Our Italian Vacation, part 4 (the Tuscan & Como countrysides)

Continuing our Italian adventures from Part Three . . .

After driving down to the town of Montalcino, we drove back towards Florence and checked into the Relais Vignale, a 42-room inn/hotel. We dined at the inn’s restaurant that evening, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. One key tip: there are a number of older wines on their wine list – priced at not much more than “regular” vintages – and the sommelier guarantees a sound bottle. In our case, that meant he actually opened up three bottles of 1982 Chianti Classico before finding one that was in shape, and – yeah, it was amazing!

Partly because we enjoyed out dinner there the first night, and partly because we were worn out from a hard day visiting wineries in Tuscany, we also dined here on our second night and – again – were well rewarded.

Breakfast here, by the way, was excellent, with a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside . . .

The next morning, we drove now to Lombardy and the area in and around Lake Como.

Our first dinner was at Camp de Cent Pertigh, located in Carate Brianza. This restaurant is set in a beautiful, rustic former farmhouse set off the road. The pathway is lit by candles, and the exposed wood beams and stone walls are truly charming. And it was a great “relief” of sorts to be the only couple speaking English in an otherwise full dining room . . . this is definitely NOT a touristy place!

We opted for one of the two tasting menus. We started with what was described as “Tartare grilled sausage with a ratatouille of vegetables with balsamic vinegar caramel.” Not sure why it’s a “tartare” as the sausage is fully cooked, but this was one of the best appetizers I’ve had in all Italy – never before have vegetables been so seductive, and the sausage was perfect. Next, we had a Risotto of yellow rice with sausage, served in a “bowl” made from a parmesan wafer – delicious, but I would have liked some fresh parmesan grated on the top of the risotto. The main course was a Pork Tenderloin, larded in a wrapping of pancetta, served on a bed of rhubarb, orange, and snow peas – excellent. And the dessert was a creamy Mousse dressed with passion fruit the heart of raspberry, and hazelnut brittle – a perfect finale.

The wine list looks excellent, but is not kept current – we ordered a wine from the 2011 vintage, but the restaurant only had the 2014. Clearly they aren’t updating the list. Still, they has some excellent wines from all across Italy, with prices ranging from 16 Euro all the way up to 500+.

For our final dinner of our Italian vacation, we made reservations at Ristorante i Tigli in Theoria. Upon arrival, we were immediately shown to our table, in a beautiful, softly lit, romantic room. I’m not sure that everyone working in the restaurant speaks English, but everyone I saw did. That said, a majority of the tables dining that evening spoke nothing but Italian, so it’s certainly not a touristy destination (though, as a one-star Michelin, I’m sure that – like us – a fair number of visitors to Como dine here).

The dinner menu has a variety of a la carte options, as well as two tasting menus, focused on fish or meat; there is also a Chef’s Table. The wine list is extensive, featuring wines from throughout Italy – from local Lombardy wines south to Sicily. That said, it seems the list is focused on both the wines from Tuscany, and from the Burgundy region of France. Prices on many wines are actually quite reasonable, and several “deals” are to be found, though certainly some selections are rather stratospheric in nature.

We opted for the “meat” Tasting Menu, and everything was not only delicious, but visually appealing and paced perfectly – we never felt rushed, nor did we feel as if we were waiting for the next course. Timing was spot on, and the service was precise and efficient yet maintaining a constant warmth and friendliness (as opposed to a stiff formality). From the Maître d’ and sommelier, to the waitstaff and bussers – everyone was attentive and seemed to genuinely care about our opinion/reaction to the food and the wine, wanting to make sure we were enjoying our dinner, and in a warm and sincere manner that seemed very real and sincere.

The menu itself changes seasonally with what is fresh and available, and I have to say this was one of the 2-3 best dinners of our 14-day trip to Italy. I highly recommend Theoria.

The next day, we were off to London, and then home . . .


sounds so interesting