Monthly Archives: July 2009

Dining among the Florentine princes at La Giostra – June 23, 2009

After a long day of travel, art and food, interrupted by 2 delayed trains, Sasha and I finally arrived in Florence a few hours late but excited as ever. We checked into our 16th century palazzo of a hotel, Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo, located here, right across the street from Brunelleschi‘s masterpiece on top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore . Even though Sasha was tired from our very long day, I was determined to start the Florence section of our trip of with a proper Florentine meal. And in La Giostra, I found one.

La Giostra is run by members of the Hapsburg Lorena family. Italian princes from when Italy was under Hapsburg rule, the family home is at Barberino Val d’Elsa in Chianti where for many years, like others in the Chianti region, they had produced olive oil, wine and other culinary delights. The restaurant is run by the colorful and bracelet covered Dimitri, his brother Soldano and Anastasia.

The restaurant space (they have two dining rooms on the same street located here) dates from the sixteenth century when it was used as a storage area for the painted horses and other parts of the Salvemini square carousel. In fact, the restaurant takes its name, La Giostra, a word that used to mean ‘the joust’, from this very carousel.

Dining room and former carousel storage facility from the 16th Century

Dining room and former carousel storage facility from the 16th Century

The food at La Giostra is traditional Tuscan; rich pastas, hearty meats and strong wines abound. I was seated for my first meal in Tuscany, surrounded by the cacophony of a full restaurant in an old, narrow, brick room, ordered a bottle of 2006 Canneto Vino Nobile di Montelpuciano Sangiovase and prepared myself for a feast.

Antipasta La Giostra

Antipasta La Giostra: Bruschetta with pomodoro and chicken liver with rabbit, tomato, mozzarella and mortadella, roasted peppers, potato salad and two mini quiches

Tagliatelle con Porcini and Nipitella alla Toscana

Tagliatelle con Porcini and Nipitella alla Toscana, a mix of traditional Tuscan spices

Osso Bucco La Giostra

Osso Bucco La Giostra; Amazingly sweet and soft (almost candied) carrots make this dish shine

For those interested in this very fine restaurant’s menu…here’s some it is.

La Giostra Menu 1
La Giostra Menu 2
La Giostra Menu 3
La Giostra Menu 4

A 3 Star Lunch at Le Calandre – June 23, 2009

So, after spending a morning with Giotto and his magnificent frescoes, Sasha and I grabbed a cab to Sarmeola di Rubano, just outside of Padua, to visit Le Calandre. Run by brothers Massimiliano (in the kitchen) and Raffaele Alajmo, Le Calandre is a 3 star Michelin rated performance art experience hiding out as a restaurant. Only 28 when he received his third star, Massimiliano is a true artist, whose surface is the palate instead of the canvas.

Chad & Sasha with Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo

Chad & Sasha with Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo

Lunch began with a collection of amuses. The first was three tastes: a mini pizza margherita, cod fish salad encased in fried polenta and sprinkled with curry power, and an amazing little ball of Fassone beef carpaccio on a stick topped with shrimp crudo, chive and pink Peruvian pepper. There was something inside the Fassone ball that gave it a Rice Krispie-like crunch; I have no idea what it was but it was delicious.

Three Tastes...All Delicious

Three Tastes...All Delicious

Along with the three tastes, we were served a mozzarella tagliolini atop a pomodoro and caper sauce. The skinned tomatoes were garden fresh, just bigger than cubed and perfectly complimented by the low salt, eel-like mozzarella tagliolini and the salty, big Italian capers. It was at this point that I ordered a glass of Flor di Uis 2006 Via di Romans.

Mozzarella Tagliolini with Pomodoro and Capers

At the same time, we were presented with the following bread basket.

Bread anyone?

Bread anyone?

For our first course, we split the Antipasto, which is a tomato garden on a plate. It consists of chopped, just picked fresh, red and green tomatoes fava beans, green beans, ricotta, basil, chili pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

A tomato garden on a plate

A tomato garden on a plate

For our pasta course, I had maltagliati (a double wide noodle) with white asparagus, botarga, butter and parmesan. It was served in a huge stone bowl. Although everything about this dish suggested that it would be heavy, it was surprisingly light, hearty, creamy, salty and delicious.

Maltagliati and botarga anyone?

Maltagliati and botarga anyone?

Sasha was treated to Lasagnetta with a lamb ragu. This dish is one of the finest lasagna’s you will every eat. The round noodles were perfectly cooked and had a light texture to them. The lamb ragu, sweet and savory, was topped with creamy bechamel and complimented by subtle ricotta. We were again amazed by the lightness of the cooking for what is traditionally a heavy dish.

Little lasagna, BIG taste

Little lasagna, BIG taste

My meat course was a real treat; roast suckling pig with cream of potatoes, and amatriciana sauce. The pork was tender with a crunchy top, sweet and flavorful. The amatriciana was the best I have ever had; rich tomato flavor with the savory taste of bacon and just the right amount of spice. A forkful of the pork all’amatriciana combined with the creamiest, silkiest, smoothest potatoes I have ever eaten, brought my tastebuds to foodie heaven.

Calandre Roast Suckling Pig

Sasha had a perfectly cooked and tender medallions of beef over broccoli with puff potato crisps, egg sauce and basilica peppers. The kick off of those peppers combined with the rich sauce really made this dish shine.

Calandre Medallions of Beef

Although we passed on the cheese carts (yes, there are 2 of them!), but I thought I would capture it so I could share its treasures with you.

Cheese Cart 1
Cheese Cart 2

But we did finish the meal with some nice petite fours.

Calandre Petite Fours

If you want to see more about the menu, you can download it here, but you’ll have to be able to read Italian. Also, Massimiliano has produced a beautiful and artful cookbook, titled “In.gredienti”, which was awarded the 2007 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for the best cookbook in the world. If you have $350 to spend on a cookbook that you probably can’t cook anything from, but want something that will look spectacular in your home, click here.

Calandre Cookbook