I T A L I A
2003
Recommendations
Italy has hundreds, thousands, maybe trillions, of wonderful restaurants: little ones, big ones, famous chefs, mom and pop kitchen
wizards, sidewalk cafes, formal dining rooms, osterias, ristorantes, trattorias, enotecas. And while the popular myth that it is
impossible to have a bad meal is wrong, the odds are against it. Certainly, almost always a simple pasta can be trusted. Below are some
of our most recent experiences. The few not recommended establishments usually earn that distinction by  being overpriced--not bad
food. I have also provided a link to our 2001 recommendations which I believe would still be useful.     
2001
*****Ristorante Le Logge del Vignola:***** Via delle Erbe, 6, Montepulciano, Tuscany. This restaurant was probably the most
outstanding meal of this trip. Reservations are a requirement--particularly for dinner as it is a small establishment with only about 10 tables. The
food preparation and presentation were outstanding. Although, there is a tasting menu, we chose to order ala carte. The service was impeccable
and polished but never obtrusive or overwhelming--just totally sophisticated. When you make your reservation, request the table by the
window--the best in the house in terms of location, separation from other tables, etc. On a nice night when the window can be open, it is a really
neat place to be. We also ate at the well-known La Grotta and felt that Le Logge was by far the better of the two.
             
Website:                                           Tel/Fax: 39-0578717290                               leloggedelvignola@virgilio.it
****Osteria del Leone:**** Piazza del Moretto, Bagno Vignoni, Tuscany. HIGHLY recommended. The Leone  has been an eating
establishment of one kind or another for centuries, undergoing  many transformations. The most recent occuring  in 2002 when the new partners,
Nico, Edgar and Becky, who have been chefs, food and wine buyers and restaurant managers in London, decided to pool their talents and open
the del Leone under new management.
These three talented restauranteers have created a quality restaurant with a varied menu of chef's creations and traditional dishes; have redeisigned
the interior, creating a series of small, intimate dining rooms as well as an absolutely pleasurabe terrace area; built an impressive wine list, including
the wines of Avignonese (there's a family connection with this great Italian winery) and have created an ambience that is what I would call
"casually elegant."  We ate here twice this trip and had good meals both times--one time was absolutely phenomenally excellent. The risotta with
asperagus and truffles was out of this world. The service was warm and personable without being overbearing. It is well worth taking the drive
from Montepulciano, Pienza or Montalcino to dine here. You might want to arrive early to peruse their small shop across the street which has a
small but quality selection of bottled vegetables, superior pastas, professional knives, wines, and other specialty items.
         
http://www.illeone.com                                          Tel/Fax: 39-0577-887300                                   info@illeone.com
La Porta, Montichello
***La Porta:*** Via del Piano, 3, Monticchiello, Tuscany. This is a small,
intimate enoteca in a lttle hamlet about 7 km from Montepulciano, towards Pienza.
We ate here two years ago and enjoyed it enough to return this trip. We were not
disappointed. The woman owner is an absolute doll who really takes an interest in
customers even though many are tourists whom she will never see again. The first
time we went, having heard that we had just arrived and had no food in our
apartment, she plied us with pastries for breakfast the next morning. This time she
spent several minutes talking with our 5 year-old grandson and then providing him
with a heaping bowl of gelato for dessert. But---the food, you say? What about it?
Wonderful! Many locals do eat here because it is good. The traveler who finds it is
fortunate. La Porta specializes in local products and food such as pici and some
game animals. The ambience is friendly, warm, etc. It is quite casual. There is a
nice deck-dining area overlooking the beautiful countryside. The hamlet is fun to
stroll around in either before or after dining.  Reservations at dinner are highly
recommended. On a weekend you won't get in without one.  Closed Thursday.
Casey in darker green shirt
 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
h
Casey at Trattoria la Lancia d'Oro--Arezzo
**Trattoria La Lancia dc'Oro:**   Logge Vasari-Piazza Grande
Arezzo, Tuscany.
This trattoria is one of several restaurants lining the loggia
of this somewhat unique piazza grande. Clearly these places are primarily for
the tourists, at least at lunch time. So, we were surprised by the quality of the
lunch we had here. The service was polished and pleasant. Unlike the other
ristorantes here, tables are nicely set with table clothes and attractive table
ware. The menu offers nice choices and the food is well prepared and nicely
presented. Again, the waiter was very nice to Casey. This was a  relaxing,
pleasant respite in the day. The location is charming as you have the
opportunity to study the piazza designed by Vasari. Be careful here though,
we had eaten at another restaurant in the loggia on another trip and were not
impressed with it.
