Posted by: Kristie | October 26, 2009

Meat, Truffles and Nicholas, Pt.1

As previously mentioned, my friend Nick came to visit us this past weekend. Currently working in Singapore, he was sent to Milan on business for a couple of weeks and decided to spend his weekend with us Tuscany. Nick was my upstairs neighbor during my sophomore year at UT; we became friends and managed to keep in touch throughout the years, but it’s been two years since we saw each other. He’s a huge foodie so I knew we were in for some good eating.

We started out Saturday morning with a quest: eat a ton of Italian meat. We headed to the town of Gaiole, located in the picturesque Chianti region, to the family-run trattoria Lo Sfizio di Bianca.

Just your average Chianti scenery

Just your average Chianti scenery

The restaurant was recommended by Mario Batali, who described the trattoria’s porchetta as having the ability to “bring you to your knees with tears of joy and near religious fervor.” Nick was pumped and ready to drop to his knees and cry like a baby. But Mario steered us wrong, at least regarding the porchetta because the restaurant was not serving any. They made up for the absence with their other incredible dishes, including beef carpaccio, pasta with a pork Bolognese sauce and a spinach-ricotta ravioli with truffle sauce.

Zuppa di Farro or bean and farro (a type of grain) soup

Zuppa di Farro or bean and farro (a type of grain) soup

Pici (type of pasta) with a pork bolognese sauce

Pici (type of pasta) with a pork bolognese sauce

Nick with his Florentine steak and garbanzo beans

Nick with his Florentine steak and garbanzo beans

Next stop was Dario Checchini’s butcher shop, Antica Maccelleria Checchini, located roughly 30 minutes north in Panzano in Chianti. Recommended by Mario, Jamie Oliver and Condé Nast, this butcher and his meat sounded irresistible and a must for three people who love food. We stopped in, already incredibly full, but managed to try some salami, porchetta, pork lard (yes spreadable, creamy lard), topping it all off with some free Chianti. Unfortunately Dario wasn’t there (his theatrical antics are part of what makes the shop special), but we decided to make dinner reservations for that night at his restaurant Solociccio (or only meat – what a name!).

The butcher's porchetta. It didn't make us cry, but it was tasty.

The butcher's porchetta. It didn't make us cry, but it was tasty.

To kill time until dinner we headed to Greve in Chianti to Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti, a large enoteca where we tasted a bunch of wines and olive oils. It was a good way to try a variety of regional wines (they offer 140!).

Brett tasting Tuscan wine

Brett tasting Tuscan wine at the enoteca.

When we arrived at Solociccio, the hostess, clad in awesome purple hair and crazy rhinestone 50s-style glasses, led us to a room with a large round table for 10. In all there were nine of us, seven Americans and two Italians, one of which could only speak Italian. At first I felt bad for the Italian couple, but then I envied that they couldn’t understand the incredibly annoying and outspoken American women sitting at the table who had decided it was a good idea to talk about Bush, Obama, unions and soldiers drinking beer in Afghanistan.

Solociccia's menu

Solociccia's menu

Our family-style table

Our family-style table

Regardless, the food was delicious and, as expected, full of meat. I really haven’t eaten red meat since 1995 except for the occasional drunk eating of a meatball or two; I don’t crave it, I don’t miss the taste, so I am fine with not eating it. But this was different, I was drawn into this man’s brand as a butcher, truly believing he handpicked and thoroughly inspected the meat, which was imported from Spain (we never got the story of why he doesn’t serve Italian beef). I tried every dish with the exception of the raw meatballs and the cow liver. Not too shabby for a non-red meat eater. What I found especially remarkable about this meal was the price. For €30 per person, we received plenty of red wine, water (both sparkling and regular), TEN dishes, coffee, cake and after-dinner liquor. This is a guy who has become a tourist attraction over the years, leading him to open this restaurant. He could’ve easily made it expensive, but instead he chose to go simple with quality ingredients at a good price. Very impressive indeed.

The essentially raw meatballs (just barely cooked on the outside). I passed on these.

The essentially raw meatballs (just barely cooked on the outside). I passed on these.

Roast beef with olive oil, sage and rosemary. I tried a couple bites, mainly focusing on the cooked outer edges.

Roast beef with olive oil, sage and rosemary. I tried a couple bites, mainly focusing on the cooked outer edges.

Boiled beef and vegetables. The beef reminded me of my Dad's pot roast and the vegetables were delicious.

Boiled beef and vegetables. The beef reminded me of my Dad's pot roast and the vegetables were delicious.

The house wine was excellent, perfect for the meal.

The house wine was excellent, perfect for the meal.

The after dinner liquors were powerful.

The after dinner liquors were powerful.

We headed home, stuffed full of meat, mission complete. We fell asleep, trying to keep our Italian meat heartburn at bay and the dreaming of the next day’s white truffle fair. But that’s for Part Two.

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