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Eating Out in Tuscany

Sodoma, San Benedetto's Easter DinnerFor a time, I also wrote restaurant reviews, as my travels around Italy do require eating out often. I have stopped because I rarely go to the same place twice, and reviews do have to be confirmed from year to year. But I have decided to leave the reviews I did up, because they will at least provide hints of places to go. Here you will find reviews of Tuscan restaurants not in Florence.

Trattoria Sciame (Montalcino)
Locanda Borgo Antico (Chianti)
Ristorante Borgo Antico (Tavarnelle -- between Florence and Siena)
Ristorante Albergo La Bussola (Outside Prato)
Antica Trattoria La Torre (Castellina in Chianti)
La Grotta (Montepulciano)
Osteria La Gramola (Tavernelle Val di Pesa)
Trattoria Papei (Siena)
Enoteca i Terzi (Siena)
Ristorante da Nisio (San Gimignano)
Ristorante L'Albergaccio (Castellina in Chianti)
Bar Ristorante Pietrafitta (Castellina in Chianti)
Ristorante Poggio Antico (Montalcino)
Ristorante da Ugo (Castagheto Carducci)
A suggestion for Lornano, a town outside Siena
Suggestions for Montecatini
Suggestions for Lucca

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Trattoria Sciame
Via Albergheria, 3 Montalcino Tel. (0577) 848-017

Sciame means swarm, and thought the bees don't come, diners certainly do. It being a business lunch, I decided to forego the appetizers and began with Tagliatelle al Cinghiale, wide strips of pasta in a wild boar sauce. They were slightly salty but quite tasty, with the gaminess of the meat nicely balanced by the spicing of the sauce, which also had a peppery tang to it.

As a second course I decided to stick with wild boar (they're very common around Montalcino), and ordered Cinghiale in Scottiglia, wild boar stewed with herbs and spices. Though juniper is quite common in the marinades used for boar, I didn't detect it here. The meat was quite tasty, and extremely tender. As I side dish I had boiled beans, though with the benefit of hindsight I should have asked for a mixed salad -- those the other diners were eating looked good. I closed with a slice of good, moderately aged pecorino from Pienza.

The wine list is simple and local -- Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello, and one local Vino Novello for those who don't want something stronger. No house wine, which is too bad. In any case, I had a La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino 1995, which was quite pleasing: Ruby red with purple highlights, and an intriguing bouquet with floral notes, Sangiovese, and lots of berry fruit, including black currents and hints of wild strawberry. No wood. On the palate the wine has lush fruit, with hints of stewed cherries. It's moderately tannic, with silky tannins, and has a clean persistent finish.

The cost? 59,000 lire, which is quite reasonable.

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Locanda Borgo Antico:
Lucolena, Greve in Chianti. Tel: 055/851024 Closed Tuesdays.

If you're driving in the countryside around Florence, sampling wines and admiring the scenery, the Locanda Borgo Antico is an excellent bet. It has to be, to survive as far out of the way as it is: Take the road from Greve towards Figline, follow it up over the divide and down past Castello di Querceto. Turn right at the intersection, and then follow the signs for Lucolene. You will wind through the town and up into forested hills; Borgo Antico is a hamlet off to the left a couple of turns beyond the cemetery. There's a pretty terrace under an arboretum, which is especially nice on one of those unsettled summer days when the clouds race across the sky. When it's colder you can also eat indoors.

I had Pappardelle al Cinghiale, wide strips of pasta with a wild boar sauce that had just a hint of juniper berries. Quite nice. The heaping bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano served on the side was a nice touch. The second course consisted of a pork chop grilled on a charcoal fire, with freshly boiled beans, served with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Might not sound like much, but it was very refreshing. Dessert? Cantuccini di Prato and vinsanto. The wine list is extensive, and the people at the table next to me, where a man was telling his pouty daughter he was sending her to boarding school "for her own good,"were drinking wine from a wide-bodied decanter. I had the house wine, a Rosso di Montalcino, which I found a bit thin, and somewhat overly acidic - especially at 5,000 lire per quarter liter.

In all, the cost was 45,000 Lire, which is a bit on the pricey side. However, the food is excellent, the service quick and friendly, and the view spectacular. If only they had a better house wine. Recommended. They also rent rooms, though I didn't see them.

