The day started, as had the previous two with breakfast at Il Poggio Etrusco. We had fresh pastries, toast, Pamela’s palate-pleasing plum preserves, fresh fruit and soft-boiled eggs made with a special machine that would boil a set amount of water per the number of eggs and the desired doneness of the eggs. Once the water would evaporate, a buzzer would go off indicating that the eggs were ready. This was fun and tasty. We chatted a bit with our fellow visitors, who were from Philadelphia. They too were leaving that day, also on their way to Firenze, where they would stay for the remainder of their trip.
We left early to return to Siena for some unfinished business. This included a visit to a vantage point in the Museo d’Opera by the Duomo, that had great views over Siena, including The Duomo, Il Campo and the Torre del Mangia.
From there, we headed back to our car (parked in the Il Campo lot), stopping on our way in the Museo Civico next to the Torre. This is a wonderful museum with beautiful Renaissance frescos, including what is perhaps my favorite early Renaissance painting of Guidoriccio da Fogliano by Simone Martini. The fresco depicts the knight, Guidoriccio, riding his horse into Siena. To me, it represents a masterpiece of its era that brings my imagination to life.
From there, we walked back to the car and bid adieu to this wonderful city. We were, of course, now running late and were made later still by difficulties with our navigation system. It wouldn’t recognize the restaurant in Panzano in Chianti to which we were headed, so I had to find the address with my iPhone and programmed it that way. The major casualty of all this was not being able to take our time to enjoy the ride through the Chianti hill towns and vineyards.
We made it only about 15 minutes late to meet La Divina Cucina, the inimitable Judy Witts Francini and her Italian husband, Andrea.They had been waiting for us at one of the restaurants of the man who has become the most famous butcher in the world, a star in the international food world, third generation butcher and first generation visionary, Dario Cecchini, of The Antica Macelleria Cecchini.
The restaurant was actually up the stairs from the butcher shop. The place is popular, small and doesn’t take reservations. That meant a bit of a wait. This was soothed by the nibbles placed out for all those downstairs waiting for tables. These nibbles included his famous finocchiona salami, citrus cured olives, incredible lardo and bread. There was also wine and water available at no additional cost. Judy knows Dario well. She used to work at the butcher shop and was responsible for the recipes of a few of the items used in the restaurant, the most prominent being a red pepper jelly.
After the opportunity to watch Dario ply his craft at the butcher’s counter and have our photos taken with him, we were finally led upstairs to the restaurant. The main room of the restaurant had one large communal table down the middle and two tables to the side. On one wall was a large colorful modern painting, that also served as a secret door to the rest room and a sliding closet for plates and such. The small space was efficiently and ingeniously utilized to the maximum. It was a fun and congenial space despite being slightly cramped.
The kitchen was at the top of the stairs, behind beautiful, frosted and etched glass doors.
Across the way from the kitchen on the other side of the table was a wood-fired grill that could be raised and lowered with a crank similar to the one at Etxebarri. It was here that the pre-ordered steaks were cooked.
The place certainly had character and then there was the meat! There are three options: 1) a hamburger platter for 10 Euros; 2) a meat sampler platter with five different preparations of meat and a bowl of raw vegetables and 3) the most humongous grilled steaks I’ve ever seen. The steaks had to be ordered and reserved in advance.When the food came, it was plentiful and very, very good. The beef Dario uses, interestingly enough is not Italian. He gets most of his beef from Catalunya in Spain. The hamburger was thick and only somewhat seared on the outside, yet it wasn’t quite tartare. It had no bun nor did it need one. It was quite flavorful and satisfying – as good a burger as I’ve had in ages, especially when it had some savory, house made ketchup slathered upon it. I’m not a ketchup guy ordinarily, but this really worked for me. Mustard is usually more my speed, but the mustard served here was a honey mustard, which was a tad too sweet for my taste. Thick cut fried potato wedges that came with the burger, could not have been better. They were perfectly crisped with immensely flavorful, pillowy interiors. I have no idea how this only cost 10 Euros.
The meat sampler platter included raw cubed beef that had been pounded to resemble a tartare, but it hadn’t actually been chopped. It was marinated with a Japanese influence and called “sushi”. This was a great treatment of great beef. It was tender and full of deep, beefy flavor. Tasty meatloaf was dressed with Judy’s red pepper jelly. Porchetta was cut into chunks and Sugo with chopped beef was ladled on top of slices of Tuscan bread. A bowl full of pristine raw vegetables helped assuage the carnivorous guilt.
The steak was certainly something that had me thinking twice about why I hadn’t ordered it, but with all that we did have, I didn’t really miss it. This was a meal unabashedly focused around meat. A celebration of the carnivore, it satisfied my primal lust. Dario Cecchini’s reputation appears justified. He is larger than life in many ways and very charismatic. He also happens to put out a stellar product at a very reasonable price.
There was a dessert that had my name on it, but time was against us. Being late and having to wait ate into the time we had available to us. I was sorry that we couldn’t stay any later and had to hurry out to make it to Firenze…