Osteria dal Manzo in Lucca, Italy
I missed this restaurant on my 2016 trip to Lucca, they may have been closed for part of the winter. I’m pleased to say they were open for Tour D'Italia 2017.
Manzo Night 1
To start, artichoke confit and finished in bacon fat, additionally there were bacon crumbles and a small piece of bacon as garnish. A Parmigiano fonduta was at the bottom of the plate as an anchor and provided a textural contrast to the al dente nature of the artichoke. While looking back on the entire trip and the number of artichoke dishes I consumed, this rates highly on the list.
Pappardelle anatra, was a simple dish of ground duck, long cooked in broth (something I've recreated at home). While I couldn't detect any pieces of onion, carrot or celery, there was a whole bay leaf as garnish. This is no nonsense Italian food, part of the reason I love pasta so much, minimal and traditional. Pasta was silky and a bit more thin than the previous two days. A shout out to my friend Hillary in Vincenza, her dish was better. Pasta was thicker and al dente.
The tordolli in meat sauce was outstanding and I think, better than any other I'd tasted in Lucca by a wide margin. There was substance to the pasta, real depth. The noodle was al dente and a hint thicker than most American style stuffed pasta. Tordolli is a round ravioli to translate into easy to use American. Of the generic, ubiquitous tordolli in meat sauce, I found the pasta at Manzo to be a highlight.
As a second course, the classic grilled steak over greens with some lightly marinated artichoke pieces. The artichoke wasn't dressed heavily, if anything a bit more acid than oil, which was purposeful as you want acid with the steak. No off artichoke flavors when consumed with the wine. Steak was a spot on mid-rare, tender and simply seasoned. No mistakes, just wonderfully complete.
Brownie with cream. As billed by the server, dessert was an American style brownie not made from a box you picked up at Costco. Moist and chocolatey.
As an addition, Antonio, the proprietor came to the table to talk. Great guy. We spoke about all things wine, politics, food, tourism and agriculture.
Manzo Night 2
To start, Fegatini over creamed spinach with Mandarin orange. This could be one of the finest examples of wonderfully cooked chicken livers I’ve experienced. These chickens were raised right, I didn’t get a single piece of connective tissue or fiberous material in a single bite. Texture and flavor were the best in memory. The play to use a creamed spinach (I’m a sucker for creamed spinach) paired well. The addition of citrus brought the whole dish together. Great preparation on a classic dish.
Ravioli with bacon and peanuts in a light cheese fonduta. I don’t recall ever having peanuts with Italian food. Usually it’s hazelnuts or pistachio nuts with the Italians. The peanuts weren’t a focus of the dish, but rather a texture element. The ravioli were of a size and texture similar to what I grew up on, small and densely packed with filling. The bacon added both crunchy texture and salt to the dish. Overall, wonderful and I would like to recreate this dish at home.
Grilled pork with crispy potato (the potatoes were best I’ve had this trip, they were actually crispy, not sitting in a steamer tray). I’m leading off with the potatoes because I’ve had roasted potatoes several times and each time they seemed to be pre-cooked and holding somewhere in a steam tray. Manzo was making these potatoes fresh, as there was only crispy golden goodness and not an once of moisture on any potato.
Manzo Night 3
Beef Tartare. Yes, I know, I’m pushing my luck like I did last year. Italian beef tartare can be boring. Light in flavor and salt and no egg yolk. Manzo’s preparation was with balsamic vinegar, which helps bring out flavor. Add the base of artichokes and a little horseradish cream on the side and this dish is a good play on tartare.
Spaghetti with a creamed spinach and nuts, not a pesto sauce, there was also some anchovy in the base of the sauce. Using what seemed to be the creamed spinach base from my chicken liver dish, it coated the pasta completely and beautifully. I was preparing something close to this spinach style sauce with arugula, walnuts and cheese back in Mammoth last year. Using the anchovy changes the sauce into something more mouth-coating and full palate than using greens alone. Also, I didn’t taste any heavy or even moderate garlic flavors as you would in pesto. It's powerful flavor would work with bretty wines, acidic white wines, and fruity reds.
Duo of fried rabbit and chicken. Each breading was different, the rabbit used rosemary and the chicken used garlic. The chicken was fried a bit longer. I liked the rabbit best. Tender, juicy white meat and the hint of rosemary. I could have eaten three more pieces. I’m not complaining about the chicken, it was just an easy second place for me, albeit, well fried and well salted.
Dessert was a no cook cheesecake, with what tasted like a mix of creme fraiche and cream cheese, maybe some mascarpone. Great crust and I think an easy dish to recreate and serve for people at a dinner party.
Wine was Bordocheo house wine, which was a bit high in acid for me this season. Certainly, the best pairing was with the duo of fried food.
Finished with Amaro with pine nuts in it.
I'm incredibly happy to have eaten at Manzo three times and look forward to my return. Thanks to Antonio and the whole crew that took care of me each night.