Just a quick list of the spots we managed to eat at in 10 days in October. Most courtesy of Slow Food's "Osterie d'Italia" 2004, which (based on random picks from it and its 2003 precursor) i have come to believe is the single most reliable compilation of restaurant recs ever assembled -- just try Porta Mosa in Cremona if you have any doubt of what absolute gems lie between the covers of this publication.
Lunch: Stallo del Pomodoro, Modena. 2d visit; not as magical as the first time (last september), but cured meats and wine list are still killer; pasta seemed just very good. perhaps the delight of eating al fresco in september added more than i realized.
Dinner:Osteria del carcere, S. Gimignano -- and i bet you figured at best the food in a place like S.G. would be avg. tourist fare; wonderfully genuine folks run this place that specializes in pate's and butcher's cuts; very good and reasonable wine choices; overall rating: very fine.
Lunch: Hosteria Il Carroccio, Siena, excellent black kale and chick pea soup, spleen crostini (first time for me, really great stuff), the more usual chicken liver crostini was definitely benchmark grade stuff; excellent pasta and a shared spezzatino that couldn't have been better; a lovely (but young) '99 brunello didn't hurt the meal.
dinner: La Tenda Rossa, (michelin 2 star -definitely not a Slow Food place) -- our 2d visit, the first having been 5 or 6 years ago; this time the food seemed less on target (although we've come to understand italian regional cooking better in that time, so ....); overall of course very good --especially a just room temperature slices of roasted loin of cinta senese (what an awesome PIG!!) over some frise and other delicate grees; and a very delicate pile of agnilotti like pillows stuffed with baby cuttlefish; service was very off --nice, pleasant, but they never seemed in control; very odd for a 2 star; happily, the wine list is still lovely, and they handled the corked bottle of '90 Gaja Sori Tilden with proper grace. (the replacement bottle was magnificent.)
on the $/value scale, which may not be a fair way to look at this sort of place, this meal (especially if one holds the wine aside) was probably near the bottom decile.
Lunch: Antica trattoria da guido, Arezzo; no other (anglophone) tourists --and it was the big 1st weekend of the month "antique/garage sale" thing; very small, very straight forward place 1 waitress and (her father inlaw?) behind the bar, generally not helping much; she was a real trouper and charmer. food was much better than just solid: pappardelle with hare ("lepre") and a tortelli with duck ragu, very, very good; simple but solid local wines.
dinner: Arnolfo, colle val d'elsa; michelin 2 star; first visit; elegant, delightful and well worth the money. great mix of tradtion (w/ impecible ingredients) and touchs of inovation that didn't interfer or seem forced.
Lunch: La Chiusa, Montefollonico; awesome setting and caring staff; food was, sadly, just OK; app's were solid but the "traditionally slow roasted" duck and lamb suffered from being served in their overreduced cooking juices and were too salty and what might have been a caramelized texture had gone over into being more evocative of being burned.
dinner: Trattoria del Borgo, perugia; another slow food rec; awesome; 3 women working their hearts out in a 3 room restaurant; the salumi and the pastas and the roast pigs and the chianina beef all just wonderful; and talk about $/value ratio; we went back for dinner on day 7.
day 5: luch: totally forgettable place in Assisi; the only slow food rec was closed that day; amazing though even in this tourist mecca (if that isn't too much of a mixed metaphor), just walking into an average spot near the lower basillica with a view down the valley, one still got a perfectly decent plate of antipasti and grilled lamb and perfectly nice ravioli.
dinner: Il Postale, michelin 1 star and much commented on here; maybe an off night? sorry Joe H., but this was an example of very earnest, very kind people, fancifying up really superb ingredients to no ill effect but to no enhanced effect either; if i were in the area, i would definitely eat there again, but i would not drive 45 minutes to do so. Really good and bargain priced wine list though. (the '98 Caprai 25 anno, after about 30 minutes in carafe, started to show how great this wine can be.)
day 6: L'Asino D'Oro, Orvietto. can i move to orvietto tomorrow and eat every meal for the rest of my life here? owner/chef Lucio Sforza (i wish my italian were good enough to ask him whether he was a Sforza Sforza (as in the Dukes of Milan, etc.) is amazing; he seems very humble, but his eyes are like a hawk's as he inspects the faces of the diners in two rooms of his restaurant; he exudes intensity. his food shows it; gnudi in sort of herb sauce were out of this world, powerful and rich, but light; and a tagliatelle in an eggplant pesto (!!) was one of the best pasta dishes i've ever had. (maybe only everything Laura Galli at Guisti serves and Alajmo's linguiine with sliced cuttlefish livers haev been better); that followed with a roast wild boar in an ancient recipe with cocoa powder. (complete with a historical note (handwritten) in the menu about the introduction of chocolate to italina cooking in the post-Columbus years. (and it doesn't hurt that Orvietto has got to be one of the pretties towns anywhere with one of the most magnificent cathedrals in all of Italy.)
dinner: Il Bacco Felice, Foligno -- actually a very good place; --highly idyosyncratic; not a place to go if you are travelling with a non-drinker. the review in Faith Willinger doesn't quite do it justice, but it does capture a bit of the anarchic nature of the place. the slow food write up covers the quality of the food and wine.
[Hopefully i'll have time to cover the rest of the trip in a 2d post soon.]