Restaurants
Patio of Osteria del Leone
Owner Nico Outside Del Leone--their shop in background
Tel/Fax: 39-0578-755163   e-mail: rist.laporta@libero.it
*La Grotta: Across from San Biagio Church outside of Montepulciano, Tuscany. This is a frequently highly recommended restaurant;
however, I felt that it was overpriced with a dining area that lacked warmth and charm--fancy, "fine dining" tones but cold. I understand that the
patio dining area is very pleasant. I was also unimpressed with the quality of service. With that said: the menu offers a variety of creative dishes
with unusual combinations and the food was good but certainly not approaching the best we have had in Italy. The Le Logge in Montepulciano,
recommended above, far outshines La Grotta. They are both in the same price range--expensive. I need to emphasize again though that many,
many people rave about La Grotta. I would not go there again as there are other places in the area that I truly enjoy--most of them much less
expensive.      Closed Wednesday       
Tel: 39-757-607
*Ai Quattro Venti: Piazza Grande, Montepulciano, Tuscany. In 2001 we ate here twice and gave it a high recommedation. We
particularly enjoyed the pasta with fresh porcini. Naturally, we were sure to return this year. We were seriously disappointed and based on our
2003 experience do not recommend it. It is a small restaurant adjacent to the cathedral. The owners and staff are still very pleasant and courteous
and treat customers very well but the quality of the food was not nearly as good. It may be that they were new when we first enjoyed them but
now that they have been in business a while are not trying as hard. We had the impression that the food was much more "packaged" this year. I
think you can do much better in Montepulciano.
*Osteria di Porta Al Cassero: Via della Liberta,9/Via Ricasoli,32, Montalcino, Tuscany. We do not recommend this restaurant. Our
experience was that the staff and the person we took to be the owner were rude, unaccommodating and provided poor service. They were
impatient and inattentive while taking the order; plates of food  were more or less thrown on the table; there was no attempt to provide a pleasant
dining exprience. The osteria is noisey; does not give the sense of really being clean; tables are crowded together; menu is mundane. In all of the
places we ate on this trip, this was
the only place that made no attempt to give special attention to our 5 year-old. Even when we took him to fine
dining places, there were special pains taken to meet his meal needs. This was always done as if it were giving the waiter pleasure to do so. I
would not return here.
**Osteria di Nottola:** Roadside osteria 5 (or so) km
northeast of Montepulciano, Tuscany.
This little family run osteria is at
a "Y" in the road not too far after passing the hospital as you drive to
vineyards or the back way to Cortona.. As small and unassuming as it is,
it can be found recommended in a number of places. In truth, it is
frequented more by locals than visitors because just driving past it one
would probably not think of stopping; however, for a pleasant lunch meal
in an authentic Italian environment, with true warmth and hospitality and
good food, it is well worth stopping here. It was one of the highlight
dining experiences for our 5 year-old. Several Italian boys around his age
were on the patio playing with Bey Blades (really spinning tops). Casey
was quietly watching them, wishing with his little boy's heart that he
could play, too. The boys' dad noticed Casey and encouranged his boys to
have Casey join them. They asked; he said yes; they all had a great time
together. Language was no concern. So, on top of a good meal it became
a memorable day for all of us.      (Casey is in the dark green shirt.)
                            Tel: 39-0578-707-114
Side note: If in Cortona, stop in the
Pasticceria Banchelli--Via Nazionale, 54.  
Great pastries, little meat and cheese
sandwiches, etc. I particularly like their
merinque mounds filled with nuts--so
yummy! We enjoyed it in 2001 so made sure
to find our way here this time. Good gelato,
too.
So Good!  Pasticceria Banchelli--Cortona
**Ristorante del Falco:** Pienza, Tuscany. This
restaurant is right along the main road just down from the park.
It is fairly well-known and receives OK reviews--not steller
ones. We found it OK but ordinary. Carbonera was dry.
Brushetta was excellent. Recommend for basic menu and food
but not a culinary experience to remember. It does pretty heavy
business due to location and prices (low).