Osteria dal Manzo, Lucca

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Restaurant Triple Play, Lucca

Osteria via San Giorgio, Lucca

I knew nothing of Osteria via San Giorgio, other than I had walked by it the last two years several times on my daily and nightly walks around town. A “fancy” patio with lights and color, the interior is much more seasoned and typical rustic Italian.The crowd during my visit was 100% Italian, with a large family party celebrating a birthday. It gives me some comfort to know that the place is frequented by locals.

To start, raw artichoke salad. The salad was spot on for flavor, texture and depth. Raw artichoke sliced on a mandolin and hit with a good punch of Parmigiano, olive oil, salt, lemon, some herbs and pepper. Simple and wonderful. Loved the dish and one of the best of the trip, even up against Manzo and Scacco Matto.

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Pappardelle with venison, but it wasn't the venison that made the dish, it was a combination of pine nuts and raisins as garnish that added texture and less sweetness than you'd think. The raisins were plump, but not over-sweet or hard nuggets; they added acid and character, rather than detracted. The venison was stewed first and that cooking liquid was used in the dish.

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Antica Drogheria Pizzeria, Lucca

Antica Drogheria Pizzeria sees everything from students to families. It has a smart and inexpensive local lunch as well as a take away counter if you're looking for something quick. I sat down to eat the smart lunch.

Polenta cake with truffle. As billed, with a strong residual truffle flavor, more like a truffle salsa as the truffles were preserved in some way. Polenta has a good sautéed texture to the outside. Simple appetizer to make and serve for a party.

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Beef cheek, with potato. Delicious cut, not overcooked. Had to be a bay leaf base sauce, plenty of that flavor in the meat. Dark brown sauce, simple and delicious preparation.

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Pappardelle with a wild boar meat sauce. Thick noodles with good chew, I would have preferred a slightly less watery sauce and allowed the noodles to release a little starch, but the overall profile was good.

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Wine was red, local, a hint stinky, and easy to drink and cheap. Have no clue what it was. What did we learn from this wine? Clean your barrels.

Osteria Baralla, Lucca

Osteria Baralla is THE restaurant that is probably a huge tourist spot during the summer, due to its proximity to the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, its large space, and air conditioning. It's big, has a larger menu and a staff that speaks English. Our server didn’t even offer the normal Italian pleasantries in Italian, just jumped right into English.

Breseola of water buffalo over arugula. Perfect start to things. Simple construction, albeit elegant for a plate of cured meat and greens. Garnish your own salad is the way of things in many Italian restaurants, the server offering olive oil and balsamic, along with salt and pepper. Salt and pepper were offered in preground shakers, rather than fresh cracked or course grain salt, like many other places.

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Tordolli in meat sauce was a good representation of what many Lucchese restaurants claim as "the best in town". Most restaurants here have this dish, a stuffed pasta with a meat sauce. The issue here was too much residual pasta water on the final plate. I'm looking for a red sauce without water in the final product. A quick toss in the sauce pan should eliminate any water as the pasta will release starch and thicken the resulting meat sauce. Otherwise, a good plate of pasta.

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Tripe in red sauce. No nonsense, tender and without excuses. I'm eating stomach lining in red sauce and it was good, not the best I've had, but not rank amateur either. Wine was of the local variety without much consequence.

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Fast Meals and Home Meals

A few pictures of travel meals, quick breakfast items, and the use of cold cuts that needed to be cleared out of the refrigerator before leaving the apartment. It's amazing what you can do with three different salumi and dry pasta.

It is now TRADITION since my first visit overseas, to eat exactly one McDonald’s hamburger.  I thoroughly enjoyed it for 1eu while transitioning through Florence.

Florence Train Station...1 McDonald's Hamburger please.

Florence Train Station...1 McDonald's Hamburger please.

Pathetic Chicken Sandwich. I needed a fix frankly. Something quick, something to remind me of the gas station complex in Ripon off Highway 99 in California. The picture below was from one of the bar places in Lucca on the way to the train station. I wouldn’t do it again, go find Caffe Monica for a take-away.

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Caffe Monica in Lucca just inside the gate wins for best sandwiches so far. Bread was outstanding and the meat and cheese quality were high. 2.50eu (look for the darker bread sandwich from the train station)

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Truffled Eggs, Truffled mortadella. My mortadella sandwich aka bologna sandwich for my 8+ hour train ride to Puglia was all I needed.

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Fusilli with truffle butter, sage and prosciutto. Nearing the end of what's in the refrigerator things get more simple. Version 2.0 was Fusilli with artichokes and sage. I think more representative of what might be seen in a restaurant.

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Lots of prosciutto, cheese, and bread for dinner at the apartment in Bologna. Breakfast tended to be eggs, toast, juice, coffee. Although my eggs with truffle butter took top marks in Lucca.

