Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tuscany Day 2: The Little Car That Could

L and I had the brilliant idea of biking around the hill towns of Chianti on Saturday, and we were very much game until 7:36 a.m. By 7:37 a.m. the temperature had reached about 35 degrees, and looking out over the ridge that morning we realized "hilly" meant NO flat surfaces; a bike ride was going to have us peddling up and speeding down. We did not have the foresight to rent a car, nor did we have the inclination to bathe by the pool all day, so we conditioned ourselves to spend the day just sitting under a cyprus tree, reading, with a nice bottle (or 5) of Chianti Classico.

While trying to contemplate whether I could read my almost finished book slow enough so I would have something to read for the rest of the trip, a guy we met at a dinner party one chilly spring night, BB, walked up to our table. "Hi", he said, "it's great to see you guys here. I have a tiny little car and was planning on seeing the little towns in the area today. Want to come?" We finished our croissants and slurped our (delicious) cappuccinos down in ten seconds, and we were off. (Thanks again, BB!)

It was great. We drove a while, saw a little town that looked interesting, got down to look around, got back into the car, and repeated the sequence about 7 times. And, wow, look at some of what we saw:
The highlight of the day however, however, was an extremely accidental find. L and I read an engaging book called "Heat" by Bill Buford a couple of years ago. The author was a writer for the New Yorker who wanted a change in career and so he trained as a chef. He had many anecdotes, but the story that stuck was about a butcher named "Dario" from a little town in Italy - an energetic, knowledgeable and quite revered character known all throughout the Tuscany. Anthony Bourdain, a few years later, devoted a large part of his show on Tuscany to this same butcher, and he had (quite predictably) had nothing but great things to say about him.

So imagine our surprise, when, while walking around in a little town we discovered was called Panzano, while on a pit stop for lunch, we saw this:
and we started being filled with warm-fuzzy feelings. Dario had a restaurant serving lunch with only two entries on the menu: a set menu with a burger, and a set menu with a couple of unknown meats. We had lunch there, of course.

Voila, my mouth watering half pounder burger steak, served with the most delicious "ketchup" ever - they pureed their own Tuscan tomatoes to make it:

L and BB had the unknown meats, which turned out to be nothing short of spectacular: "Tuscan sushi", which is the best steak tartare on the planet earth (at least those parts I've been to) and "Tuscan tuna", pork that was brined and pulled to look and taste like really, really, really good tuna.

All dishes were served with raw vegetables, and this was quite a revelation as well - a dip of herbed salt, olive oil and red vinegar makes the vegetables better than french fries!

We were reluctant to leave the Butcher's shop, but we decided we had to tear ourselves away in order to make it back to a wine tasting in Badia organized for the wedding party. We decided to go down to the butcher shop for a last look before leaving, and got excited about an "Ode to Meat" menu they had for the next day. Still in carnivore mode, we decided to go to that and made our way to the butcher shop to make a reservation. Sitting there was Dario, who was himself manning the shop. He took our reservations, and he gave me a nice jar of herbed salt as a gift. Grazie!