After the overdose of German, French, Dutch and English conversations you’ve heard at the tables of the other restaurants of Chianti, it is worth giving Osteria Le Panzanelle a try. Yes, you will still find tourists here. But you will also find Italians, lots of them; they come here for the great value. This small restaurant in a tiny town between Panzano and Radda in Chianti, has almost become a destination thanks to the popularity of Le Panzanelle. The place hums with activity. A small outdoor patio is surrounded by trees, creating a softly illuminated garden setting, while the interior is warm and convivial.
The menu is small but focused, offering rustic home-style cooking. You can find grilled steaks, hearty Tuscan soups, pasta and of course Panzanella. Pastas are rustic and homespun, just the sort of thing your Italian Nonna would make, if you were lucky enough to have an Italian Nonna who poured her heart and soul into every saucepan and dedicated the majority of each day to preparing first lunch and then dinner.
An appetizer of Eggplant Roulade stuffed with fresh ricotta toes the line between rustic and refined. Almost overly rustic in its simplicity, it lacked finesse, its presence on the plate testament to its homespun style. Much better is the more refined salt cod “flan,” a dense timbale of rich flaky salt cod. Beef Cheek (Guancia di Manzo) is stewed until tender, the besting the ultimate “pot roast” still rosy in the center and tender enough to eat with a spoon. If you like Osso Buco, this is a must try.
Attention is paid to the details; a side order of oven roasted vegetables was delicious; a rainbow of fresh flavorful caramelized vegetables – a far cry from your typical options of a side salad or sautéed spinach.
Even dessert, most often where a Tuscan restaurant falters, are commendable. Panna Cotta is just cream rich cream; barely sweet and just firm. Try Panna Cotta here first, before you let other inferior versions scare you away, the one here is noteworthy for its refined simplicity and luxurious texture. Even the homemade biscotti are noteworthy, full of lots of sweet anice flavor. When fresh they are addictive, unlike anything you’ve had before.
Service, like the food, is friendly and casual. As fitting for wine country, there is an extensive wine list, ranging far the Tuscan borders and offering an international selection. The list offers more variety, and better prices, than you will find at many local restaurants. There are even a few carefully selected half bottles.
Break away from the over-touristy towns and follow the locals. Seek out this little trattoria where cooking is pure, simple and delicious.
Signature Dishes: Pici all’Aglione (Thick Spaghetti with Garlic), Panna Cotta (Cream Custard), Biscotti (Almond Cookies)
Get It!: Panna Cotta (Cream Custard)
Loc. Lucarelli, 29, Radda in Chianti. www.lepanzanelle.it; tel: 0577 733511. Closed Monday.