heat which in part details his experience working as in intern under Dario Cecchini, the world's most famous butcher. Bufford tells great stories of this passionate man who would spontanesouly began to quote Dante at length; needless to say I was ecstatic to see the Butcher shop and meet Dario.

in front of the butcher shop

Inside there was Dario behind the display case, a tall man with strong features but an ever present smile (something that surprised me because in the book he came off as a somewhat daunting character), clearly commanding the room. In the shop, they were also serving lardo on bread. I hesitantly picked up a piece and thought what better place to try this delicacy. I took a small bite, not expecting to like it, and was instantly surprised and very, very delighted. There was an amazing contrast of crunchy, crusty bread and the smooth, silkiness of the lard as well as a healthy kick of garlic. We went back for seconds and then thirds before my heart began to hurt. While we were at the shop we found out that Dario has two restaurants in town and we quickly made reservations at Solociccia for dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant and were guided down two flights of stairs to a small room with stone walls and a large table for twelve people that took up almost the whole room. I didn't realize it was going to be a communal dining experience but I am so glad it was! Everyone came to have a good time and we enjoyed drinking copious amounts of red wine together, sharing stories and laughing. The seven course dinner was all served family style (which I love) and featured beef (what else could it feature at a butcher's restaurant). Now I would never say that I am a fan of meat in general and especially beef but this was fantastic. I actually haven't been able to stop thinking about the food since. Both Andrea and I loved what they called the "sushi of Chianti" which was a raw meatball which had been quickly seared on the outside and served with white beans. I never thought I would like raw beef, in the past just looking at the words tartare on a menu made my stomach flip, but this had a fresh, light flavor that was totally different than what I had imagined. The other big standout dish was beef cooked in vinegar. The beef was very tender having been slow cooked and seemed to just melt in our mouths. The full rich taste of the beef was balanced out at the end of each bite with the slight acidic tang of vinegar coming through.

Me and Andrea at dinner

We finished the evening my gathering in the street between the butcher shop and the restaurant (they sit directly across the street from each other) where Dario and his staff were carrying towers of shot glasses and serving after dinner liqueors to everyone. They were beyond happy to pour us as many drinks as each of us wanted.

Dario and all the ladies from our table

As we stood outside it began to rain and we could hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance and see brief flashes of lightening above us. No one ran for cover. This party was too good. The good time that all of us, so recently strangers to each other, were sharing was stronger than any rainstorm. So we got wet and we loved it.

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