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Ristorante Borgo Antico:
Tavernelle Val Di Pesa, Via Roma 55 Tel 055/8076180 Closed Wednesday

Tavernelle is a nondescript town half-way between Florence and Siena, and the restaurant is in the middle of town, on a rather awkward corner. It's worth a visit though - this is one of those traditional places, where there are soccer trophies in a case by the door, the paneling gives it a cozy feel, the chef comes out to greet the customers, and the waitresses coo over babies.

Elisabetta and I began with tagliatelle al sugo, tagliatelle in meat sauce. We got a heaping platter, and they were quite good, though a touch tomatoey. We followed the pasta with a bistecca alla fiorentina, a porterhouse steak cooked rare over a charcoal fire. It was remarkably tender and very tasty. It's hard to beat a good fiorentina, and this one was. Betty had a tossed salad and I had grilled baby potatoes, again quite good. For dessert we split a cream cake topped with berries. Delicate and gone all too soon. The wine list is extensive, but we had the house wine - a perfectly good Chianti.

In all, we spent 90,000 lire, which is to be expected since we ordered steak. The service was friendly and quick. Recommended.

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Ristorante Albergo La Bussola
Catena Quarrata, Via Fiorentina 328 Tel: 0573-743128

Heaven in an unlikely place: Catena Quarrata is a desolate town on the flatlands of the Valdarno, one of those places where trucks rumble through on the way from here to there. However, it's just a short drive down the hill from Carmignano, a pretty town with fantastic wines that's well worth a journey. You turn off Via Fiorentina in the middle of town, park in a small private lot, and enter an unexpected sea of tranquillity, with tables under an awning by a vibrantly green lawn, and an inviting dining hall.

I began with pappardelle all'anatra, wide strips of pasta in duck sauce. Duck can be rather heavy, especially on a hot day, but this sauce was delicately seasoned and delightful. The pasta was served with a chunk of Parmigiano, a pair of tongs, and a small grater - a very nice touch. After the pasta came roast rabbit and potatoes, with a green salad. Rabbit's one of those things that's easy to do but difficult to do right; this one was: well cooked and flavorful without being stringy or tough. But what really amazed me was the potatoes: peeled and baked in the roasting tray, they were creamy bursts of flavor that melted on my tongue. Artusi calls the potato plebeian, but these were fit for a king. Dessert? Crostata coi fichi, shortbread with a topping of custard and fresh figs. Delicate, and though the figs weren't as voluptuous as those one finds in Puglia, I'd recommend it.

The wine list is extensive. However, I tried the house wine - Capezzana's vino da tavola, an honest red wine that went perfectly with everything else. The only drawback is that they sell it by the bottle, not by the carafe.

In all I spent 48,000 lire - very reasonable, considering the quality of the food (I've since discovered that the chef also conducts cooking classes for food professionals). The service is quick and friendly. You should either get there early or reserve a table: At 1:00 the restaurant suddenly filled with sales reps and marketing people from Prato's textile mills. They know a good deal when they see it.

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Antica Trattoria La Torre:
In the main square, Castellina in Chianti. Closed Fridays.

Castellina was one of the Florentines' main bastions against the Aragonese during the wars of the 1430s, so important that Brunelleschi and the men working on Florence's Cathedral were ordered to drop everything and go shore up its walls during a lull in the fighting. They did a good job; most are still standing. So is the keep perched on the top of the hill. The trattoria is in the square below it, and the setting is wonderful on a nice day, especially in the summer, when you can eat outside.

I started out with Pappardelle al Cinghiale, strips of pasta in a sauce made with wild boar. Good, and the juniper traditionally used to season boar added a pleasing touch of authenticity. Most of the menu is traditional, but there are some more refined Sunday-type dishes; I had roast stuffed rabbit for secons. The stuffing consisted of pancetta, ground meat, and hard-boiled eggs; the combination worked remarkably well, with the pancetta basting the rabbit from within. A green salad went wonderfully with it. Dessert? Pavarotti, a layer cake made with shortbread, and sponge cake, interlayered with crema chantillí. The drops of Alkermes on the sponge cake counterbalanced the sweetness of the cream quite well.

The wine was a mini-bottle of Castello di Ama 1994, and very good it was. On the other hand, it cost 12,000 lire. My one complaint about La Torre is that they don't have an inexpensive house wine by the carafe. Seems a funny lack for a restaurant in the middle of the greatest wine region of the world. The price? 53,000 lire, which is a bit steep, but then again settings like this don't happen everywhere. Recommended.

