Eating Certaldo – Il Castello Certaldo

Restaurant: Il Castello Certaldo

Location: Celtaldo, Italy

Date: June 24, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Nice view, ok food

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Ah, the last meal in Tuscany! (except for breakfast) We took a couple hours to visit the cute little town of Certaldo. The old town is up on a hill and you ascend by funicular. The town was great, but there weren’t a lot of restaurant options. We chose the most likely looking.


At the end of the main drag.


And the dining terrace turned out to have this rather lovely view.


And pretty courtyard.


The menu.


Olive oil and vinegar.


House wine, white.

And red. Both decent, very cheap.


Local meats, including the big one which is a special local salami with saffron in it.


Bresaola with pecorino and arugula.


Marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts.


The now familiar panzanella. Last time you’ll see it though as we’re leaving Tuscany.


A risotto with vegetables, peculiar in being slightly soupy, but supposedly decent.


A truffle risotto soup (haha, just a soupy risotto). Tasted good though.


Local pasta in pomodoro sauce.


Spaghetti alla carbonara. Not bad, although perhaps not as eggy cheesy as it could have been.


Ravioli with cheese, butter, and sage. Those that ate this felt the ravioli might have been packaged.


THe same ravioli, but with a truffle sauce. They were fine.


Roasted potatoes.


Pork fillet in balsamic sauce.


Saltimbocc alla romana. Veal with ham and sage. Pretty tasty actually, but salty.


And a bit of gelato to finish.

This was a decent meal. The patio location — which we had entirely to ourselves — was absolutely world class. The food was good. Not great by any meals, but decently executed. The company, though, was as good as the view, so all was good.

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Eating Poggibonsi – Babette

Restaurant: Ristorante Babette

Location: Poggibonsi, Italy

Date: June 19, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan Seafood

Rating: Great food, great value

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After our self selection failure on Saturday, we got another restaurant recommend from our host (the owner of our villa). He sent us to this casual but very good seafood restaurant in Poggibonsi.


As usual there is a nice outside dining space.


And a gigantic menu.


This being all seafood we got both a prosecco.


And a local white from San Gimiangano. This is one of those joints where the wine is like E10. I like this light quaffable, almost Greek-style, white.


Caprese.


One of my friends and I ordered this “assorted fish appetizer, min 2 people” which was E10 a person, it came with this and EVERY dish until the pastas! An amazing assortment. This one was “Tuna with balsamic dressing.”


Marinated white anchovies and onions.


Crostini with white I think is a fish row mayo.


Marinated Salmon with red peppercorns.


What I think are winkles, or little sea snails, in a delicious garlicky sauce.


Octopus pulp. Also garlicky.


Muscles.

Scallops stuffed with a kind of pesto scallop paste.

Some tasty but undetermined shellfish “stew.” Wow, that’s a lot for two people and E20 total.


Home made pasta with a kind of tomato pesto.


White Risotto with mixed seafood. This was good, and unusual in that usually seafood risottos have some tomato in them.


Risotto with squid.


Strozzapreti with Fish ragu. This was highly unusual (for me) and really good. It was essentially a ragu made using shellfish instead of ham. It was very salty, with a significantly briny taste, but very tasty. The al dente shells were a fantastic foil.


Pizza Margherita.


Mixed fried fish. Lightly fried and delicious.


Branzino, simply grilled and filleted at the table.


A very very typical fish preperaration all over the Medditeranian, but done very well here.

The final presentation of the fish.

Not only was this restaurant a bit different, being all seafood, and very good, but it was an incredible deal. The bill was less than E20 a person and we had an incredible amount of food.

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Eating Poggibonsi – Osteria da Camillo

Restaurant: Osteria da Camillo

Location: Poggibonsi, Italy

Date: June 18, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Very mediocre

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We were in Poggibonsi to drop my brother off at the bus/train station and we spent a few minutes wandering around and then picked a likely random lunch restaurant. This turned out to be our worst pick of the trip compared to expectations. It looked like all the other likely places — and it was even very touristy — but the food just wasn’t very good.


The menu.


This inexpensive Chianti Classico (probably 10-15 euros) was perfectly nice though.


Classic bruschetta with liver. These weren’t bad, one of the places better items. They weren’t however even close to the best bruschetta we’ve seen.


Mixed bruchetta, also fine. Starting from upper left and going clockwise. Fava beans, lard, mushrooms, and tomato.


Spicy pici with walnuts. This pasta tasted like glue. Paste. It was pretty gross. I think they added flour to the sauce, making it like elmers.


