In recent years, it seems that everyone is crossing the pond and heading to Tuscany in the fall. I will admit I am one of the lemmings and in a few weeks, I will be bringing a small group and sharing with them the very best of Tuscany. I can’t resist October in this beautiful region – harvest time, a crisp feel in the air, a definite reduction of the hoards of tourists. And while summertime dining is wonderful thanks to the abundance of fresh tasty produce and lovely light dishes, to be honest, I am partial to fall dining. There is something about enjoying heartier fare with a big glass of Tuscan red that is so inviting – true comfort food that feeds the body and soul. There are many incredible restaurants in Tuscan and I have included my shortlist here. The magic of Tuscan cuisine is that you can have a simple meal in a mom & pop trattoria or a multi-course meal in a Michelin star restaurant (both included on this list) and the principles of the preparation remain the same. Few ingredients, locally sourced and of the highest quality to make dishes that shine in their simplicity. That is the beauty of Tuscan cuisine. The restaurants listed below are spread throughout the Tuscan region – sounds like a good start for an itinerary to me (or am I the only one who plans my trips around the dinner stops??).
Trattoria Toscana – L’Andana
Trattoria Toscana is the creation of Alain Ducasse and is located in the lovely country manor hotel of L’Andana. This is one of my all time favorite hotels in Italy. The first time I stayed there, my room was located directly over the kitchen. While this may seem bothersome to many, I could not hear a thing, regardless of the time of day. The sense that was affected was that of smell. No need for an alarm clock in this hotel. At around 7 o’clock I was awakened by the gorgeous aroma of freshly baked pastries. As one would expect from an Alain Ducasse property, every single offering was made in house. I had planned on heading away from the hotel for dinner that evening but after experience the food and atmosphere at breakfast, I knew I had to return for dinner. I was not disappointed. Even dining alone was not dismal as the beauty of the dining room – warm and inviting, the hospitality of the waitstaff and the food made for perfect company.
Osteria La Porta – Montecchiello
While I have covered a great deal of Italy, I certainly don’t know every nook and cranny so when am in unfamiliar territory, I always solicit the help of locals. Such was the case in Val D’Orcia. I had passed through several times, stopped in towns such as Montalcino and Pienza, but I had always returned to Siena or Florence and never had the occasion to stay. When I finally did, I was dismayed that it had taken me 38 years to explore such a beautiful area. I stayed in a farmhouse turned hotel and was pointed in the direction of a little hamlet called Montecchiello and Osteria La Porta. It took 45 minutes to bounce down the bumpy farm road in my Fiat Panda and then up to this little hilltown which at 8:00 pm seemed virtually deserted save a warm glow that came from the restaurant. This place has true Tuscan cooking. I don’t remember what I had but I know that grilled pecorino was involved as well as a heaping bowl of pici, the local hand-rolled pasta. The restaurant is tiny but the folks at La Porta really know what they are doing.
Osteria di Passignano
What can’t the Antinori family do? Their name is synonymous with wonderful wines – 600 years and 25 generations of winemaking have made them somewhat of an institution in oenological circles. Despite a long-standing tradition and is steeped in history, the family has learned to innovate and offer what the people want including behind the scenes tours of the winemaking process, cooking classes and of course a critically acclaimed restaurant at La Badia di Passignano. I love this place. The food is elegant and creative without being stuffy. It’s all delicious but I really come here for one dish: ravioli stuffed with pappa al pomodoro (I am a little obsessed with the stuff as you can see in last week’s Foodie Friday post).
Dario the Butcher
My vegetarian friends, you can skip on down to #5. This place is not for you. Dario has become somewhat of a personality in the sleepy little hilltown of Panzano and well beyond. He now collaborates with the likes of Mario Batali – he has that perfect Food TV combination: personality and cooking talent. Visiting his shop or one of his three restaurants is a true experience. Dario is larger than life – if he’s not cutting meat he is quoting Dante or singing opera. If you are an adventurous eater, head to “Solociccia” where the nose to tail movement is alive and well. Yes, you will eat meat in many different ways – Dario does it well. For the more conservative, you can try the Mac Dario at his restaurant “Dario Doc” – an Italian’s version of a burger with the best damn “fries” you could ever hope for.
Cinque di Vino – San Casciano Val di Pesa
There are 8 tables in this restaurant run by a delightful couple who treat every guest as if they are family. I am sure they have a menu here but I have never looked at it. I listen as Marco rattles off the daily specials with details so descriptive that I am drooling by the time he is done. It was fall last time I was there and I enjoyed the mezzelune (stuffed pasta) with truffles. Divine. San Casciano is a lovely little village about 25 minutes outside of Florence.