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Ristorante La Grotta:
Loc. San Biagio, Montepulciano. Tel: 0578 758354 Closed Wednesdays, and Jan-Feb.

Montepulciano is one of Tuscany's undiscovered gems, and San Biagio is without question the jewel of her crown, a spectacular High Renaissance chapel. The Ristorante la Grotta, which is next to it, is a gem of a very different kind. The restaurant is built in the ground floor of a 14th century building, and the brick vaulting gives the rooms a cozy feeling that is heightened in the winter by fireplaces (in the summer there is also a patio outside). Of course décor isn't everything.

I began with Bisi all'Anatra, bisi (hand-rolled strands of pasta about the thickness of a bass string, a local specialty) in a duck sauce. It was extremely delicate and very good, though I found it just a touch tomatoey. As a second course I had half a pigeon, stuffed with minced duck breast laced with truffles and foie-gras. The presentation was very pretty, the bird on its side, with reduced juices spooned over it, and a flower whose petals were leaves of Belgian Endive and whose heart was stewed zucchini. I'm normally not a big pigeon fan, but this was superb: Roasted, and the pigeon meat had been delicately basted from within by the foie-gras. Very moist, and extremely tender. Flavorful too, the spicing was just right.

Since I had a business meeting after lunch, I decided to forego dessert in favor of a slice of pecorino (another specialty of the Montepulciano region). I was brought two, one young, served with a few drops of olive oil, and the other aged, served with a dab of crystallized honey, which reminded me of the grape-must jam that's served with cheeses in Piemonte. A nice touch.

Wines? La Grotta is one of the few Italian restaurants I've found that serves wine by the glass. I had two, both Nobile di Montepulciano 1993: Dei, an astonishingly lush wine with powerful fruit flavors and satiny tannins (imagine Marylin Monroe in a glass), and Polizzano, which was also very fruity, but had a hint of alcohol in the bouquet, and slightly more pronounced tannins. Both were quite good.

The price: 70,000 Lire. Not cheap, but considering the food, the wines, the service, and the setting, well worth it. Recommended.

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Osteria La Gramola :
Tavernelle Val di Pesa, Via delle Fonti 1. Closed Tuesdays.

The Osteria is set back from the main road, and the entrance is a tunnel that leads to the dining room, which is a large square room with farm implements and photos of farmers on the walls. Quite fitting, considering that the region is thoroughly agricultural.

The food is not, on the other hand. We were a rather large group, and thus were able to sample a number of things. Most people began with crostini, which are about as classic as one can get in Tuscany. Good too, as were the (non-Tuscan) puff pastries stuffed with porcini that one of us had. As a first course some opted for ravioli di melanzane (eggplant ravioli) that looked quite good. I instead had a minestra di verdura (vegetable soup) that was a little too refined for me: the cook went easy on the cabbage, and the beans weren't quite done yet. A question of taste, because everyone else who had it liked it. As a second, I had a stracotto di vitella (veal stew) that was quite good, with a green salad. The rabbit stuffed with ham that the person next to me had also looked good. Dessert? We were running out of steam, and closed with coffee.

The wine? We began with a Chianti Classico that proved surprisingly thin and acidic. Enough of a disappointment that we ordered a bottle of Isole e Olena, which proved much better.

Cost? To be frank, I don't know. I was a guest. However, I would recommend this restaurant, especially to people who are entertaining guests and decide to take them out into the country. Its one drawback, which would become important on Saturday night, is that the room echoes somewhat.

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Trattoria Papei
Siena, behind the Palazzo Comunale. Closed Mondays.

You probably wouldn't think to even enter the Trattoria Papei unless someone told you to go: it's tucked back in the corner of the square that hosts the fish market, and the doorway looks old and worn. However, you're in for a treat.

I began with Pappardelle sulla lepre, inch-wide ribbony strips of pasta with a hare sauce. It was slightly gamy, the way hare normally is, and quite good. For second I had roast veal, again a simple classic Tuscan dish, and again perfectly prepared. For a vegetable I opted for baked artichoke hearts, which were also quite good. And something of a mistake -- artichokes tend to clash with wines, and this one fought bitterly with the very good Chianti Classico Castello di Volpaia we were drinking.

For dessert, we had ricciarelli, the traditional Sienese marzipan pastries. They were light, soft, had just the right amount of orange, and melted in our mouths. Superb.

The Cost? About 40,000 lire per person, which is quite reasonable all considered. Recommended.

