My waking thoughts are so much governed by food that for me to feel a holiday has truly been good, I have to find at least one exceptional restaurant that satisfies my passion for a great meal and a great eating experience.
Luckily Siena came up trumps tonight. It’s not that I’ve had bad meals; I’ve eaten well. But there’s been nowhere that’s been so exciting that I’ve felt it’s worth a trip back to the city just to eat there again. This is how I feel about De Reiger in Amsterdam; Osteria Santo Spirito in Florence. And tonight I discovered Taverna di San Giuseppe in Siena.
I discovered it while searching the Internet before I came. The Internet isn’t always reliable but enough articles raved about San Giuseppe for me to look at their website and then book a table.
I passed it on my walk this morning; it’s close to the university. It looks a little way out on the map but in reality Siena is so small that nowhere is far away – and I mean just 5 or 10 minutes from the Campo.
When I arrived my name was recognised; maybe the waiter I spoke to on the phone when making the booking. I was taken to a table set for one – none of that clearing the second place setting, so familar to the solo diner. And the table was very central, which I liked, no being hidden on the edge. Next to me was a British couple. We said hello and then talked a bit at the end, which was lovely.
The menu came and almost immediately my ‘welcome’ – an amuse bouche – of a warm pea soup in a little cup, which was delicious.
The restaurant is built on the site of a medieval house and has a very traditional feel that’s also cosy and welcoming.
The bread basket was one of the best I’ve had with traditional Tuscan bread, focaccia and fruit bread.
I said I only wanted a glass of wine, some local Chianti. I was given some to try and it was delicous so a glass was poured (€6). I also ordered water (€2).
The menu was so enticing, full of things I knew I’d love, it was hard to choose. But finally I settled on Bufala Ripiena con Pappa al Pomodoro – Buffalo mozzarella filled with bread and tomato soup with chilli pepper and Tuscan olive oil (€10.00).
It looked fabulous and tasted completely wonderful. It was such a fine example of the best of Italian cooking, taking high quality ingredients and preparing them in a simple way that’s true to their flavour. Though in this instance, the actual putting together and stuffing the mozzarella with the traditional Tuscan tomato and bread soup was a touch of genius.
When in Tuscany and near Florence, if you like steak – as I do – then you should have a Fiorentina Bistecca. Very often this is a dish for two and so the next best thing (when you’re alone) is a Tagliata – slices of steak.
Tagliata di Manzo is often – at least in UK and when I had it in Florence – served on a bed of rocket topped with wafer-thin slices of Parmesan. San Giuseppe’s was more simply served but just as wonderful – in fact, perhaps better as the flavour of the steak wasn’t compromised. It was instead enhanced by finely chopped fresh rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.
I chose a side of potatoes and onion. They were incredibly delicious and a perfect accompaniment.
Apparently there is always room for dessert, or so one of the waiters told me. There were four or so waiters that came with my food or to check what I wanted. I liked that; not having to attract the attention of ‘your’ waiter. And they were so friendly and full of advice and knowledge and passion for the food and wine they served. So, one convinced me I had to have a dessert and then another came and said it had to be the Tiramisu. Now I had Tiramisu a couple of nights ago and there were good alternatives but in the end, how could I not have the Tiramisu when I was assured theirs was special and particularly good. It came with a scattering of crushed hazelnut praline on top as well as the traditional cocoa. But first, the waiter who insisted I have it also brought a complimentary glass of a sweet wine which he told me went well with the dessert.
It was a lot of fun and, more importantly, the Tiramisu really was exceptionally good. One of the best I’ve had – and believe me, I am so fussy about Tiramisu that’s a very big compliment.
I finished with an espresso and by this time had started up a nice chat with my neighbours at the next table. I paid and said goodbye then headed for the door. I saw the ‘Tiramisu’ waiter and so I gave him one of my blog cards and said I’d write a good review as I’d loved the meal. I don’t really do this in UK but just add the restaurant into my Twitter and/or Facebook shares of the post, but when abroad this isn’t always so easy. And I did want them to know how much I’d enjoyed my meal. We got talking and then he said I should see their cellar so I was taken back through the dining tables and down some steps at the back into a cellar.
This, I was told, is where the cheese is kept. If you have cheese then you go there to make your choice. Apparently the cellar dates back to the Etruscan Age – pre Christ – and the restaurant was built on the site of an Etruscan house (and later a Medieval one). The cellar was only discovered in 1998. There had even once been a chapel or altar at the far end. I was told they’d tried to keep the salamis and hams there but it was too damp; the limestone walls are always wet. But it’s the perfect place to store and age cheese.
This extra experience at the end of my meal was so special. What a fantastic time I’d had – gorgeous, top quality food and wine, and such friendly people. I’m really going to have to come back to Siena to eat there again!
Final bill for food, drink and service was €53.90.
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