Tagliatelle al pesto. Edible, but very mediocre pesto.


Green tortelli with fossa cheese and yellow pumpkin cream. I didn’t try these.


Linguine with cheese and pepper. This was really bad too. Not even close to the amazing pepper and cheese pasta at Trattoria Pepei. I could barely eat a few bites. The pasta was pasty. Those thin slices of pecorino has an unpleasant melted cheese taste, and the sauce — there barely was one — tasted of paste.


Penne pomodoro.


Tagliatelle with tomatoes, olives, capers and hot peppers. Didn’t try this either.


Chicken, green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms. This was fine, not horrible. Not really a dish that does it for me though.

This place was completely unique for this trip in that it actually had bad dishes, several of them. That pretty much makes it the worst meal, even though it wasn’t horrible or anything. But it goes to show, eat out 50 times in Italy and you can find a dud!

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Eating Tuscany – Villa Breakfast

Location: Staggia, Italy

Date: June 11-25, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

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This is our third year renting a villa in Europe for a big chunk of June. I’ve experimented with different ways to handle the breakfast situation for a large number of people (9-15 is what we’ve had). It’s not practical to go out everyday, it would just take too long to wrangle everyone, and a free for all at the house (which we tried last year) has all sorts of issues. Namely the challenge of restocking the groceries and cleaning up. So, our houses at this year’s villa arranged to set and clear a continental breakfast table, to which we added some local products. Overall it worked out very well.


The first thing I need is my coffee. Cappuccino this time of morning. Our hosts made them, which was convenient as last year my dad was making them straight for 90 minutes every morning. Given that many people have two, and the slow speed of the little home machines, it’s hard to churn a lot of them out.


The full spread.


Various dry goods, yogurts, jams, cereal, orange juice.


Fruit, cookies, toast, blood orange juice (yum).


We also put out some of the local cheeses, mostly Pecorino.


And more.


And the stubs of all sorts of them.


A few cow cheeses from the local market.


No Italian breakfast is complete without Prosciutto.


Or Salami.


Our hosts also baked a variety of pastries and breads over the two weeks. Homemade croissants in this case.


A really yummy chocolate torte. Buttery crust, with congealed nuttella type filling.


We had some extra ricotta and our baker turned it into this wonderful cheesecake.


Chocolate inside, with a tasty crust and coco top. It was like breakfast tiramisu!


Pound cake.


Cherry tart.

Delicious chocolate cake, tasted like a giant brownie. Nothing like chocolate to pick you up in the morning.


Tuscan apple pie. Really good stuff, perhaps drier and more bready than the American version, halfway between that and an apple strudel. Delicious.


Blackberry tart. These kind of fruit tarts are typically Tuscan.


Mixed local fruit.


And cherries, which are local and in season.

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Eating Florence – Nove IX

Restaurant: Nove IX

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 17, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tuscan

Rating: Tasty!

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Our Florentine friend brought us to this attractive new place on the banks of the Arno river as the sun was making it’s way into that great tunnel in the west.


It’s actually about three blocks to the left of this, past the Ponte Vecchio. Nove IX is more typical of a city like Florence than most of the Tuscan restaurants we have been eating at in that it’s a bit more modernized, trendy. Still, the cuisine is solidly rooted in the local countryside.


The menu.

The have their own olive oil.


This 90 point Chianti Rufina is readily available in the Florence area. “The 2007 Chianti Rufina Riserva shows the open, opulent personality that makes this vintage so alluring. Ripe, silky tannins frame a core of red fruits, flowers and spices, all of which come together with unsual grace. Though medium in body, there is wonderful generosity to the fruit, not to mention fabulous overall balance. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2015.”


This is a tartar of beef with parmesan.


And on a more modern note, a tartar of tuna with avocado and tomato.


And one of white fish (perhaps even yellowtail) with citrus and a light frise-type salad. Certainly showing those Matsuhisa type influences.


The Nove IX take on the mixed salad.


Risotto with spigola (sea bass), lemon, and Florentine zucchine.


Spaghettini with pesto of zucchini flowers.


Paccheri (wide pasta) with tomatos, mozzarella and fried eggplant.


Shellfish ravioli in creme of zucchine sauce.


Trofie alla genovese. Traditional twisted little pasta with pesto (basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine-nuts) as well as a bit of sliced potato and green beans. This was the best pesto I had until we got to Liguria (where pesto comes from).


Chopped chicken with green beans and balsamic sauce. Not so far off from a chinese dish!

Nothing at all wrong with Nove IX. The food was great, and it was a welcome change to see a little bit more updated menu without compromising at all on quality.