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Enoteca i Terzi
Via Dei Termini 7, Siena, Tel 0577 44329

Siena is divided into three districts; this wine bar is located on the junction between them, in the ground floor of a medieval tower. Very pretty, and quite worth a visit for the food too: A wide selection of cold cut platters, as well as pastas and other first courses. The highpoint however is the selection of wines, which is extremely extensive, with all sorts of Chiantis and wines form other parts of Italy by the glass, and a considerably broader selection by the bottle, likely the best in Siena. It will make an excellent spot for a quick lunch or dinner.

The cost? Depending upon what you order, 15-30,000 lire per person, or more if you order an expensive bottle.

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Ristorante L'Albergaccio di Castellina
Via Fiorentina 63, Castellina in Chianti Tel. 0577 741 042; Closed Sundays.

L'Albergaccio in Castellina in Chianti is one of the worst-kept secrets in the world -- ask anyone in the area for a restaurant suggestion and that's where you'll be directed. If you're in Castellina take the road for San Donato and Tavarnelle; it's on the left after about a half mile. You can order á la carte, but the Chef's suggestions are also nice and well worth it. One day this April they began with mixed antipasti, which included crostini, slices of toasted bread spread with pate, and a variety of home-cured cold cuts. The salami, which was fresher than one often encounters, was especially good, as was the sbriciolona, a type of salami cured with fennel. The antipasti were followed by a Zuppa di Cipolla alla Fiorentina, a Florentine-style onion soup with cheese, toast and beans that had pleasing lemony overtones, and pigi, thick home-made pasta in a clear sauce reminiscent of the drippings from a roast, which coarsely chopped tomatoes, rosemary, and crumbled pecorino. Quite pleasant.

The entrée was scottiglia, a meat stew made by the charcoal burners of the Maremma; popular wisdom holds that it should have as many varieties of meat as possible and this certainly did, including something nutty that may have been a heart. Quite nice, and deftly seasoned, not too much but not too little either. The accompaniment? Greens.

Dessert was preceded by a selection of cheeses, all local. Though one frequently reads ecstatic discussions of Pecorino di fossa, the pecorino that's put in a sack and aged in the ground for several months, it's difficult to find examples that are worth the excitement. This was. The cheeses were followed by a selection of tasty desserts, served with a dram of Antinori's Aleatico. The wine with the meal? San Giusto a Rentennano's Chianti Classico, which worked just fine. The service was impeccable, the settings elegant, and the view from the window pretty. Cost? 92,000 Lire, which isn't cheap, but you won't eat like this often. Highly recommended.

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Ristorante da Nisio
Località Sovestro 32, San Gimignano (SI) Tel: (0577) 941 029; Closed Tuesdays.

If you're driving up to San Gimignano from Colle or Poggibonsi, as you come around a bend you'll see a sign for Da Nisio on your right. File it away in memory!

The restaurant is modern, with a nice picture window looking across the valley that sets the mood. The menu features traditional dishes cooked with distinction; I began with a Zuppa di Farro that was rich, thick, and creamy, with the grains of farro (it's akin to spelt according to some food writers) pleasingly chewy. The zuppa was followed by Coniglio alla Vernaccia, rabbit cooked in Vernaccia, which is one of the highpoints of San Gimignano's cuisine. It was extremely delicate, cooked to perfection, with just a hint of sweetness from the Vernaccia balanced by the acidity of the onions. Extremely refined. Dessert? We passed, because we were taking advantage of the restaurant's superb wine list to sample several whites (I was eating with an importer). The best? A Schiopeto Collio Sauvignon, and Montepeloso Bianco Val di Cornia. The former had nice fruit delicately balanced by oak, while the latter was slightly less refined, but had an enticing bouquet. The cost? About 40,000 lire per person.

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Bar Ristorante Pietrafitta
Loc. Pietrafitta 41, Castellina in Chianti (Siena); Tel 0577 741 123; email agiordi@tin.it; Closed Wednesdays.

I'd been meaning to visit this restaurant for quite some time, because Gambero Rosso said the menu was eclectic -- everything from gazpacho to chili with beans. That's not what I found: The management has changed, and now it's being run by the owner, whose tastes are much more local. This is not a bad thing, however.

The menu now has a mixture of Tuscan and other Italian dishes, so I asked for chitarrini con porri e pecorino, pasta with a leek and pecorino sauce. The strands of the pasta were quite thick and were slightly chewy, but the overall effect was nice; the leeks did a good job of balancing the cream base of the sauce while the cheese complemented rather than overpower.

