I had an 18 pound short loin of beef custom-ordered and dry-aged for 19 days. The loin will finish aging at Motor over the holiday weekend. I first encountered the bistecca fiorentina on our trip to Italy. We will be serving this awesome cut starting on Wednesday, July 8th.
Back to it. Le Logge. A restaurant not far off the main square in Siena, Italy.
For our secondi selection, we were really tempted to share the bistecca alla Fiorentina and call it a day. A bistecca is basically a beef porterhouse, not too disimilar from the massive pork porterhouses we serve at Motor. The steak in Italy is incredible, mainly because the country's primary beef stock are the Chianina, which are renowned for its tenderness. Ultimately we wanted the opportunity to try some different dishes. I am planning to do a traditional Florentine bistecca when we get back to Motor, but I have to order it from a supplier and let them age it for well over a month. We'll keep you posted on that.
I selected the gallinella di mare con fagioli aquilani e salsa di alici. A big fancy term for fish over steamed green beans with anchovy pesto. It was good--the fish was seared perfectly and the dish was seasoned well.
My wife won the secondi contest. Her dish was superior to mine--the guancia di manzo con avocado, wasaby e arote. BEEF CHEEKS! One of of my favorite braising cuts because there is so much flavor there. The beef cheeks were done extremely well and in an unepected way, with a puree of avocado and wasabi.
As you can see in the photo above, to round out our second course we ordered the fagioli cannellini all olio. These were a a nice-sized bowl of cannellini beans absolutely SOAKED in extra-virgin olive oil. (No fat-phobias here!!)
At about this point in the meal, my wife looked around the restaurant and said, "I want to move to Italy. Everyone here is so happy." In her food and wine-induced coma she neglected to account for the fact that most diners in the restaurant were on vacation.
After taking a break to nip from the bottle of wine, we decided on two desserts (dolci). I simply had to have the biscotti with vin santo (sweet dessert wine). Throughout our meal we had been watching the serving staff pour out these incredibly generous shots of vin santo. I figured if everyone else was ordering it--hey, why not us? And the dish, as simple as it was, did not disappoint, which was a relief. As my wife can attest, I rarely order dessert. Even though I spent over a year of my life as a pastry chef, I'm just not a "sweet person." They are usually so overdone. This was just right:
As usual, we took this picture after we started eating because we were so excited. So imagine this whole plate rounded out with even more little treats before they were gobbled up by my wife.
Toward the end of our meal, after coffees and two glasses of fizzy moscato (bubbly sweet dessert wine), I went over to the kitchen to shake hands with the chef. He had soapy water on one hand and a scrub pad in the other. We bumped elbows, unable to shake hands. This bit of cross-cultural culinary tradition made me a touch homesick for my own kitchen.
Melissa and I spent yesterday in Siena, the hill town approximately 15 miles from Spannocchia. Siena is a medieval hill town surrounded by a huge stone wall. Parking is a total bitch, but it was worth it once we got there. While Melissa was in the state archive researching music, I took some time to do some solo sightseeing. I found some nice stores to steer my wife away from, umpteen museums, beautiful piazzas, and lots of great food.
Margot Martin and Lou Comici, some great customers at Motor Supply, had recommended we try a Sienese restaurant, Le Logge. We had reservations at 1 pm. When we arrived at the restaurant we were very pleased to see that Le Logge, like Motor, presents a handwritten menu daily. They had ample sidewalk seating, but we were placed inside. Here’s a picture of the menu:
I knew Le Logge was going to be stellar just by looking at the chef. I swear, I can tell just by looking at someone if they are a good cook. First and foremost, a scowl is a prerequisite for a good meal. If you walk into a restaurant and the chef is all smiles and hugs, walk swiftly away. But if you see a quiet kitchen, busy cooks with their heads down working, and a cantankerous man or woman steering the ship, it’s highly likely you’ll have a nice meal. And this man had angst written all over his face.
To drink, we selected a bottle of the 2006 Gaja “Magari.” I hadn’t had the “Magari” before, but Gaja is a solid producer of Super Tuscan wines and I’ve had their offerings before. I love a Super Tuscan because those wines break the rules of the stringent Italian DOC. We have a great selection of Super Tuscans at Motor, though we don’t have any Gaja right now because it’s nearly impossible for me to find.
