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.

tordolli_lucca

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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Gelato, Gelato, Gelato

Who doesn't like gelato?! I love it, but it's not easy to find high quality gelato in Italy during the winter time. Most of the places that are open, are not good. I’m highlighting three places with a high quality gelato during my recent trip

Gelateria la Crema Matta, Lucca

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Matta just opened when I returned to Lucca in February. Went back two days in a row for fiore di latte/chocolate combo, then a triple of hazelnut/pistachio/crema. Nice density and creaminess on par with the Ferrara gelato. The other gelato location open in Lucca during the winter is Grom, which isn’t much of a gelato to write home about.

Rizzati Gelato, Ferrara

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Outstanding density. No air, no ice crystals. They have a portable commercial mixer on premises and scoop the gelato directly out of the mixer. I saw the process at Rizzati and the machine and ingredients were the same I used when I made gelato in Florence. I had almond gelato and it was some of the best I've had.

Venchi Gelato, Bologna

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Venchi is near the Mercado di Mezzo in Bologna. Pistachio, which is not my normal selection was a winner. The color is actually what attracted me; it was not neon green like so many gelato places, it was slightly brown or olive tinted, which is what happens when you grind whole pistachio. Great scoop.

Much of the inferior gelato I had this trip was light and airy, not dense and rich like the ones I highlighted above. Are the inferior gelato places whipping the gelato to fast? Are they cutting some corner? Who knows. Many of the inferior places are chain stores or getting the gelato from some commissary, rather than making it onsite.

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.

pasta_mastro_scheidt

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.

salt_cod_puglia_mastro_scheidt

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!

Italian Wine Notes, Tuscany and The Veneto

I wanted to drink great Sangiovese in Italy. 

One must continuing trying wines. Great wines. Lesser wines. Wines that come from a jug. Wines that I'll never remember the name; but I'll remember the experience. I make wine for a living and I don't want to develop a "cellar palate".

The pictures below are the wines I've been drinking during my travels in Italy. I don't give scores; I give basic descriptions, often the impact of the wine and my personal outlook at the time. I was probably eating something while I was drinking. These tastings are not blind, ever.

I'm only looking and reporting on the score from the major critics after the fact. I generally didn't have any idea on scores while I was purchasing. A few wine stores did post the score at the point of sale. The descriptions are varied, sometimes without a single word regarding any of the properties often assigned by critics; a simple Up or Down vote from me might do.

This is NOT an exhaustive list of wines I consumed in Italy. Stuff falls through the cracks, but it's a good representation of what I've been drinking. I might be drinking with friends, restaurant staff, the winemaker, winery owner, or alone. The list is heavily Sangiovese influenced, that is the one purposeful item I injected into my overall experience. After all, I make Sangiovese for a living.

Osteria Le Logge, Siena

Osteria Le Logge, not 50 yards from the Campo in Siena, normally wouldn't be a restaurant I would choose, due to its proximity to a famous landmark; these places are touristy and terrible. But Le Logge is different. They are also a Brunello producer, are noted in the Gambero Rosso guide, have their own cookbook, and limit the menu to a few choices in each category to what I would consider classics. Yes, it's an institution of traditionalism, but it seems to serve them and their guests, well.

One wine with the entire meal, Gianni Brunelli 2010 Brunello di Montalcino - this is a more traditionally styled Brunello.  Not heavy on the palate with oak or fruit or tannin, but softer, more anise and earth on the nose than fruit notes. Paired up great with each dish, save the foie. I'd love to see what happened in 24 hours and how it would have developed. The food and wine were one, not only because I finished the bottle, but because this wine was crafted to be elegant and not overpowering.

Italian Ham and Eggs

Italian Ham and Eggs

To start, ham and eggs with toast. I'm poking a little fun here about my description, but upon presentation, that is the first thing in my head. The cracker of amaretto was both sweet and texturally playful in a world of oozy eggy hamey goodness. The local Proscuitto was similar to the lonza that I cured a few years back, ripe and wild flavors with great texture when sliced thin enough. The egg was sous vide and served at room temp, not hot. The liquid around the egg and the base of the plate was hot, while the egg remained cold in the center. I ate the dish with a spoon and bread. If I'd been polite and used a fork, I would have missed out on three-quarters of the dish.

Seasonal winter pasta

Seasonal winter pasta

The pasta was spaghetti "Faella" with onions, shallots, green onions, and pancetta. I've basically made this dish in Italy about 5 times or at least a version of it. This pasta confirmed that the pastas I have been cooking at the apartment have been seasonal, because of the onions, the cabbages, the chicory and lettuces that are in season. I thought I was being unoriginal with my thought process, doing a version of this pasta in Lucca and here in Siena; but I was thinking properly, seasonally. The use of cured meat also makes sense, that was the whole reason you cure in the first place, to use it in winter. No tomatoes. No squash. No eggplant. No peppers. No summer fruits and vegetables.

Spinach was fantastic in this dish

Spinach was fantastic in this dish

Lamb shoulder en croute. The lamb was thick cubed and cooked sous vide. There was no other way the lamb could have been this tender unless there was a sous vide machine involved. The spinach, however, made this dish. The spinach was sweet and has nearly none of the oxalate that dries out your mouth. The en croute was a phyllo dough applied just prior to finishing the lamb in the oven. This is continental cuisine with the use of a modern sous vide technique.

A bit of a left turn from traditional Italian

A bit of a left turn from traditional Italian

Bonus from chef. Cold chicken liver pate, dredged in curry/tandor spices, a quick grape jelly and avocado. I told the owner that this was a version of a dish I had at Robuchon with eel and avocado. The play on textures and flavors is there. Fun, yet cross cultural. The curry style spice mixture was powerful, so wine pairing will temporarily be on hold until you have a coffee or grappa.

Liquid Gianduja

Liquid Gianduja

Dessert was liquid Gianduja  puréed in cream or mascarpone with hand-torn pieces of doughy bread. Then if it wasn't rich enough, pastry cream filled cannoli and add some creamy gelato to the mix. It's sweet, rich, mouth filling and the perfect end to a really savory meal. The dessert was fantastic.

Il Campo for the 2009 Palio in Siena, my shaved head in the foreground.

Il Campo for the 2009 Palio in Siena, my shaved head in the foreground.

A delightful afternoon at Le Logge. It's hard to believe that back in 2009, not 35 yards away I was in the middle of Il Campo for the Palio. Good times.