As a second course I opted for grilled sausages, a local specialty, with grilled radicchio, which is more common further north. Neither is at all complicated but both were good. The radicchio was properly bitter without being harsh, while the sausages were peppery, and the two complemented each other well.

For dessert? I really didn't need it, but I ordered a chocolate almond cake that was not too rich, but crumbly in a creamy sort of way. Good, the sort of dessert that doesn't weigh you down. In terms of a wine, the selection is primarily local. I opted for Castello di San Polo in Rosso Chianti Classico 1995, which was pleasing though somewhat closed, and still a bit angular -- this is a traditional Chianti Classico and requires more bottle age than some. Since I didn't finish the bottle, I was charged for two glasses and thus discovered they serve wines by the glass as well.

The price? 55,000 lire, which is reasonable, and will be even more when it is warm enough to eat out on the terrace.

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Ristorante Poggio Antico
Località Poggi, 53024 Montalcino (SI); Tel: (0577) 849 200, closed Mondays except in summer, when it's always open. You'll want to make reservations.

It's a pretty drive from the main road joining Montalcino and Grosseto, along a cypress-lined dirt road to a bluff overlooking the valley. Elegant décor, beautiful view, and quite pleasant. The menu is interesting, with lots of dishes that draw innovatively from local tradition, but you may want to opt for the one of the two meals Roberto Minnetti has assembled, one meat and the other fish-based. The meat-based meal began with a quiche al radicchio served with a Taleggio cheese sauce; the slightly salty sweetness of the cheese nicely balances the bitterness of the radicchio, and the lightness of the pastry is delightful. Nice presentation too, with chopped tomatoes and herbs arranged into a rose. The quiche was followed by a liver patè served with a riduzione di Moscadello, a Moscadello gelatin that includes strawberries. Quite interesting; the rich pleasingly livery flavors of the patè are balanced very well by the sweetness of the sauce, which also contributes nicely to the color and texture of the whole. Extremly harmonious.

The antipasti were followed by ravioli filled with ricotta and greens. Lots of greens, and they're seasoned with a simple tomato sauce and crumbled Parmigiano. Ravioli are all too often humdrum in restaurants, so it's nice to be served some that remind one of why we get excited over them. They were followed by peposo, a peppery beef stew that's generally associated with the town of Impruneta, not far from Florence. The meat was extremely tender, and tasty, though I'd have preferred a little more pepper. It was served with mashed potatoes, which were perfect for combining with the sauce, garnished with huge parsley leaves.

Dessert? The tray looked scrumptious, but I opted for a plate of mixed cheeses, which seemed more suited to my wine, a very nice Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino 1998. Coffee and Col D'Orcia's Grappa di Moscadello wrapped things up beautifully.

The price? 120,000 lire, which is reasonable for a meal of this kind.

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Ristorante Da Ugo
Via Pari 4, 57022 Castagneto Carducci (LI) Tel: 0565763746, closed Mondays.

It might strike some people as odd that a restaurant with a commanding view of the sea should have no fish on the menu, but the reasons are simple: Though the Maremma is a coastal section of Tuscany, until the great tourist boom transformed the beaches into resort areas the economy was primarily agricultural and the farmers had nothing to do with the sea. Didn't even go, to the point that it was possible, in the 70s, to meet elderly farmers who had never gotten their feet wet. Given this historic context, the absence of fish in the Ristorante da Ugo's menu makes a little more sense.
So what will you find? Game, and lots of it. My dinner began with a platter of mixed cold cuts, which included salami and prosciutto from both pork and wild boar, a couple of crostini, one liver paté on bread and the other fried polenta with meat sauce, together with grilled eggplant and olives. These were followed by a bowl of vegetable soup that wasn't quite minestra di pane -- there was bread in it, and cabbage as well, but there weren't any beans, nor was there kale. It was good, however, and set the stage for tagliatelle with a colombaccio (wild pigeon) sauce that was quite nice, and flavorful though not gamy; It begged a wine with lively acidity to balance its richness, and the combination was pleasant indeed. Colombacci of course come whole to the kitchen, and what came next was half a colombaccio, stewed in red wine, together with button onions that were stewed with them, and a warning that the birds might still have some buckshot in them. Mine didn't, and it was quite tasty, as were the onions, which provided a pleasant counterpoint to the richness of the dove. Since this was an important dinner it closed with an important dish: Testina di Cinghiale, which is boar's head that has been boned and stuffed with pork cuttings, and is then marinated in spices and wine and simmered for hours in a red wine sauce. It's rich and exotic, and though it is fatty enough that some would object, if you like this sort of dish you will like it very much.
The dessert was elegant, and in a way more refined than the traditional specialties, but tasty too. The wine list covers the Bolgheri/Val di Cornia area well. Bottom line: If you want to experience Tuscan traditions and are in the area you should definitely go.