For those who aren’t familiar with Italian cuisine, here’s how it works. A meal begins with one or more antipasti. Antipasti vary greatly, depending on the formality of the restaurant. An antipasti could be as simple as a chicken liver crostini, or as formal as a plated dish such as the ones we had at Le Logge. The primi follows the antipasti and is a pasta, polenta, or risotto course. The secondo is the meat course. Accompanying the meat course are separate contorni, or side dishes to share, though many Italian restaurants are shifting toward a more American style of plating, with the meat and vegetables on the same plate. A salad, or the insalata, is served before cheese and dessert, which has the unexpected effect of making one feel less full.
The highlight of the antipasti we selected was the fiori di zucca faciti di tomino e alici in tempura. To translate, that is a mozzarella-stuffed tempura-fried squash blossom, served over several paper-thin slices of roasted zucchini. Everything about this dish was perfect: a delectable marriage of textures and flavors. We also ordered the polpo in gelatina al limone e salsa verde (tender octopus in lemon gelatin, served over salsa verde). Here‘s a picture of the squash blossom:
We selected only one primi, the ravioli neri farciti. These were squid ink ravioli. They were stuffed with a spring sweet pea puré e, served with a smattering of poached lobster claw and a small amount of diced tomato. The dish was garnished with several tender inner leaves of celery. I was not as enthralled with this dish as with the antipasti, but it was still a nice plate and nothing to turn away.
A delicious start to a wonderful meal. To be continued. . .
Let me tell you a little bit about where we’re staying. We’re a 20 minutes drive from Siena, Italy, which is itself about an hour from Florence. My sister found this eco-resort/working farm/vineyard on the Internet. It’s called Tenuta di Spannocchia. This 1200 acre site is the headquarters of the US-based Etruscan Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving Tuscan agricultural traditions. Check it out: http://www.spannocchia.com/ .
Me, my wife, my mother and father, and my sister and her husband are staying in a house that was originally built centuries ago as a tannery. The first I noticed when we drove up was a kickass pizza oven, which we plan to fire up two nights from now. (My father, who is nicknamed “The Safety Man,” is already sweating bullets over the massive fire I’m going to build in it.) Here’s the oven:
The kitchen is incredible. It would be very impractical for a professional kitchen, but for us on vacation--it’s great. The two main features are a retrofitted vintage stove and a marble farmhouse sink. Take a look at this stove. It features a gas range and electric oven, but the most attractive feature is what we in the business call a “piano top.” A piano top is a plate of solid steel that is heated either by wood fire or burners underneath. Because you’re not dealing with individual sources of heat, you have a lot more flexibility as to what pots you put on the stove. The heat source also tends to be much more constant.
Our first meal in our new home was wood-fire grilled bone-in pork loin. Our primi (first course)was a pasta dish comprised of homemade egg noodles with sliced black truffle, melted sweet butter, and shaved Parmesan. I also threw some spring onions and zucchini onto the fire.
I started the fire at 4 pm in anticipation of eating at 8 pm. Most of the wood was aged very well, so I had no problem getting the fire started up.
A wood fire presents such a slower pace than what I am used to, and even a slower pace than what you encounter grilling on a charcoal or gas grill at home. I had plenty of time to enjoy wine and make the pasta, though as you can see I had a helper:
The wine? A simple red from not too far away from Siena (in Multipulciano). Straightforward and satisfying. Everything a meal should be.
Things have been a bit touch and go for the past few days. We had a bit of drama getting out of town. And it turns out that Internet access is not as universal as we believed. . . .
About getting out of France. We had made reservations for a private sleeper car on Rail Italia. We envisioned a romantic trip, punctuated by a bottle of wine, cheese, sausage, and bread carted from a Parisian bakery. We would arrive in Italy refreshed, showered, and in good humor.
As we climbed onto the train, tickets in hand, I inched my way toward our cabin. Why was there a man already in my cabin? We both gave each other a look, meaning "You are obviously a giant asshole and not meant to be here." Alas, this was not the case. It turns out we were both in the right place. The train company overbooked the train and we were being jilted out of a private sleeper c ar and into a shared "couchette" compartment. We wil get our money back. Oh yes, we will.
We spent one awkward night with a middle-aged French couple--Isabelle and Phillip. Isabelle did not speak English. Phillipe did, and he expressed regret that such a "young charming couple" should have their romantic night on a train ruined by old French people.
Melissa and I spent most of the night in the lounge car drinking a bottle of wine we brought and laughing at the Italian train stewards, who were eating a great meal of melon, bread, cheese, salami, and sliced fennel.
But we're here in Italy now. We have a bunch of pictures to upload tomorrow, now that we've secured Internet access. Stay tuned for more, including some cool pics of the house where we're staying and what I made for dinner tonight.