This time we had such a short visit to Tuscany, basically 4 days of touring and 5 nights in our home base, Montecatini Terme that we had little opportunity for culinary exploring or comparing alternatives. So no claims are made that the places described below that we enjoyed are “the best” since I simply don’t know enough to say. As mentioned before, our main taste is for high quality trattoria dining as exemplified by SlowFood and similar establishments – Also we followed a practice of ordering the “house” wine on this trip –most of the wine we were served was Tuscany IGT, not always with a varietal designation. A couple of the wines were on the light side but most was very tasty and enjoyable to drink as you would expect in a growing region and most- not all - of these restaurants had significant wine offerings.
We were in Montecatini Terme at the deadest of the offseason, but spring was coming on, there is a lively local population, an evening passagiata, and the “liberty” architecture of the spa area was charming. We dined at 3 places – an unremarkable pizzeria (when we were unable to go to a closed Tigellaria on night one) , the very good Enoteca Giovanni and – three times - Pellegrini. All three are in the commercial center which was convenient to our hotel and the central train station.
PELLEGRINI OSTERIA MODERNA which shares premises with the same family’s pasticceria had a casual style, very good local style food and a lively mainly local clientele. Friendy host had spent time in the US. We were very satisfied by the dishes there, which included a delicious special of mugellani (a potato filled ravioli much better than a similar version I had eaten in Florence on last visit) with ragu and small mushrooms and a fine rabbit dish, as well as a good version of cacio e pepe and many other items., They have a good cook in the kitchen. On the weekend the place was flooded with local parties, especially young women dressed to the 9s out for an evening together. Very pleasant, unpretentious, good value. Seemed pretty much free of foreign tourists tho we sat next to a russian family living locally. Lots of Russians in this area.
ENOTECA GIOVANNI was a more ambitious restaurant with more elevated service and wine selection catering to a clientele of prosperous adults local and foreign liking to be well fed. Again, the people were warm and hospitable, the meal excellent and we enjoyed the convivial atmosphere and the personalities of the long term owners and staff. We drank the house white this time which was I believe a vermentino Tuscany IGT from Vinci nearby with Jim’s roasted turbot with artichokes and my delicious piccione in a casserole with pine nuts and raisins (yes, I made the sacrifice on the wine choice) . We saw Tuscan steaks, very fine looking seafood and offerings from the ample dessert cart enjoyed by others. A worthwhile choice.
Also on the main square of the town is PASTICCERIA GIOVANNINI with lovely pastries. We particularly enjoyed a very rich yeast loaf (similar to pannetone) with liquor soaked raisins, citrus rind, and just a touch of little chocolate inside coated with white sugar which we brought home with us to Brooklyn.
Thursday was Pistoia, a very interesting historic town and almost tourist free. We had our lunch at TRATTORIA ALL’ABBONDANZA, a Slowfood place, which came under new young ownership when the prior owner retired in 2016. We made an enjoyable meal of their very generous mixed appetizer presentation (picture attached) including tongue and pork with green sauce, pecorino, mortadella, crostini with chicken livers, pappa pomodoro (non-soupy) and a stunning insalata di coppa (headcheese). Loved the gelatinous meats and the fresh herbaceous dressing in the last mentioned dish. This was followed by a very good dish of fresh pasta with ragu. Good house wine. Note, there is another slowfood place in Pistoia, La Bottegaia, which we were unable to look into.
Friday was Siena. Don’t drive there without a parking space reserved. Remembering old times we headed for the Fortezza where there used to be a big parking field with a lot of spaces. Much smaller now, and we drove around for quite a while before we found a spot all the while Jim was threatening to go back home without stopping. For lunch we headed for BAGOGA (AKA GROTTO DI SANTA CATERINA) (thanks Lisa!) but unfortunately it was Friday in Lent, Jim is observing the fast and Bagoga serves no fish. That is Italy today. It is a very meaty place and all the meat dishes looked fabulous! We satisfied ourselves with very rich and delicious parmesan flan followed by ribollita. Good house wine. Id go back on a different day of the week any time.
Saturday was Lucca, another great walking town. We went by train because of the awful drive the prior day, so we missed visits to villas, restaurants outside of the Center and the Garfagnana which I was very sorry about, however the town alone was worthy of our day and more. Our lunch choice was IL MECENATE with its eccentric owner Stefano. It was packed with families out for Saturday lunch and fun was had. Linked up with a local fisherman, they offer a fish menu in addition to their regular menu and many specials. I decided to go with the fish and had a spaghetti with wild asparagus and small shrimps, on the austere side until I got in tune with it and a robust parcel of fish, seafish and white beans, roasted in foil with olive oil and herbs; Jim had tordelli, the local meat filled pasta, with ragu and tripe, which he was very happy with. Personally, I thought the tordelli dish was a little one dimensional with meat both inside and outside the pasta, but it was tasty, as was my fish. We would definitely return. http://www.ristorantemecenate.it/
I believe Stefano has a satellite place Bar Osteria della Stellario at the corner (facing the tall obelisk with the Immaculate Conception statue on top) which would likely be a good place for light meals and local products.
Our last day in Tuscany Sunday, was spent in Florence, a terrible day eating wise to be there. Of the places that were open I was hoping to visit Da Ruggero but there was just too little time to get over there. We were able to snag a table at TRATTORIA MARIONE which certainly has a successful business model and was just jammed. Jim’s pasta with boar ragu was very good, much better than my tubes with ragu strasciata, with a bit (not enough) besciamella stirred through it. The tagliata we shared was cooked properly and very reasonable in pricebut was nothing special. This was the only place where we ate proper Tuscan bread on this trip and it was great!! Great traditional place at a good price but only the one dish was really super of those we choose.
Its interesting to watch the generational shift between the traditional trattoria serving the traditional dishes without much self-consciousness to the newer model of very conscious km0 type establishment. I lean to the old way, but good food is still being served and we hope to get back to this area sooner rather than later.
Thanks to all who gave advice on this trip and on these locations in the past!
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