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A Restaurant in Lornano, outside Siena:
From Cosa Bolle in Pentola, the Newsletter:

Moving more towards food, I recently met Paul Brodie, who kindly shared instructions for purchasing A Hundred Tuscan Tables (a fun guide to fine eating in Tuscany) on the Net. He writes"Well, I have one more restaurant to recommend to you. It's in the little village of Lornano, which is reached by exiting the SI-FI highway at 'Badesse', then following the signs to Lornano - about 2 km. There's a very nice restaurant in the village (only one), which is full every night with the local folks. The food was well prepared and reasonably priced, and the house wine (from the local Chianti Classico grapes) is quite good!"

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Suggestions for Montecatini
From Cosa Bolle in Pentola, the Newsletter:

Frank recently wrote asking about restaurants in Montecatini, a town with beautiful turn-of-the-century Liberty Style spas (the Italian equivalent of Art Deco) and a vibrant night life with clubs and ponies. Though I've driven by any number of times (it's on the way to the beach from Florence) I've never eaten there, in part because it's not the sort of place suited for a 5 year old son.

Gambero Rosso's restaurant guide mentions a couple places:

Cucina da Giovanni & Enoteca Giovanni, Via Garibaldi 25, Tel. 0572 71695

Gourmet, Via Amendola 6, Tel. 0572 771 012
Cost in the 65-85,000 range, plus wines.

Espresso's restaurant guide also mentions Gourmet, as well as

Grand Hotel & Palace Via della Torretta 1, Tel. 0572 75801
Grand Hotel Tamerici & Principe Via 4 Novembre 2, Tel. 0572 71041
La Torre, in Montecatini Alto, Piazza San Giusti 8, Tel. 0572 70650.

The last one is a family-run trattoria, and they say it's inexpensive.

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Philip's Suggestions for Lucca and Pisa
From Cosa Bolle in Pentola, the Newsletter:

Moving on to other things, the Christian Jubilee has already begun, and if you're planning to visit Italy this year you'll be best off making reservations as soon as possible. It's going to be packed this summer. With all the crowds you may decide to see the lesser known areas; in this regard I recently got a note from Philip, who was surprised at the dearth of Luccan restaurants on my restaurant review page. Turns out he lives just outside Lucca, in a beautiful house he shares with guests, and when I asked for some suggestions he kindly sent the below:

La buca di San Antonio
In the centre of Lucca, a stone's throw from the San Michele (one of the World's most lovely churches), is a restaurant not to be missed. La Buca has been renowned amongst the Lucchesi since - who knows when? Renowned not just for its unsurpassable cooking, but also for the ambience, which starts with the trumpets on the ceiling and perhaps ends with the Vin Santo they leave on your table because you would like to stay longer than they would (Do lock up when you go!).

La Mora
Just north of Lucca (7 km), on the road to Abetone, is the little village of Ponte a Moriano; cross the bridge and go up a bit and you'll see a sign to the right for La Mora. DO NOT pass it by! Sauro keeps a good table, so good that "La Guida Italia"rated him as one of the "Top 50"in Italy! And it really is a good place to eat - Sauro is friendly and views his eminence as a bit of a laugh... but if you want to taste Tuscan as it should be.... then his table d'haute Menu Toscana, which stretches over 15 different offerings, is for you. If you ask nicely, he'll also give you a plate as a souvenir of your visit!

La Nina
Up above Lucca are the hills of Montecarlo (to the East), where some of the very best Tuscan White Wines are produced, and "where you drink well, ergo you eat well"(QED!). Few restaurants any where, on a Summer's day, or any other day, can rival La Nina. Imagine... sitting out, in the hills of Tuscany, being served, under a superb arbour, with the most excellent food and wine......... Could heaven be better? "La Nina"is lovely ............Try it!

Trattoria da Olivo - Lucca
On the 3rd Sunday of every month, Lucca holds its "Flea/Antique"Market. It ranges through all the streets near the Duomo di San Martino - it's huge - whether that makes it 'good' is something else! But it covers the gamut of Junk! Great Fun! Sometimes you can even take home a puppy.

