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Trip report: Volterra, Querceto, Colle di Val d'Elsa, Siena, Pisa

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Trip report: Volterra, Querceto, Colle di Val d'Elsa, Siena, Pisa

Kelly | Apr 29, 2016 05:45 AM

Many thanks to the Italy board (if this term isn’t now thoroughly outmoded) Chowhounds! Your previous posts guided us to several excellent meals during our recent long weekend in Volterra. So, paying it back/forward, a not-so-brief recap:

QUERCETO

Locanda del Sole – THANK YOU, ALLENDE! After landing in Pisa, we meandered around the countryside in our Fiat Panda with no real plans, following whatever roads and hilltop towns caught our eye. At least, that’s what I told G. But I had an agenda… We stopped in Peccioli to get a porchetta snack at Il Grano e L’Uva (delicious), and I rang Locanda to see if we could get a table for lunch. G. rolled his eyes, but he’s used to my slightly unreasonable, stomach-driven approach to travel, and was happy to go along for the ride. We couldn't have asked for a better first meal. And Querceto itself is a little gem: two restaurants, a handful of houses and a castle high on a hill in the middle of nowhere. We were the only people lunching on a Thursday (I don’t know how they stay in business but I’m glad they do)—so Enrico ceremoniously installed us on the terrace, where for the duration of our meal, we eard nothing but birds and an "arrivederci" from the passing postman. Enrico was, at least that day, chef, prep cook, waiter, sommelier and (literal) herder of cats: a true renaissance man.

He started us off with a nibbler of shaved, dried wild boar loin with mostarda and agorgeous Valdobbiadene Prosecco, which went beautifully with my lovely fritti di verdura—sometimes you don’t need more than broccoli, carrots, salt and flour—and G’s beef tartare and smoked pork loin (in what would become a theme of the trip, when G couldn’t decide which he wanted, Enroco said he’d bring some of both. We followed with risotto con animelle (the rice perhaps a bit too al dente for my taste) and ravioli di lepre in dolce e forte con prugna fritta (delicious), and then moved to cervo marinato con polenta gratinato (another winner) and amazing spring lamb with asparagus and mayonesa fatta in casa. As Allende said, the wine list isn’t all that special, but we were very happy with our bottle of Alsatian Riesling, which did justice to everything we ate.

I should know better than to order dessert in Italy—I don’t have a sweet tooth to begin with. But I was carried away by the sunshine and Enrico’s charm, so ordered a lemon tart. Luckily, the local cat helped me eat it. Such a lovely afternoon!

VOLTERRA

Trattoria Da Badó – This was an easy choice for our first dinner in Volterra, as it was literally up the road from our Airbnb farmhouse: a pleasant welcome, a local crowd, and a decent meal. We were still half-stuffed from our Locanda del Sole lunch, so contented ourselves with zuppa Volterrana (which gave new meaning to “thick and hearty”) for G and tagliatelle al ragù for me. Nothing earthshattering, but decent and quite inexpensive.
L’Incontro – The welcome and the ambiance at this wine bar/café/pasticceria were as warm as your posts led me to expect. G raved about the zuppa Volterrana (more refined than the version he had at Trattoria Da Badó) and the plate of charcuterie (a special call-out for the liver pâté and the amazing housemade porchetta!), saying he could eat them for lunch every day for a week. My bresaola salad was less impressive (I could have done without the citrus dressing, which was just odd), but a thick soup of farro and mushrooms was excellent on a rainy day. We ended up stopping back in here a few more times for coffees and glasses of Prosecco, depending on the time of day. Their early-evening spread of free nibbles was impressive and tasty.

Ristorante la Carabaccia – We took a gamble on this restaurant, recommended by a very lovely woman who creates very pretty etchings in a very tiny shop around the corner from Piazza dei Priori. I’ve never eaten in a restaurant next door to a museum of torture; the location didn’t exactly inspire confidence. But it was a really nice experience. A very elderly mother in the kitchen, her daughter in the dining room; two choices for a starter, two for a main, two for dessert. We had quite a decent pasta with red snapper to start, and then I went for baccalà with leeks and chickpeas (grown in Volterra—hadn’t known it was a big ceci producing region). While I’m not a huge salt-cod fan, I quite enjoyed the dish. Drawing a blank on what G. had, but it was pleasant enough.

COLLE DI VAL D'ELSA

Officina della Cucina Popolare – LOVED this place! It’s tiny, and was stuffed with locals having a nice Saturday lunch. The waitress had obviously studied at a school near and dear to my heart—the school of “’or’ is the most overrated word in any language.” When I hesitated between the pappardelle di grano saraceno al ragù di cinghiale and the casarecce di farina di farro al ragù di conigliolo, she said immediately that she would bring me a half-portion of each. They were both DELICIOUS. G. enjoyed his pici al cacio e pepe, but I think I was the big pasta winner. Somehow we also managed to get through a massive serving of peposo, a spicy pork stew. Wines by the glass were excellent and astutely paired. All in all, a fantastic meal for a ridiculously low price.

SIENA

Caffè Corso - We were still so full from lunch in Colle di Val d’Elsa, we didn’t bother to eat a proper dinner in Siena. We just wandered around, enjoying the passeggiata hour and chasing evening sunshine in photographs, until we ducked into this unassuming bar for a quick drink. And then we stayed for almost two hours, vastly entertained by the hordes of colliardi (think Sienese frat boys, but somehow far less irritating than their American counterparts) who came in to drink vile green concoctions, scarf down the free happy hour nibbles and break into song. I really hadn’t lived until I’d heard 15 20-somethings wearing funny hats, singing along to the Italian remake of “I Only Want to Be with You.” Bonus: a gem of a bartender who crafted what were hands-down the best gin-and-tonics we’ve ever had – a triumph of cucumber-and-black-peppercorn-muddled deliciousness.

PISA

Antico Podere Re di Puglia – We had time for one last meal before catching our plane. I pulled this rec from an old CH post, and am SO glad I did. Bizarrely located within shouting distance of the airport, but packed full of all of the nonnas and nonnos and grandkids and everybody else out for a Sunday afternoon. Prosecco being shared across tables, an enormous open-fire grill in the middle of the dining room, and an incredibly understanding waitress. When we sat down and realised it was cash only, I told her that G. resterá qui e io vado al bancomat. She scoffed and said "Doppo, doppo, mangiate adesso!" Basically: no, no, have a good lunch and you can worry about it later. And we did! A massive plate of salumi, including what seemed to be raw beef sausage—initially off-putting but delicious. Then farro risotto with asparagus (G: “It may look like green spludge, but it’s the tastiest green spludge I’ve ever had”) and one last pappardelle with rabbit (lo, it hath entered the pantheon of best pasta dishes ever); grilled lamb chops (slightly overcooked, they were the low point of the meal) and what seemed like 5 kilos of tagliata di manzo, grilled perfectly rare and served with a raw artichoke slaw and gorgeous roasted potatoes. And then we collapsed on the lawn out back, in the sun, for a half hour of digestion before hie-ing ourselves planeward. What a way to end our visit!

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