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Pizza in Three Cities, Lucca, Bologna, Lecce

Plenty of pizza was consumed for Tour d'Italia 2017, from Lucca to Lecce. Pizza at all the places I'm highlighting are sold by weight (you determine how much pizza you want to buy, they cut it and weigh it) Here's the highlight reel for the trip.

Forno Casale, Lucca
In addition to the bread they make each day (which is the best in Lucca), they do have cookies and pizza. I’d never had the pizza, so it was time for some take away. It was a classic sheet pan pizza I’ve had most of my life in Fresno, cooked by either my mother or grandmother. It was good at room temperature and the next day for breakfast. And it has an eye for the camera. I will stress the real highlight at Forno Casale is the breads. Outstanding and the best in Tuscany.

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Pizzartist, Bologna
Stumbled upon through a random walk back to the apartment. Delicious stuff.  Bought three different types, fungi, sausage with rapini, and smoked ham with tomato. All the crusts were great (translation:thin, not doughy, seasoned, crisp), the guys slinging the pie were excited to be there and they happily accept take out. Looked it up after the fact and it's one of the top restaurants in Bologna by TripAdvisor. Happy accident walking past the place.

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Pizza al Taglio, Lecce
Night 1: Three different pizza choices, filetto di Manzo with rucola in a stuffed pizza format, mushroom and sausage, and a light creamy Gorgonzola style but real light flavor with mushroom. Paired it with the Rosa Del Golfo Scaliere 2014 Negroamaro; which I ended up drinking for the next couple days and a match made in heaven, easy to drink and eat with the variety of pizza on the table.

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Night 2: Truffle cheese was outstanding, two pieces down before I made it home. Stuffed mortadella and provolone was richer than the filetto di Manzo. The salt on the crust really came through on round two and paired better with the wine.

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Day 3: Mushrooms and a stinky Italian cheese. Like the rest of the pizza I’ve had here, another winner. No I didn’t get the name of the cheese, but it had truffles in it. Pizza goooood.

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Morning After Pizza: For each night of pizza you see, there was a breakfast of pizza the next day. I generally would get ‘planned overs’ with each night of pizza. I have no problem with not having to cook breakfast when high quality cold pizza will do, next to my double shot out of the moka pot. 
 

Tour d'Italia 2017

As I did in early 2016, I visited Italy at the beginning of 2017. I explored new territory in Emilia Romagna, (specifically Bologna and Ferrara), returned to familiar ground in Tuscany, (the walled city of Lucca) and re-explored one town in Puglia, ) the Florence of the South, Lecce). 

On this blog, over the next couple weeks, I will try to summarize some of my experiences in Italian travel, food, and wine with both specific reviews of restaurants and wines to general travel writing about the regions in Italy I explored.

Like all travel stories, there were themes and story lines, plot twists and turns.

You'll see a lot of pasta, a theme I'm happy to explore, it's Italy after all. If there was a primary dish to sample, it had to be tagliatelle with meat sauce. While a flat ribbon noodle was sampled most, a stuffed pasta with basically the same ground meat sauce was a close second. A meat sauce with pasta is reliable, it will not let you down, and there's really no translation necessary, most people know what a ravioli is. The variables with pasta and meat sauce are salt level, sauce thickness and pasta thickness. Salt can make or break the dish and salt level seems to vary widely in this dish. Secondly, do the chefs finish the pasta in the sauce pan to absorb any pasta water? Thirdly, how thick is the pasta and to what level of al dente are they cooking it? A lot of variables for a simple dish.

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The story line of Puglia had to be baccala or dried salt cod in English. It’s on every menu in some fashion. I would have gotten on my pizza if I saw it offered, which if I had looked into al Taglio in Lecce every night, I probably would have found it. Sautéed, deep fried, brandade.

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The winter theme of nearly every restaurant in Italy was artichokes or carciofo in Italian. I ate a lot of artichokes this trip. Raw, boiled, sous vide, stewed, you name it, I had it. Inspiring really. So often, artichokes don’t pair well with wine and are left off of many menus. Secondly, artichokes are difficult to clean and prepare. Thirdly, artichokes tend to either get boiled and then grilled in much of the Central Valley and Central Coast of CA and then served with mayo or some kinda Ranch style dip.

artichoke_mastro_scheidt

The plot twist this year was being able to dine with someone regularly. Rarely do I have the opportunity to dine with others, not so on this trip. Dining with just one other person doubles the amount of wine and food I can try. So, when you see 6 or 8 pictures of food and wine in a single restaurant review, I was not dining alone. Even with my rather formidable eating skills, I can't plow down 8 dishes and two bottles of wine in one sitting.  

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I hope you enjoy my 2017 Tour d'Italia!