By Mario Batali
Gastronomically speaking, San Gimignano has the kind of reputation reserved for tourist traps around the world, that of fleecing the one time visitors with less than acceptable quality food and more than acceptable prices. It is sad that such a beautiful place is overrun by busloads of Germans, Japanese and Americans intent on “doing the town” on their way to or from Firenze or Sienna.
On closer inspection, there are 2 or 3 good options in the town itself and a couple more in the surrounding environs that merit good snackage. The local products list should drive your boat whether you are in a gastronomia or a restaurant, look for “cinghiale”, (wild boar), farro (an ancient grain like wheat berries), fragile (strawberries) and traditional Tuscan dishes such as “ribollita” (a dense cabbage and bean soup like minestrone), pappa al pomodoro (a thick tomato bread stew) or pici (leathery handmade pasta strings).
The fanciest and most traditional ristorante in town is called Dorando (vicolo dell’oro 2 tel 0577 941862) . The walls themselves are from the 14th century in this spectacular and yet tiny 35 seater, which foreshadows the menu’s obsession with tradition, as far back as etruscan, medieval and renaissance dishes. I had a plate of peerless boar salami followed by the traditional flatiron cooked crepes, sliced into 1-inch wide ribbons called testaroli with the thinnest shards of zucchini and pecorino. Both had me swimming in the Tuscan sunlight. These two homeruns were followed by a rabbit stuffed with basil and chives with an artichoke sformato that defined the season and the place. Wild strawberries and a slice of young pecorino was all I wanted for dessert with a glass of local sweet wine and I was ready to nap in the shade of one of the town’s famous towers.
Something a lot less exotic and expensive, and yet still totally tuscan is at Osteria delle Catene (via mainardi 18 tel 0577 941966). The menu reads like a classic and everything is done well, particularly the pastas and an incredible faraona al ginepro (guinea fowl with juniper and white wine). For a deli based picnic lunch my fave stores are Gastronomia on via San Matteo and la Fiaschetteria on via San Giovanni where all kinds of good prepared foods, salumi and local oil are available with wine and jams as well.
Just 15 kilometers down the road toward Sienna in a little burp called Strove, just outside of Monteriggioni is an excellent, if somewhat modern, take on the local ingredients called Casalta (locale Strove, via matteoti 22 tel 0577 301171). Here I might skip the creative (and somewhat international) seafood offerings and dig in to the classically inspired local dishes such as tortino di melanzane, a super light version of eggplant parmigiana, or boar tortelli with sage and pecorino. Do not skip the braised squab (piccione) in red wine or the pork loin with leeks, both are worth the trip, and save rooms for the desserts, the honey semifreddo was sublime.
In the actual town of Monteriggioni is a place called il Pozzo (piazza roma 2 tel 0577 304127) that is named for a well in the piazza del castello so prominent as to have been mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. The place is from the 13th century so prepare for antiquated beauty and the food is exactly and perfectly micro regional, to wit… a spectacular and simple zuppa di fagioli.. (bean soup never sounds as good as it is in Toscana) that put all soups to shame. A plate of pici with boar ragu kissed with rosemary and a pork rib braised with vin santo and wild fennel and a side dish of sweet and spicy local sausages with brown beans called borlotti.. A bottle of vino nobile di montepulciano.., a slice of panforte.., the dense spice cake jacked up on black pepper and pinenuts and New York City is a million miles away. Caffe in the piazza and a nap in the park…and we are totally Tuscan, even under the tourist sun.