The Panzano Butcher! Dario Cecchini is now internationally famous, and tourists from all over flock to this tiny hilltop town in the heart of Chianti to eat at one of the butcher’s three restaurants. DOC is probably the most loved, at least by the locals; it is the only one they go to. Some call it Mac Dario’s a play on you can guess what, and it is fitting, that was the original idea. Dario Cecchini is a butcher, and a showman. He is a man who knows how to work PR and the public. DOC is his take on fast food. There are three menu options (ok four, but let’s not count the Vegetarian, because you don’t go to a butcher to eat veggies):
- Mac Dario – ½ lb. pan-seared burger, roasted potatoes, raw sliced vegetables
- Super Dario – ½ lb. grilled burger, pappa al pomodoro, roasted potatoes, white beans in olive oil, and pinzimonio
- Accoglianza (Welcome) – Beef tartar, Tonno del Chianti (pork), porchetta, roasted potatoes, beans in olive oil, pinzimonio and meatloaf
- Vegetariano – pappa al pomodoro, caponata, roasted potatoes, pinzimonio and beans in olive oil.
Each menu has its merit. The first is 10 euros, the middle 15 euros and the last 20. Water is included, wine is 2 euros for a small tumbler of red table wine poured from the large basket-weave wrapped flask. In summer guests can sit outside on the terrace, but in winter guests are lined up at long table that stretches across the narrow dining room. As at all of Dario’s restaurants, seating is communal, and therefor very convivial. You go to Dario’s not only to eat, but to have fun. And that is part of what makes the experience so unique. These are probably also the only restaurants in Italy where you can bring your own bottle, and make note there isn’t any corkage fee. This is a smart move when you can bet that most of your local clientele will be wine makers. It also means, that many people bring their own bottles, and share with their neighbors. Life is good at Dario’s.
But there is also the food, and it is surprisingly good. The burger is thick and expertly cooked. Ordered rare, as it should be (and really, that is what it says on the receipt: “as it should be”, medium or well done,) it is still pink throughout, while the exterior has a thorough sear to add a slightly crisp crust. A few thick flakes of salt top the meat. On the table are three sauces, a wonderful hot tangy mustard with a bit of sweetness, a sweet chili jam, and a thick spicy tomato puree that puts ketchup to shame, it is rich and full flavored, with a lingering heat that catches you by surprise.
The Pinzimonio or raw vegetables that accompany each plate, are a cup of celery, carrots, onion and fennel with a bowl of olive oil and herbed salt. One doesn’t expect to discover Pinzimonio at a buthcer’s, but this is by far an improvement on almost any other pinzimonio you will find. The secret lies in that slurry of herb flecked salt. The olive oil cloaks the raw veggies and the salt makes their flavors shine.
The porchetta is equally enlightening, sliced very thick and served in thick cubes – this is a far cry from the thinly sliced dry roasted meat you find inside most sandwiches. This is thick hunks of juicy meat, smeared with garlic and rosemary and wrapped in pork belly, the fat from the belly bastes the meat as it cooks. The thick layer of fat keeps the meat moist, and makes for an extra flavorful bite. You get the best of both worlds: flavorful meat, and unctuous belly. If you love pork belly, this will be your dream. The man makes about the best porchetta on the planet. (Will porchetta buns be next?)
Coffee and dessert costs another 2 euros. And worth it, if you have room; if you don’t, make room. You’ll need the coffee, and the dessert is thick hunk of Olive Oil Cake with lots of aromatic orange zest and a sweet crispy sugar crunch. It makes other Tuscan cakes blush. It is rich and voluptuous, all other Tuscan cakes seem prudish with the dry interiors and dull flavor. The crisp sugary top shatters and gives way to a moist cakey crumb while the orange zest enhances the fruity flavors of the olive oil. This is cake!
Signature Dishes: Hamburger, Tonno del Chianti (Pork)
Get It!: Porchetta to-go from the butcher shop down stairs, Olive Oil Cake
TIP: Bring your own bottle of wine, it will be much better than the house wine, and you won’t be charged for it.
Via XX Luglio, 11, Panzano in Chianti. www.dariocecchini.com; tel: +39 055 852020. Closed Sunday. Lunch only. No reservations.