After a couple days of heavy rain and general dampness in Siena, a sunny day in San Gimignano was a warm and welcome respite. In addition to the storied towers and preserved Medieval architecture of the town, San Gimignano has some of the best views in Tuscany. A stroll down its “picturesque lookout point ” yields views of iconic cyprus trees, hills shimmering with the silver of olive leaves, rows of neatly planted vineyards, and orchards whose colors change with the seasons.
My cooking buddy and I decided to climb to the top of the town (not an insignificant task – my quads still feel the burn!) and began to hear haunting melodic sounds as we climbed higher. At the top of the stairs we stumbled into a clearing that seemed to be the remnants of an old monastery. Standing by an overgrown well a musician was engrossed in his music and seated just outside the walls were numerous artists sketching or painting watercolor landscapes. With few other tourists around, the serenity of the atmosphere set the tone for the day. We continued to notice artists tucked away drawing in corners throughout the town and hear the faint notes of music in the background.
Lunch was a pilgrimage to a slow food restaurant that had been recommended called Ristorante Dorando. Clearly a more popular dinner spot, we were the only ones in the wine cellar-like restaurant but the emphatic opera playing in the background made it feel like we were at a grand event.
We decided to share all our dishes in order to sample more of the mouth-watering menu. We started with a half bottle of Vernaccia , the local white wine of San Gimignano. A deep straw gold in color, the wine had aromas of vanilla, nectarines, and yellow roses and was a rich accompaniment to our meal. Our antipasti was ventaglio d'anatra affumicata e broccoli saltati con pesto alle mandorle or a “fan” of thinly sliced smoked duck and melt-in-your-mouth sautéed broccoli, served with almond pesto sauce. As with the string beans in class, this way of cooking vegetables is totally different from the crisp, barely cooked greens I'm used to in California but it tasted like the absolute essence of broccoli.
Next we shared a primi of girandolo di coniglio alla Vernacchia di San Gimignano con olio alle erbe. This dish was a delicately prepared thin and winding pasta roll stuffed with a flavorful mince of the rabbit with a light olive oil and local wine sauce. I tried not to think of the cute furry friends providing what was a truly memorable dish.
We shared a second primi of pici al ragout bianco di faraona al Vin Santo con scaglie di tartufo e pecorino di fossa. Pici is the local Tuscan pasta specialty, a thick and chewy noodle that was complemented by the rich, truffle infused guinea-hen ragu. The typical Tuscan ragu is made with wild boar so this was an interesting and much lighter varieation. Although we were fully sated by the time we scraped the pici plates clean, it felt criminal to overlook dessert. The aroma of our tortino di cioccolato fondente (wam chocolate torte) wafted in before the dessert itself, its sweetness balanced by the espresso we had alongside it. While very good, the torte was not as unique as everything else we'd enjoyed but that may have simply been our error in ordering.
The only problem with the meal was that it didn't leave much room for gelato, which we felt obligated to try since San Gimignano is known to have excellent gelato. Actually, I'm not sure if it is “known” to have it, but it was the best gelato I had outside of Rome on my last trip to Italy. We dutifully walked off lunch by strolling down the picturesque streets of the town and perusing the artsy little shops until we were ready to tackle some gelato.
The line was out the door at Gelateria dell' Olmo in Piazza Cisterna and my pistachio was excellent; the chestnut was a bit too sweet. Neither were as good as the gelato I had there this summer at Via San Giovanni in San Gimignano, a chocolate and strawberry mix that brought to life their ingredients, but sadly that shop seems to be summer only. Drowsily watching the sun set over the Tuscan hills from the bus back to Siena seemed a fitting end to a lovely day.
Ristorante Dorando' Vicolo dell' Oro, 2
San Gimignano 53037
http://www.ristorantedorando.it Gelateria dell' Olmo
Piazza della Cisterna, 34
San Gimignano, 53037