June 1, 2006

Italy Food & Lodging

Where We Stayed

La Canonica In Cortine

Located 5 minutes drive from San Donato In Poggio, this complex of buildings includes 10 guest villas and a bed & breakfast. Our friends had two villas (they were traveling as a couple with infant twins, plus grandmother, brother & girlfriend), while we had a room in the B&B. I found the price quite reasonable and the accomodations were excellent. Our room had tile floors, lovely beamed ceiling and jacuzzi bathtub. The setting was calm and peaceful, the staff always helpful with great recommendations for food. We were a 30 minute drive from Siena, San Gimigiano and most other places we wanted to visit.

Residenza Cannaregio

Located 5 minutes walk from the Santa Alvise traghetto stop in the Cannaregio, this is a recently renovated hotel complex. Facilities were clean, couldn't complain about the room, breakfast was included and I liked being located in a more residential area. However, for 4 nights, we paid almost twice as much as we paid for 5 nights in Tuscany. The advertised high speed Internet was non-functional for the duration of our stay. One night we returned to our room to find that housekeeping had neglected to replenish the toilet paper. A visit to the front desk resulted in no toilet paper after a 30 minute wait. During a subsequent call to the front desk, we were asked if we wanted to "up the priority" on the request. I don't know about you, but after a full day of sight-seeing, I may not need toilet paper the minute I arrive back to my room, but once I request toilet paper, it's a high priority. :-)

Residenza Luc & Genevieve

We stayed with friends in Varese. They had a lovely villa clinging to a hillside. The hospitality was excellent and the food was great!

Where We Ate

Antica Trattoria "La Toppa"
Centro Storico San Donato in Poggio (FI)
Tel: 055 8072900

Mushroom soup and bruschetta
Pasta with duck ragu and pasta with tomato and garlic
Gelato and pannacotta with fieldberries
Chianti classico Fratonia La Ripa 2003, made in San Donato

We ate here our first night. We were exhausted and the food went down really well. All the food was hearty and tasty, and we were welcomed even though we arrived after nine. Perfect for our first night in Italy. Recommendation from Irene at the Canonica.

Al Mangia
Il Campo in Siena

We ate here for lunch in Siena. I had a mushroom and pork risotto that I quite enjoyed. I shared a shrimp appetizer on a bed of artichoke with my husband - the artichoke appeared to have been marinated and then shredded and the flavour was really nice.

Bottega del Moro

Gnocchi (me) and degustazione de caprini (goat cheese sampler - Guy)
Oliveti de vitello (veal shaped like olives)
Wine: Castello di Cacciano 1997 and Renzo Marinari 2001

Dinner on our second evening. Another recommendation from Irene at the Canonica. I had the gnocchi and everyone at the table agreed they were the best gnocchi anybody had ever tried. They simply disappeared in an explosion of flavour as soon as they touched the tongue. The veal was also good, but after the gnocchi, I could have had anything and not really noticed. The staff was friendly and accomodating.

Ristorante Badia a Coltibuono
Localita Badia a Coltibuono
53013 Gaiole in Chianti - Siena
Tel: 0577 749031

Lunch on our third day. I had a squid and red pepper pasta with chickpea noodles, Guy had pork ragu pasta with white beans on the side. The setting was lovely, with arching vines covering a walkway leading to an outdoor terrace with a view of the valley. The service was indifferent.

Osteria La Gramola
Osteria & Enoteca
Prodotti tipici toscani
Via delle Fonti 1
50028 Tavarnelle V.P. (FI) Tel: 055 8050321

This is where we did our Tuscan cooking class (another recommendation from the Canonica). We made (and ate) Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup), Maiale Ubriaco (drunken pork) and Biscottini con Vinsanto (biscotti). We also got a lesson on olive oil and a tasting of several different types, a tasting of pecorino cheeses with honey and quince jellies, and a Chianti wine sampling. I think my friend would have liked the cooking session to be more hands on, but I had a good time, and it was nice to be able to talk to local people and try some traditional recipes.

Ristorante Arnolfo
Via XX Settembre 50
53034 Colle di Val d'Elsa - Siena
Tel: 0039 0577 920549

We were going to have lunch in San Gimigniano but the place we were hoping to eat at was closed. So on the recommendation of my friends' copy of The Food and Wine Lover's Guide to Tuscany, we drove the 20 minutes to Colle di Val d'Elsa in search of Arnolfo's.

Just to set the stage, we had spent the morning and early afternoon trekking around San Gimigniano in our tourist getups of shorts, t-shirts, sandals and sundry items of touring gear. Guy and I found the place first. When we poked our heads inside we found an immaculate white foyer with a waiter in full double-breasted suit. Uh-oh. I mean, we all love fine food. We have all dined out at some of the finest restaurants in Vancouver. We just weren't mentally prepared for the meal we were about to get. But after a brief discussion amongst ourselves, then another discussion with the waiter regarding the dress code, we took the plunge. He didn't look too happy to have our scruffy selves gracing one of his tables but his colleague was pleasant and lovely the whole time. I didn't realize until midway through our meal that the little ottoman next to my chair was to place my purse on so it wouldn't get sullied by the floor.

We went in looking for a light lunch. We left having eaten one of the best meals of our lives.

This place was on a par with the best restaurants I have eaten at (Lumiere in Vancouver, Oliveto in Oakland, etc.). They offer a traditional Tuscan tasting menu and a more avant-garde tasting menu, with a la carte selections. I only wanted one course, so I ordered the Tortelli di ricotta di pecora con pesto leggero al dragoncello e timballo di pecorino (AKA the pasta stuffed with pecorino ricotta). Alas, one course was not to be. Our hosts insisted on plying us with food (someone we met in Venice later laughed and said we were given the poor man's treatment. Do I care? Hell, no!). First came the bread, three pieces on my plate, each one of a different type. When I returned from the washroom, the bread had been replenished on my companion's plates with three other types of breads. Then came the plate of amuse-gueules, 5 mouthfuls of exquisite flavours (shrimp, red mullet, quiche...), then a zucchini flower stuffed with ricotta, then my pasta. We declined dessert but were nevertheless presented with a dessert sampler plate, each mouthful of sweets better than the last.

A top-notch dining experience. I wish we'd gone for dinner. But then, maybe we would have missed the lovely spectacle of the grasses undulating like ocean waves on the hillside behind the restaurant.

La Locanda di Pietracupa
Not sure if this qualifies as being in San Donato or Castellina.
Turning left out of the Canonica access road, this restaurant is the first one on the right.

Dinner on our last day in Tuscany. By this point I was no longer hungry. To be honest, I can't remember what I ate here (I had a pasta - veal ragu? - and a green salad). I just remember it was good. Like all the food in Tuscany. Fresh, simple and full of flavour.

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