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Eating Florence – La Cantinetta Antinori

Restaurant: La Cantinetta Antinori

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 17, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tuscan

Rating: Slick and tasty

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On our first trip to Florence (we went thrice) we met up with an Italian friend and her family and they brought us to the Antinori wine empire’s casual enoteca, where they combine slick modernized Tuscan food with a large selection of excellent wines.


The lovely room in Palazzo Antinori.


A nice light quafable mineral laced white. We went through about half a bottle a person at lunch!


The menu. Sorry the meat courses are out of focus.


Assorted bruschetta, Tuscan standard.


Insalta Caprese.  Tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Basil and olive oil.


Panzanella. Traditional Tuscan salad of soaked stale bread, tomato, basil, onions, olive oil.


The ubiquitous Insalta Misto.


Taglierini agli scampi freschi. Thin noodles with tomato, basil, garlic and you guessed it, a giant crayfish creature.


Fagioli. Tuscan fava beans and olive oil.


Sea bass, capers, sun dried tomatos, potatoes.


Pounded veal in mushroom sauce.


Filetto di manzo. Beef filet and potatoes.


Almond semifreddo with caramel. This is SO up my dessert alley. Creamy and sweet. Oh yes. Oh yes.


Expresso, to counter the copious amount of wine I consumed.

This was a nice place. Not radical, not staid. Fitting of a hot spot in Florence, it’s basically traditional Tuscan fare with 10% modernization. Given the quality of the ingredients and the base cuisine, this is more than enough for a great meal.

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Eating Colle di Val d’Elsa – Arnolfo

Restaurant: Arnolfo Ristorante

Location: Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy

Date: June 16 & 23, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Awesome, but hard to find

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Just fifteen minutes from our villa and Siena lies the city of Colle di Val d’Elsa and its two star rated Michelin restaurant, Arnolfo. So we went twice! This is an amazing restaurant in a gorgeous location atop the old city. The rub, however, is getting there. The first time the GPS insisted we drive into a masonry wall (closed road). We gave up with that, parked, and ended up walking over a mile, including taking the elevator up to the old city. The walk back wasn’t no fun either and the staff told us that to actually drive here you have to go 6km out of your way to the next town and then come back by one particular approach — but then there is no parking in the old city.

So the next time, feeling all smart, I tried to park in the “close” (only 500m) lot below the old city. But the first entrance I tried was so narrow that I almost got stuck and had to back up my 9 seater van down 200m of alley and around a 90 degree turn — only took 30 minutes and soaked through my suit in the 88 degree humid weather. Then we had to hike up the half mile.

But it was worth it.


They have a gorgeous patio which far from “being in the middle of a city” looks out on the Tuscan hillside.


Even the non-view direction is lovely.


Grissini, first of several bread courses.


The menu on June 16 (the last of the “spring menu”).


And the new “summer” menu on June 23, as we luckily straddled the change.


Compari and soda.


Stating with a little prosecco to cool off.


In the glass.


Then comes a tray of amuses. From left to right. Green pea mouse, tomato stuffed with mozzarella, apple disc with prawn, veal croquet, and gorgonzola and fig jam sandwich. These were all good, but the last was incredible.


Like most great restaurants Arnolfo caters to every restriction. This is a variant amuse plate for vegetarians.


For example this beet and goat cheese mini.


Bread course number two, tomato bread and with lardo (sliver of pig fat).


And for those not so into the pig, the one on the right is onion.


Nor are the gluten free left out. Various potato and rice triscuits!


I’ve come to like Vernaccia, which is a D.O.C. white from San Gimignano. Very light, but with more flavor than a Pinot Grigio.


“Scampi, Goose Liver Escalope, Strawberries.”


“Sea Bass, Strawberries.” A variant for the shellfish impaired.

My notes failed me a little here, but I think it’s some kind of fish (possibly a pork belly though) in a pea soup.


Heads up, bread course three!


“Red mullets, Peas, Silver skin Onions.”


“Asparagus, Ricotta Cheese, Eggs.” Now this was an interesting dish. The white asparagus were grilled and wrapped in pancetta (bacon). The white and yellow stuff is deconstructed egg (yolk and white as powder). The ricotta is in the upper right and was delicious. The powder wasn’t as successful as the bonus egg, shown below.


This is more or less a coddled egg. I dipped the asparagus for extra umph.


This was a small production local Chianti Classico that the sommeler recommended. Good too, and like 30E. Try to find a decent wine at that price at a French 2 star!


“Guinea-Fowl, Chick-peas, I.G.P. Tuscan Ham.” Good stuff.

