Category Archives: Tuscany

To Beef or Not to Beef

The Officina della Bistecca and Dario Cecchini’s
philosophy of butchering

To meet Dario Cecchini, the owner of the Antica Macelleria in Panzano in Chianti, is worth every kilometer on the windiest road in Tuscany. Following in the footsteps of 8 generations of Cecchini butchers, the Ulysses of meat, how he likes to call himself is the personification of the “divina cucina di carne”. Anyone who thought the Argentinians or Americans cook the best steaks, has never had a taste of Dario’s heavenly Florentine steaks.

The recommendation to get a seat at Dario Cecchini’s table came from a Florentine friend, but it also came with an expectation warning to not be disappointed if nothing is available since tables are booked weeks in advance. So, one day before our only chance to stop at this Tuscany institution our luck ran true in the form of a forecast for rain that turned into a sunny day and available seats on the outdoor terrace.

Not really knowing what to expect (except for the best meat in the region) what we received exceeded anything we could have imagined. To call a meal at the Officina della Bistecca lunch or dinner would be an insult to the “foodtainment” we experienced. I am not sure we will ever be able to replicate the conditions of our first visit. The date was April 25th, which in Italy is their WWII Liberation Day. All two of the main streets of Panzano were packed with cars and people. If it wasn’t for all the Hells Angels of Chianti, we might have missed the Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

outsideThe simple entrance of the Macelleria on the street level is split into a small dinning area and a full service meat counter with it’s own bar playing heavy metal music. At first, we didn’t know where to enter past the bustling crowd or even who to ask about our miracle reservation. We finally settled on asking the butcher at the counter who directed us to the back of the shop where we could only see a door to the meat locker. Squeezing past more of the Chianti Chapter Angels rocking out to Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine while eating and drinking some Chianti red, we noticed a plain sliding door tucked in the back left corner of the room. The gatekeeper behind the door checked us off the list, admitted us up a narrow flight of stairs past the indoor dinning area to the outdoor terrace. Yeah!

Set up like an Italian wedding from the 50’s were two long tables that would have been at home in any beer hall complete with place mats describing the table setvarious cuts of meat on a cow and not one-centimeter spare distance between you and your neighbor – this was our final destination.

Being a bit early to the feast, we had our choice of where to sit and choose a comfortable place at the far end of the table. There were bowls filled with carrots, celery and red onion rings, a simple bean soup, baked potatoes and bread for sides. Even the salt was special consisting of Cecchini’s own mix of salt and herbs perfect for everything on the table. With the table menuset, we were about to begin.

The opening act was a Chianti crudo, apparently one of Dario’s signature dishes. Even if you don’t like raw meat, I can guarantee you, it’s the best beef tartar you will ever try. Next up was the Carpaccio di culo (bum cut) quickly followed by the third course of Costata alla Fiorentina (Bone-in Rib eye or Strip steak). This was followed by my personal favorite, the Bistecca Panzanese.

“Ladies and gentleman, I gave you the Chianti Tuna, not sushi of the fish, but the sushi del Chianti, and now…. I am presenting to you… her majesty, the Biiiiistecca alla Fiorentinaaaaaa!”

Just when you think it cannot get any better, Angelo, the master of grill, stepped out onto the terrace and lifted his hands, holding two big chucks of meat in serviettes, yelling to the crowed:

DSC00213… and that is the moment, when you can feel the never ending wine, the comfortable and friendly atmosphere, that the friends (strangers no more) who with you share this unforgettable meal go absolutely ballistic! It somehow manages to get even louder when Dario Cecchini comes out to take his bow, blowing a loud horn, giving hugs, kisses, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The meat seems to be never ending, but when it finally stops coming to the table, the meal is finished off with an extraordinary olive oil cake (sounds much stranger than it is – a real must try), coffee and grappa. All of this you get for 50 Euro a person – a simply unbeatable value for the price.

Dario is indeed a butcher extraordinaire, a theatrical host and an artist who butchers animals to the sound of heavy metal rock music (maybe this helps to explain the Hells Angels on the day of our visit), and has developed a stage act where he butchers an entire carcass while quoting from the works of Dante. Dario is a true example of how a career with a heart, passion for ones work, for food and for the animals can result in tastes and flavors that are not only authentic, but truly poetic.

Tips:
Dario Cecchini has three restaurants in Panzano.

Make your reservation long enough in advance.

Follow the Medicis’ steps – Ponte Vecchio Suites Florence

It is no surprise that the Ponte Vecchio Suites, in the heart of old Florence, are only a few steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio itself. Opened in 2008 by manageress Valeria Raspini, the nine available Ponte Vecchio Suites offer apartment like rooms of different sizes, including all the comforts and luxury you would expect from a high-class hotel, without feeling overloaded and too busy.

Strategically located only a short walk from the name giving Ponte Vecchio, it also provides easy access to the Piazza Signoria and Uffizzi, the Duomo, Palazzo Pitti (with it’s magnificent gardens), and the Borgo San Jacopo. You can enjoy the nearness to all the main sights, but also experience the relaxation offered by the boutique suites only a short walk away.

The suite we stayed in on the first floor had two separate rooms for the bedroom and living area. The living area included a sofa, dinner table, and small kitchenette equipped with basic utensils and dishes as well as a Nespresso machine. The only downside was the fact that you had to pay for the coffee capsules and sugar was from Mc Donald’s, but the nice fruit basket made up for that small inconvenience. Breakfast, ordered in advance, is served directly to the room from a nearby bar. As an alternative, you can decide to take the short walk to the bar itself and eat there.

The spa and gym at the Ponte Vecchio is in the basement and has to be booked in advance, as it is for exclusive use. It is rather small and cold, but probably very comfortable after a hot day in the city. You can also book a massage if you desire. Highly recommended is Alessandro (+39 303 76 278) who is an experienced therapist. Beauty treatments are available as well, but need to be booked in advance as the person is external. Not sure if I would recommend the beauty service, so beware when you book it.

The excellent booking service provided by Larisa, and the very friendly personnel Elena and Tatiana at reception deserve a special mention. All three ladies went the extra mile to make sure that you feel at home, gave good recommendations for restaurants, and made any requested bookings with a smile. They were very helpful regardless of the request.

In addition to the room, we also booked a private tour through the hotel with a local guide named Paola. While her tour of Firenze was informative and provided a local view on Firenze, the one we would really recommend was the one we booked (with Paola’s help) the following day. The tour was through via florencepass.com, and Maurizio (the company’s founder) was an extraordinary tour guide. He is passionate about Firenze’s history and arts and we could have listened to him for days. In addition, he has a delightful sense of humor. On our private tour we did the Uffizi, accessed by a side entrance that saved us a ton of time avoiding the normal entrance lines. The Uffizi is great on it’s own, but with Maurizio, who knows where to go and what to look for, it became an exceptional experience.

The Vasari Corridor though was the icing on the cake. The corridor tour is private and not something you can buy a ticket for at a ticket office. It’s very limited and we felt special having the opportunity to pass beyond the locked doors into the corridor while everyone in the Uffizi looked on and wondered why we were allowed in there. It was incredible to see all the artwork hidden behind the doors that most people will never see in addition to walking the exact path that the Medici family walked from the town hall to their palace.

Tipps:
Book a private tour with Maurizio: www.florencepass.com
Park your car at Garage Lungarno, but make sure you call in advance because spaces are limited. The hotel staff will help you with that.

Garage Lungarno
Borgo San Jacopo 10/R – 50123 Firenze (FI) – Italy
Tel: +39 055 28 25 42

www.pontevecchiosuites.com