Notable Tuscan Tables

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When anticipating a trip to Tuscany, I look forward to exploring its historic hill towns, contemplating its art treasures and taking in the splendor of its landscapes. But really, more than anything else, I look forward to eating. Restaurants have access to some of the finest local and seasonal produce in the world, in addition to top-quality meats such as wild boar and Chianina beef, and fresh seafood from the Tuscan coast. And, of course, the region also has its pasta specialties, like pici and pappardelle.

The restaurants below are scattered across central and eastern Tuscany, and each is close to a recommended hotel or site of interest. In addition to excellent food, I sought out attractive spaces. In such a lovely corner of the world, it seems a shame to dine somewhere that is anything less than beautiful. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, if not required.

Arnolfo


Less than a half-hour from Belmond Castello di Casole or COMO Castello Del Nero, this gourmet restaurant is in the heart of Colle Alta, the atmospheric ridge-top old quarter of Colle di Val d’Elsa. Photographs of abandoned palaces decorate the walls of the small, bright dining rooms, and table settings make use of fine local crystal. Elegant waiters glide about the space in well-tailored suits, and the food has the jewel-like presentations one expects in a Michelin two-star establishment. We opted for the “Land Evolution” menu, including meat and seafood, rather than “Vegetable Architectures,” which also looked appealing. The meal ended up being nine courses. I particularly loved the mild and almost creamy Tuscan prawn tartare with sea asparagus pesto and finger lime gelée, the delicate guinea fowl agnolotti with sweet-savory tomato sauces and a guinea fowl croquette, and the superbly tender Simone Fracassi Chianina beef steak and tongue with paper-thin potato slices and tarragon mayonnaise. The full-bodied Teruzzi “Terre di Tufi” white blend was a compelling pairing for the first courses, and the bold and complex Fanti Brunello di Montalcino came in the tallest wine glass I’ve ever held. Michelin can be unreliable in Italy, but here the guide got it right.

Arnolfo
Via XX Settembre 50, Colle di Val d’Elsa. Tel. (39) 057-792-0549

L’Asinello

Ballottine of rabbit and eggplant with black truffle, L'Asinello
Ballottine of rabbit and eggplant with black truffle, L'Asinello - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Cozy and stylish Michelin-starred L’Asinello occupies a former donkey stable and an adjacent garden patio in the hamlet of Villa a Sesta, an eight-minute drive from Borgo San Felice. On the day we dined, we seemed to be the only Americans; I heard only Italian from the other tables. We opted for the reasonably priced four-course menu (rather than five courses or à la carte), and it was creative but unfussy. The first bite was quite fun: a deconstructed panzanella salad consisting of a little ball of bread and tomato topped with shaved cucumber ice. Heartier courses also satisfied. Beef tartare arrived beneath a glass cloche of juniper smoke, accompanied by balls of Parmesan mousse; risotto in a green-chicory-vanilla sauce came topped with savory shredded hare; and pickled vegetables leavened the richness of a ballotine of rabbit and eggplant topped with black truffle. A dark and zesty Villa a Sesta Chianti Classico paired perfectly with that dish. Service was gracious and unaffected. Closed Monday.

L’Asinello
Via Nuova 6, Località Villa a Sesta. Tel. (39) 057-735-9279

La Bandita Townhouse


This fashionable and casual spot at the rear of an eponymous hotel has a convivial candlelit dining room with exposed stone walls. However, we opted to sit outside on a sunken covered terrace facing the patio, an oasis of green in Pienza’s old center. Here we heard mostly English from an American and Northern European clientele, but no matter. The youthful staff were friendly and offered helpful advice about both the menu and wine list. Although it wasn’t exactly Tuscan, I couldn’t resist the tagliolini with Amalfi lemon sauce, a bright and tangy tangle of pasta served with some pecorino, the cheese for which Pienza is famous. I’d heard that the burgers were superb, but I opted for the char-grilled Chianina beef fillet. It came exceedingly rare, not medium-rare as requested, but crusted in salt, it was exceedingly flavorful. Accompanying the beef was truffle mustard, crispy strips of pancetta and a rich potato millefoglie layered with butter and melted cheese. I was surprised at our waiter’s recommendation of the Fabbrica Rosato Orcia, a local rosé, but it proved to be one of a very few wines that could work well with both lemon pasta and red meat.

La Bandita Townhouse
Corso Il Rossellino 111, Pienza. Tel. (39) 057-8749-0052

Boccon DiVino


The great attraction of Boccon DiVino is its covered panoramic terrace, which can be enclosed with folded panels of glass in inclement weather. From our table at one corner, we had breathtaking views of the countryside below and part of the nearby hill town of Montalcino. After an amuse-bouche of classic pappa al pomodoro (tomato-and-bread soup) with crunchy potato chips, I moved on to delicious mezzeluna (like ravioli) with a savory and earthy combination of mortadella, onion cream and black truffle. My main course was unfortunately less successful. The pork loin was overcooked, and its almond crust only emphasized its dryness. A dollop of aioli provided some relief, and I did enjoy the accompanying waffle formed from olive oil-soaked mashed potatoes, topped with marinated zucchini. The food was uneven, but considering the view, the stop here still seemed worthwhile. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Boccon DiVino
Località Colombaio Tozzi, Montalcino. Tel. (39) 057-784-8233

Il Pozzo


In the heart of the wonderful hill town of Montepulciano, this restaurant recently renovated its barrel-vaulted dining room and front bar. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist its small front patio, overlooking the Renaissance church of Sant’Agostino and the Torre di Pulcinella on the pretty Piazza Michelozzo. Wine lovers should consider Il Pozzo simply because it offers Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello by the glass. Feeling uncharacteristically sympathetic to my long-suffering accountant, I opted for the less-expensive Ornellaia Poggio alle Gazze, a polished and carefully balanced blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino and Viognier. It took on additional spiciness with a plate of scallops served atop a purée of sweet Mantuan pumpkin and garnished with saffron mayonnaise. A bowl of handmade pici tossed with guinea fowl ragu followed. This restaurant is hardly hidden away in Montepulciano, but it’s cheerful and attractive, and the food is excellent.

Il Pozzo
Piazza Michelozzo 7, Montepulciano. Tel. (39) 057-877-2170

Ristorante Albergaccio di Castellina


Service at this cozy restaurant in the heart of Chianti could not have been more accommodating. Before we sat down at our table on the patio, our waitress adjusted its angle to maximize the view. When drizzle forced us inside minutes thereafter, she found us a place near the hearth. There we settled into a wonderful meal of upscale Italian comfort food. First came an amuse-bouche of ribollita soup with onion, white bean, carrot and pecorino. In the mood for a lighter lunch, I opted for a starter of “green tomatoes according to the old recipe of the Visman family,” and indeed, the combination of firm green tomatoes, fresh green figs, grapes, crunchy pine nuts and sweet red wine sauce felt somehow venerable. Our pastas followed. I relished the handmade pici in a deeply flavorful sauce of stewed beef cheek, red bell pepper and shaved Parmesan cheese. It was just the thing for an autumn afternoon. The spaghetti, cooked like a risotto, was equally satisfying, with a cherry-tomato-based sauce enriched with dashes of creamed mozzarella and brightened by fresh basil pesto. These dishes were hearty and soul-satisfying, and their presentations were attractive. In short, the ideal Italian lunch. Closed Sunday.

Ristorante Albergaccio di Castellina
Via Fiorentina 59, Castellina in Chianti. Tel. (39) 057-774-1042

Read more about our editor’s trip to Tuscany and Umbria

By Andrew Harper Editor Andrew Harper editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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