“Spinach soup with sea bass, tomato.”


“Perlina Aubergines, Tomato, Watermelon, Buffalo Mozzarella I.G.P.”


“Prawns, Peaches, Yellow Pepper.” Yummy. The pairing of the delicate shellfish was delicious with both the fruit and the peppers.


Arnolfo has very nice presentation, which I couldn’t photo every aspect of.


“Goose Liver, Red Onions, Spices, Cherries.” Oh wow yum. And that is some kind of cheese foam/ice cream on top. This was really good stuff.

And two extra goose liver preps for good measure. A sort of Napoleon and a little pistachio coated truffle, solid fois inside.


“Rabbit, Bloack Olives, Ratatouille.” Not your everyday Ratatouille. Notice the white asparagus too.


“Turbot with mozzerella.”


“Tortelli with chicken from Val d’Orcia, with asparagus and red pepper soup.” These are serious homemade pastas.

“Tortelli, Red Onions from Certaldo, White Beans from Sorana.”


“Mezzelune pasta, Courgettes flowers, Wedge shells.”


“Tagliolini, Rabbit, Black Olives.” In the front, out of focus, are discs of rabbit meat to go with the chunks of bunny in the pasta.


“Ravioli, Aubergines, Ewe’s Ricotta, Red Pepper.”


Gluten free pasta too!


“The 2006 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva is a pretty, juicy red laced with cherries, dried flowers, tobacco and underbrush. The tannins dry out a touch on the finish, which is the only thing that keeps the score from going higher. Still, this forward, fruit-driven Chianti should drink nicely over the next few years. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2016. “


“Cod, with onions.” And some other stuff.


“Fish soup, Crustaceans, Mollucs, Vegetables.”


“John Dory, Asparagus, Datterini Tomatoes, Capers from Pantelleria.”


“Dentex, Gazpacho, Aubergines.”


“Swordfish, Roasted Peppers, Candied Tomatoes.” You can see that each dish is quite complex.


A brunello recommended by the sommelier.


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Steak and cheek.”


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Tartar and vegetables.”


I didn’t used to be into tartar, but it’s really been growing on me over the last several years. Quail egg on top.


“I.G.P. Chiania Veal Steak, Potatoes.”


“Cinta Senese Suckling Pig, Porchetta, Leg, Loin, Leaf Cabbage, Beetroots.”


This town evidently produces 14% of the world’s crystal. Italian shopping hours being what they are, despite three visits, we never saw one open.


Ah the suffering involved in dining in one of the world’s great wine regions. 93 points from Parker. “Consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini has turned out a beautiful wine at this historic estate, a property which he speaks of in effusive terms. Talenti’s sublime 2001 Brunello Pian di Conte exhibits a deep, translucent ruby color. It opens with captivating, vibrant aromatics, with notes of freshly cut roses, raspberries and licorice. Gorgeously expressive yet delicate on the palate, it offers layers of dark fruit, earthiness and sweet oak supported by a refined, classic structure, with exceptional length and fine, silky tannins on the fresh finish. It is a superb effort. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2021.”

We are assaulted by a battery of pre-desserts. Vanilla ice cream with cherry rhubarb “soup.”

“Almond Mascarpone, pistachio ice cream.”


“Ricotta Cheese, Orange, Honey.” Tart and sweet.


“Selection of Tuscan Sheep’s-milk and Goat’s-milk Cheeses.”


And some nice condiments.


I can’t even remember what this one was.


“Zuccotto, Star Anis, Coffee, Fennel Ice Cream.”


“Grand Dessert Assortment.” Because one isn’t enough. Chocolate cake, Passionfruit sauce. Coffee something. Strawberry flan. A bit of the above Zuccotto, and something else.


“Zuccotto, Pinenuts, Alkermes, Chocolate Sorbet, Fleur del Sel.” The central thing was basically a meringue.


“Fruit and custard mille fueile.”


“Apricots, Almonds, Lavender Ice Cream.”


Worth a bit of zoom.


And this too.


We also had a birthday (mine more or less), so there was this bonus cake!

And just a few petite fours. Lemon jelly in the center. A little fruit tart on the right.

More, on the second night. Berry tart. Ricotta vanilla dome. Pistachio burger. Blackberry mouse. Almond marzipan.


Our second meal here was slightly better than the first for some reason, but both were top notch. Service was spectacular all around. Highly recommended as a very updated medium modernist take on Tuscan cuisine. The quality of local ingredients was impeccable, and they know how to modernize playfully without letting the techniques get out of control.

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