Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dining out in Tuscany

At the beginning of May, my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by spending a week in the Tuscany region.

We stay in a self-catering villa called Villa Centopino in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, just outside the village of Montecastelli Pisano. As we were self-catering, we only ate out a handful of times, and made use of the fresh local produce for meals, including foodstuffs that the owners of the villa provided for us. The mortadella in particular was amazing.

Villa Centopino

As the Villa is in the middle of the countryside, there were no restaurants within walking distance, although the nearest one was 10 minutes' drive away in the neighbouring village of San Dalmazio. 

We dined at Ristorante La Rocca a couple of times, as it was so close. It serves rustic home-cooked food at a very reasonable price. The staff were very friendly and coped well with our poor attempts at the few words of Italian we can speak. Their English was quite good (better than our Italian), so that helped! The first time we ate there, I had a delicious ravioli dish filled with cheese and spinach with a meat sauce on top. This still remains one of the best things I ate on the holiday. The second time we ate there I had a pizza with olives and anchovies on top, which was also very nice, although I found the base quite thick for an Italian pizza. I still managed to eat most of it, though. The restaurant also has a deli selling meats, cheese and freshly baked cakes. 

On the evening of our anniversary, we booked a table at La Pergola in the town of Radicondoli, which boasts beautiful, panoramic views from the terrace. Unfortunately, the evening we chose to visit, it had been raining and thundering all afternoon (knocking the power out to our villa several times!). 

While the thunder had passed over, it was still raining when we went to the restaurant in the evening, and it was so misty you couldn't see a thing from the terrace. This didn't ruin our enjoyment of the food, however, which was very good. 

For starters we both ordered a trio of bruschetta, not realising how big they would be - really, we could have shared one starter! One was coated in garlic, another with tomato, and the third with cheese. Very nice flavours, even if I couldn't manage it all! 

For main my husband had roast pork (and it looked like most of a pig on his plate!) served with traditional Tuscan beans. I tried a bit of the pork and it was delicious, although my husband apparently didn't rate the beans. I went for the tagliatelle with wild boar sauce (guessing the wild boar was not fresh though, as it was the wrong season?). It tasted good: salty and meaty, although, again, the portion was huge and I couldn't manage all of it. Service in the restaurant was relaxed and friendly. I wish we'd had another chance to go back as the pizzas looked amazing!

The final place we dined at was L'Europeo in Pisa - we visited some of the sights in Pisa on our last day before we flew back from the airport. 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

We were very hungry by the time we arrived in Pisa, so stopped at the first restaurant nearby which looked like it had seats available. Plus a waiter outside had been very friendly and convinced us to take a seat. Now, I realise that a restaurant which is a stone's throw away from the Leaning Tower is going to be catering to mass market tourism, so was never going to be the same as the restaurants we had dined at in the countryside. However, we did not enjoy this meal as much as the others on the holiday. The service was at best nonchalant, at worst, verging on rude. Fortunately, the food was ok, although really quite epic portions. 

I didn't really like the gnocchi with pesto I had for a starter - the gnocchi just seemed to be swimming in the runny sauce and I found the flavours quite overpowering. It looked nothing like the picture on the website. My husband quite enjoyed his prosciuttio and melon. And he also enjoyed his main, even though he "accidentally" ordered the tuna! My main was quite tasty (although, again, huge). I had beef with rocket and parmesan. The beef was nicely cooked and the flavours blended very well together. It probably won't surprise you to learn that this was the most expensive meal of the holiday!

The Baptistry

River Arno

The next blog post about Tuscany will be on the theme of wine!

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