Photo Aug 13, 7 38 45 AM

Tuscany – Go to the tree in the middle of the road and then…

After picking up our rental car at the Rome airport (a small yet spacious Audi A1) we set off on the 2.5 hour drive to Pienza. En route we stopped in Orvieto for lunch and to walk around a bit.

In Rome we mainly had sit-down meals for lunch, so on our way to Tuscany we just wanted a quick sandwich. We saw the locals all walking around with sandwiches from the local grocery store, so we decided to follow their lead. Instead of a restaurant we enjoyed our lunch on the steps of the duomo.

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We wrapped up lunch, walked around for a bit, and then got in the car to finish the drive.

Exiting the Autostrade we drove through some small towns…then some smaller towns…then the countryside…and finally the road changed from tarmac to gravel. After the final stretch of careful driving we finally arrived at our bed and breakfast, the fabulous Pietramonti Estate.

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Pietramonti is run by two Brits, Charles and Peter, who left the UK five years ago to open a B&B. They spent the first three years obtaining all of the necessary approvals (made even more complicated by their location in a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the B&B has now been open for two years. The accommodations could not have been better and if you’re planning a trip to Tuscany I can’t recommend Pietramonti highly enough.

Each day started with a gorgeous breakfast full of freshly baked breads and muffins, as well as local fruit, cheese and meat.

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We’d linger over breakfast and cappuccinos for about an hour to an hour and a half each day chatting away with the other guests as well as our hosts. After discussing what we’d like to do that day Charles and Peter would give us suggestions as well as any contacts at wine shops, vineyards, etc.

My favorite lunches were at a small café in Pienza that initially drew me in because they were displaying a bunch of Slow Food literature, even though it looked like a simple sandwich shop. Pienza was a 50 minute hike from Pietramonti so we definitely felt like we earned our lunch the first day we were there.

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The caprese salad was easily the best I’ve had. The tomatoes, while delicious, were really just a vehicle for the perfectly creamy and salty mozzarella and gorgeous olive oil. I could have eaten this every day.

Cocktails started at 6pm every night and included Prosecco and a platter of two types of pecorino (from the farm next door), local salami, honey from the property’s beehives, and chutney.

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Then the dinner ritual began. On the first night Charles asked all of the guests what time we prefer to eat. From there he would take care of making us all reservations each night. Over cocktails we would receive our dinner “assignments” and a map to the restaurant. Usually the maps were hand-drawn, like this:

map

All directions started from “go to the tree in the middle of the road and then…”

Night 1 was Taverna de Moranda in Monteciello (“go to the tree in the middle of the road, and then make a right”). Taverna is run by a husband and wife team where he cooks and she runs the front of house. The wife is actually French, which has led to the locals referring to Taverna as “the French restaurant” even though she’s lived in Tuscany for 26 years. Many of them refuse to even set foot in the door. Well, that’s their loss because the food was wonderful. We started with fresh stuffed zucchini flowers, then moved on to fresh pasta with vegetables, and finished with some stellar lamb.

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The lamb was perfectly cooked and was well seasoned. I couldn’t get anyone to tell me what the seasonings were but they were an excellent complement to the strong flavor of the lamb. When I asked if the lamb was from nearby, our hostess simply chuckled and walked away.

Night 2 was Ristorante Dopolavoro La Foce. The restaurant was in an old building where workers at the nearby La Foce estate used to gather after work. The interior had been brought up to date, and most of the cooking was done over a wood-fired grill. We started with testaroli al pesto and then each had sliced steak for our main course.

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The meat was obviously wonderful, but for me the salt was what made this dish. The salt, from Cervia, is unique because it is unrefined. As a result, it maintains its moisture and mineral content, giving each grain a texture and flavor that you don’t get in other salt. It was almost soft and slightly sweet (while still being salty). I’m very tempted to order some to use at home.

Note that should you wind up here the drive is a bit of a doozy. It’s a good 30-40 minutes from Pienza through some very dark and twisty roads, even when compared to the other dark and twisty roads of Tuscany.

For our third night we went to Latte di Luna, which was right in the town of Pienza. This was my second favorite dinner in Tuscany. Latte is a small restaurant right at one end of the town, with a nice little garden space out front with tables. We started with housemade tagliatelle with black truffles.

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And then I had their specialty, roast young pork.

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Crispy skin, soft melty fat, the meat flavored mostly with the pig’s own juices. I can’t say I’ve had anything quite like it. I finished the far too large portion all on my own, which resulted in an awful night’s sleep but it was totally worth it. Oh, and the tagliatelle with truffles was pretty good too.

Night 4 was probably our least favorite dinner: Ristorante 13 Gobbi in Montefollonico. We decided that night to tackle a Bistecca Fiorentina. The steak wound up being larger than my wife’s head.

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Charles and Peter advised us to order the steak medium even though we like it medium rare. We tried, and this was the result:

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Don’t get me wrong, this was a great steak. There was just far too much, and even though I like my steak on the rare side, this just got to be a bit much to handle.

Charles and Peter saved their best recommendation for our last night: La Grotta in Montepulciano. The restaurant was located just outside the town walls, across the street from a beautiful old church.

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While the food was Tuscan, it was more refined than the other restaurants we had been to. Our first two courses summed this up nicely.

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A poached egg with pecorino buried under a mound of black truffles. Cutting into the egg and releasing the yolk, mixing the whole thing together…pure bliss.

Next we moved on to pasta:

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Gnocchetti in a zucchini and cream sauce. The little gnocchetti were impossibly delicate, and of course perfectly cooked. The cream wasn’t overpowering in the sauce, with the flavor of zucchini really coming through.

For mains, I had the boneless quail and my wife had the lamb. We finished with a simple plum tarte. Everything was fantastic. La Grotta definitely ranks up there with some of my favorite all time dining experiences.

The next morning we had one last breakfast with Charles and Peter before packing up the car and setting off on our four hour drive to Venice. Our departure had a distinct “last day of camp” feel but we still excited to be on our way to another part of the country. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to return to Pienza and pass even more perfect days at Pietramonti.

 

Tuscany restaurants (please verify any GPS directions with locals if you try to go to any of these):

Taverna di Moranda
Via di Mezzo 17
Monticchiello, Pienza Siena, Italy

Ristorante Dopolavoro La Foce
Strada Provinciale 40, Siena, Italy

Latte di Luna
Via San Carlo, 2
Pienza Siena, Italy

Ristorante 13 Gobbi
Via Lando Di Duccio 5
Montefollonico, Siena, Italy

Ristorante la Grotta
Via di San Biagio, 15
Montepulciano Siena, Italy

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