Tuscany is undoubtedly one of the most popular and well-loved regions of Italy, but it also has a reputation for being expensive and a bit pretentious. However, if you have a car and want a fantastic taste of Tuscan cuisine at an unbelievably reasonable price, with friendly and attentive service, I have just the place for you. Set your GPS for the rather obscure town of Chiusi and a restaurant called Tuscany Divine.
I arrived at about 9PM on a weeknight, and planned to have perhaps a light pasta and a dessert. Well, some plans are made to be broken! It was a very mild, windless evening and the proprietor, Giuseppe, greeted me warmly and indulged my request to dine outside on the terrace behind the beautiful stone building in which the restaurant is located. Beside me was a table of 10 or 12 Danish tourists each of whom had multiple platters of food in front of them, and I soon learned why. Giuseppe asked if I would like to try the restaurant’s tasting menu at a fixed price of “VENTI EURO.” I did a double- take and wondered if my Italian was failing me: a dinner tasting menu for 20 Euro in Tuscany? I was all ears. He explained that for this price I would have several appetizers, a choice from one of 6 pasta dishes, dessert, coffee, bottled water, and a half-liter of house wine (4 Euro more if I wanted the excellent Montepulciano red wine instead). I chuckled to myself about my plan to eat a light meal and gave Giuseppe the OK… or the “va bene” as they say in Italy, and the tasting began.
Soon thereafter, Giuseppe came out of the restaurant with 5 plates on his arm, and I simply assumed they were for my Danish neighbors. Oh no, they were all coming my way. There was a plate of prosciutto and fresh melon, a plate of toasted bread crisps drizzled with olive oil, a mix of vegetables and rice that was mixed together in a colorful pile, some salami, and a plate of two different types of pecorino cheese with strawberry, orange, and grapefruit jams. Before I could pick my jaw up off the table, Giuseppe explained that everything was local and/or homemade. The strawberries for the jam came from their garden, the meats and cheeses were from local farms, the vegetables all local and organic, the olive oil – only the best. It was impressive and every bite was delicious. The cheese with the jams and the vegetable rice dish were really standouts.
Once I’d managed to clean each of my plates off, Giuseppe returned to clear the dishes and bring me a strudel-like dish that looked like a little stuffed pie. It was filled with sweet onion and pumpkin and wrapped in a delicious pastry crust. Then out came another dish, a meatball smothered in rich tomato sauce on a bed of beet greens. But wait, there was more! He also brought a rather large plate that looked like a stew. He explained that it was a mixture of fava beans, tomato, sausage, onion, potato, carrots and green apples! Oh my gravy, I would love to learn how to make that dish. I could eat that for dinner 3 nights a week.
I had carefully listened to the pasta offerings as Giuseppe painstakingly described each of the 6 choices to the Danes next door, so I was fairly sure I knew what I wanted, but it was not an easy choice. From what I can remember now, there was a sweet ravioli with sage and butter, a spicy tomato-based offering, a pasta with duck, and a ravioli with black truffles which cost 5 Euro more: a bargain given the price of truffles, but ironically, I’d had ravioli with truffles in Bologna for lunch! What are the odds? I chose the pappardelle with cinghiale… wild boar, a very traditional dish in these parts. I was truly getting so full by now that I wondered whether I could eat a rich, meaty pasta dish, but I was determined.
As I sipped my wine and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the evening, Giuseppe came back to my table with his cell phone to show me a photo. It was a picture of freshly rolled out and cut pappardelle noodles and a watch. The watch indicated the time as 9:55PM. This, he explained, was the time when my pasta was being freshly made! In other words, two minutes before! He then showed me a picture of ravioli dough rolled out, with dollops of cheese filling neatly arranged and ready to be wrapped up and cooked. The watch in this photo showed the time as 9:45 and this, he explained, was the pasta being prepared for the table of Danes next to me. Amazing! I have heard of freshly made pasta, but not THAT fresh! With this knowledge I overcame any fear that I might not be able to finish my meal.
The pasta soon came, and it was every bit as wonderful as I knew it would be, with a very generous amount of boar meat – simple, perfectly cooked, and delicious. Not a scrap was left on my plate. And finally, when I thought I had hit the wall, out came a house-made “tiramisu”, but instead of coffee and cocoa flavorings, this tiramisu featured fresh strawberries, undoubtedly also from the garden. It was as fluffy as a cloud and went down very, very easily. A confession: I probably could have eaten even a bit more of it, it was so light. Afterwards I chatted a bit with Giuseppe and he introduced me to the chef, whom I believe is named Luisa and seems totally unaware of what a brilliant young chef she is! This is one of those evenings and one of those dinners that I will remember for a lifetime, and only wish I’d had friends there to share it all with.
If you are anywhere within a 100 mile radius of this place, you seriously need to make it a destination. It’s open for lunch or dinner, and is not far from either the main autostrada between Firenze and Roma or the train station in Chiusi. Don’t miss out on Tuscany Divine, and you WILL thank me later!