La Bottega del 30 is everything you would envision for the star restaurant of your Tuscan vacation. This 1 star Michelin is quite literally tucked away in a little hamlet. Your GPS will struggle, but between the GPS and the good signage for hotels and restaurants, you’ll find it.
Once you do, you park in the town square, just off the road, and walk a few meters down to a very ramshackle old building, what looks like it can’t possibly be any younger than the 1500s, and certainly not built by one of the wealthier people in the village at the time. As you duck in the door, the chef, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, French, Helene Stroquelet greets you and guesses your name from the time and the size of your party. There are only 8 tables, so she’s probably usually right.
At first blush, it is reasonable to question if this might be more rustic that you’d planned for, if perhaps your tolerance for authenticity might be a little tried. But once you enter the heart of the restaurant, an open courtyard, those fears disappear.
We were seated in a small room just off the courtyard with a demi-lune window looking out to the cypresses and vineyards that typify the Tuscan country-side. Fortunately, the window faces west, so you know you’re in for a treat once the sun sets. Suffice it to say the atmospherics of La Bottega del 30 are perfect—and the food is nothing less.
After the sommelier comes over with the winelist, and the water is on the table, we were treated to a first salvo. The amuse bouche was an ingenious “ravioli.” The ravioli was made of two paper-thin sheets of parmesan cheese, each cut into a 4” circle. Somehow they stuck them together and put a light cream sauce inside. Then they deep fried the ravioli so that the result is a light, but very decadent “ravioli.” It’s served over a very small arugula salad. It tasted wonderful, kind of like high-end junkfood, and the arugula acted as a very nice counterpoint to the fat and salt of the parmesan ravioli.
After we had been suitably impressed by her talents with this amuse to take her guidance, the chef came over and asked us what we’d like to do for dinner, starting off with a description of her suggestion for the night. We immediately embraced this, and were off to the races.
The antipasti was a fried, stuffed zucchini flower, stuffed primarily with fresh porcini mushrooms (something you almost never get in the U.S.). We had not been impressed with any of the zucchini flower dishes we got in Rome, not really enjoying the combination of anchovy and mozzarella that is so prevalent there. As a result, we were very excited to try what we were pretty sure would be one of the better specimens of this particular dish. We were not disappointed. The porcini filling was great, and the flower itself was very good, a little meaty, and very nicely fried, with no sogginess.
The next course was unquestionably the highlight of the meal, and one of two dishes vying for the place of “best dish” for the entire trip to Italy. What this dish was, was a single large, ravioli, around 5.5 inches in diameter. Inside each ravioli was a single egg, and small amount of the traditional spinach and ricotta filling. The egg needs to be talked about a little more, b/c the yolk was in tact. Basically, they put the egg inside of the ravioli, cooked it for 2 minutes, and the result is a perfectly cooked “soft-boiled” egg. It also creates the impression of a “ravioli-in-a-ravioli.” Then there was the sauce. This was a light, truffle butter sauce, full of fresh truffles, which I assume must be the Italian summer truffles. Other summer truffles that we had were a little mild, but this sauce had been salted perfectly to bring out the flavor. The egg worked beautifully with the truffles, and the small amount of other filling was just enough to add some heft. It is my feeling that this egg treatment belies the chef’s French origins, as the French are the people who know how to turn an egg into something sublime, which this truly was. If there was ever a perfect fusion between Italian and French cuisine, I think this is it.
The secondi were good but definitely a step down or two from the antipasti and primi—which was our experience for every meal we had in Italy. One of us got the osso bucco, which was a good specimen, but nothing mind-blowing. The other of us got the pork dish, which was good, but would have benefited greatly from being cooked medium rare, rather than medium well. (thank you FDA for changing your recommendations and restoring this much-abused meat to us—at least in the U.S. ;) It would have been better than the osso bucco in that case.
I regret to say that I don’t remember our desserts. I know they were good, chocolatey, but I don’t remember much else (and no, I didn’t have too much to drink, I was pregnant, so just a few sips). We did get two coffees which were terrible, which was sort of surprising, given how much of their small kitchen was taken up by the espresso maker.
The service was perfect throughout –attentive, without hovering, and prompt without ever rushing. The wine list offered a very good selection of different Tuscan wines from many vintages, though I’ve forgotten what my husband ordered (as I said, it didn’t figure greatly in my meal).
The bill with a generous tip and one of the more expensive bottles on the list was less than 200 euros. Perfetto! La Bottega del 30 is something not to be missed when visiting Tuscany.
La Bottega del 30
Via di Santa Caterina,2, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Toscana 53019, IT
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