The western Chianti villa at which we are staying is a charming, rustic home down a steep dirt road and about 15 minutes from the nearest decent-sized town. Halfway between Barberino and Certaldo, it requires a drive to get anywhere. Although we sought out and generally ate nice lunches wherever we happened to be during the day, dinners tended to be either take-home (especially of interesting cheeses and salumis) or restaurants that were close to home.
Luckily, our friends provided recommendations of a number of places near the villa. Even luckier, we found that one of the closest restaurants, in the very historic, but currently sleepy neighboring town of Petrognano, would turn out to be one of our two favorite restaurants of our Tuscan trip.
Il Paese die Campanile in Petrognano. Our friends, at whose villa we are staying, recommended this restaurant highly. We recommend it just as highly. It is located in the tiny, historic Tuscan town of Petrognano, a 1,000-year old town that was once so large and powerful that Florence decided to destroy much of it, rather than risk a budding rivalry. Today, while the town is anything but large and powerful, it still has a few beautiful, thousand year old buildings, including Il Paese die Campanile.
The restaurant, located on the edge of a vineyard, has charming inside dining rooms, a large terrace and a big rooms for weddings and other special events. It began our first meal with amuse bouche of prosciutto and melon and a small slice of pizza with mushroom and zucchini. The real treat, however, came with our meals. Our first course of ravioli with mushrooms and truffles with spec and cheese in a cream sauce was to die for. Absolutely heavenly. Joyce’s steamed sea bass and vegetables had a wonderful flavor and my pigeon, wrapped in prosciutto with porcini mushrooms and truffles was good, although no match for Joyce’s see bass. The atmosphere on the outside patio was lovely and the service excellent. Our 2007 Casanova di Nero Rosso di Montalcono complemented a wonderful evening.
In fact, we enjoyed the restaurant so much that we broke one of our cardinal rules of travel–we went two the same restaurant twice, on the same trip.
On our second visit, we limited ourselves to two dishes: a repeat of the still wonderful mushroom ravioli and a fillet of beef with a wonderful truffle cream sauce and a "potato pie" that was much more like a soufflé than a pie. This time, we paired our food with a wine we discovered on one of the previous day’s visits: a 2007 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva.
Le Logge del Vignola in Montepulciano. This, as discussed in detail in our Montepulciano blog, was the best meal we had in Tuscany. A four-course lunch, paired with Montepulciano wines and service. Fresh local ingredients, interesting preparations, nice pairings, pleasant atmosphere and very good service, all in one of our favorite Tuscan towns. What’s not to love?
There were two other restaurants, in which we had less extravagant, but still very nice lunches.
Castello di Gabbiano (Mercatale Val di Pesa). After a tasting of Gabbiono’s wines, we headed up the hill to the winery’s restaurant. The chestnut pappardelle with braised wild boar, rosemary and juniper was the highlight. A second dish, Tuscan-style roasted baby pig with apple purée, which was somewhat overdone for my taste, was a distant second. And, after having a taste of the winery’s 2009 Belleza Riserva, we had no choice but to order a bottle with lunch.
Ristorante Badia a Coltibuono in Gaioli. We left our fates in the hands of the chef, asking for his selection of antipasti. We began with selection of salumi from a Gaiole butcher and a local chicken salad with a tasty lentil aspic and tarragon mayonnaise. We particularly enjoyed the next two dishes: a cuttlefish and shellfish soup with garlic-sautéed Swiss chard and sautéed chanterelles with pumpkin marinated in herbs and garlic. We had these dishes with three Coltibuono wines, a 2011 sauvignon blanc/chardonnay blend the 2009 Chianti Classico and the 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva.
We also ate in three Florence restaurants, with mixed results. As discussed on our Florence blog, we really enjoyed two casual restaurants, Trattoria Gigi and Mastro Ciliegia, our experience at Borzo San Jacapo, which is often mentioned as one of the best in the city, was disappointing. Unfortunately, that has been our experience in some of the most highly regarded (not to speak of expensive) Florence restaurants over our our last few trips. Although we will certainly try others on future trips, our general inclination is to wait till we get out into “the provinces” for our real Tuscan dining experiences.