Just up the Via Fillungo - Lucca's "Oxford St/ Fifth Ave", on the same day, on the right in the little Piazza dell'Arancio, the Lucchesi artists display their work - including Giampa(u)olo Bianci (who has an International reputation) - some of which is very worthwhile. If that morning, having viewed and wanting time to think about whether 'you'd really like that one when you got it home' and whether 'you really feel like spending that amount', you were to walk on through the Piazza, on your left you'll see the Trattoria da Olivo - a loggia surrounded by tall box hedge. This is where Antonella will serve you with an excellent Zuppa di Pesce or Insalata Mare Caldo, followed perhaps by Spaghettini al(lo) Scoglio and then, how about a superb Branzino? She doesn't only do fish - but she does fish so well, I've never considered going for the meat side of the menu. A good coffee, some of Antonella's almond cracknell.... Wash it all down with a good dry Buonamici White....with to end, maybe a Vin Santo... and the picture you chose .............well, you'll be ready to take a decision on that - and bargain with the stall-holders all afternoon! Of course, you don't have to go to the Trattoria only on Market day.......

Antico Teatro - Pisa
Pisa's LuminariaOne of the great sights in Tuscany (amongst the 10,000 others) is Pisa's Luminara - June16 (? could be 15), when the whole of the City, especially the buildings along the Arno, are lit by candles - 12 million of them (? who's arguing, I'm not going to count!) - this is 'followed' by an enormous firework display at about 10.30pm - which is best viewed from one of the bridges. You have to get to Pisa by around 6.30/7 if you want a fair place to park and it's a good idea to have booked somewhere to eat - the restaurants do get full that night. One place which you're bound to enjoy is Giovanni's "Antico Teatro"restaurant in Piazza Dante, just on the north bank of the Arno - not least because Giovanni is such a nice man and get him onto his olive oil and he'll not stop! For the night of the Luminara, Giovanni does - as I believe his Father and Grandfather did before (it's been that long in the family) - a special dinner, when most particularly amongst the 20 other dishes you're served, is his "Champagne"and Orange Risotto, which must take its place somewhere up among the best '500' flavours ever tasted. After a leisurely two hours delighting in Giovanni's fare, it'll be time to stand with the 100,000 others and go "Oooh - Aa -aaH!" at the rockets........then a stroll through the town, up to sit at a bar in the Piazza dei Miracoli and gaze at a candle-lit Torre Pendente. Giovanni's is good on other days too - he also does that Anglo-Italian dish "Stuccofisso". (The photo is Philip's)

Antica Locanda di Sesto
Ponte a Moriano, and Sesto a Moriano, its "suburb"(!), must be almost unique. Not only is Ponte the home of La Mora (one of Lucca Province's best restaurants), and Erasmo's (perhaps the oldest restaurant in the world - allegedly in business in 1650) but also, almost next door to La Mora, is the more traditional - and cheaper - "Antica Locanda", which is well worth a visit - you needn't be too distraught if, arriving at La Mora on spec, and finding it full, you can get in here. "Sesto's,"as we call it - they don't - is much more the traditional Trattoria style restaurant that many visitors expect in Italy - even the house wine (Very Potable!) is truly house wine, produced at the family's vineyard. Hung about with the 'normal' copper pots and old bottles and plates ,the restaurant serves fairly standard though good quality fare without seeking to be over ambitious. Most of the usual Tuscan dishes one expects - not too much fish - are on the menu and the wine list is 'better than adequate'. The ambience is pleasant, friendly and relaxed, which is really what dining in Italy is all about!

Massa Pisana - Cecco's and La Principessa
On the old road from Lucca to Pisa - the Strada Vecchia Lucchesia - there are a number of "places to eat", two are of especial note. At Massa Pisana, about 8kms south of Lucca, is La Principessa, a Relais Chateaux Hotel and the old home of the Duca di Lucca! Super old Villa, with a restaurant to match! The whole place has that air of old elegance, one thought had gone long ago..........And you pay for it! - expect to pay 120.000 to 140,000 Lit per head for a 'proper' dinner. But, for all that, it's nice and has style about it - the food's well up to the best standards.

Further on towards Pisa turn to the left and follow the signs to Cecco's. Out in the country, this garden style restaurant has a lot going for it. Not least the cooking.

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