Old School Flavor

To eat well in Italy, we just followed the snail.

The snail is the symbol of Slow Food, an organization that encourages people to think about where their food comes from, to eat locally, and value food traditions.

In many ways, Slow Food is what many of us associate with Italy — leisurely meals made from recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation, handmade pastas, a sauce that has been cooking all day long, and an Italian grandmother behind the stove.

We didn’t plan to go on a Slow Food Tour of Italy. I always travel with a list of restaurant suggestions and, for this trip, we also had recommendations from some of our favorite farmers market vendors. And I knew that Slow Food isn’t always on target since its founder, Carlo Petrini, published a completely inaccurate account of my local San Francisco farmers market. (Hey Carlo, at least our farmers don’t smoke over their produce).

But Slow Food proved to be a reliable resource on our travels. While there were a few duds among our Slow Food adventures, and a few terrific meals that weren’t Slow Food certified, many of the best things we ate in Italy were snail-approved.

My Favorite Slow Food Finds

Coffee

Terzi
via Oberdan, 10, Bologna
Terzi is no Blue Bottle, but it was the only place we encountered in two weeks that had us choose what beans we wanted when we ordered our espressos and then freshly ground those beans. Everywhere else we went used pre-ground beans.

Focaccia

Il Frantoio
Via Goberti, 1, Monterosso
One of the most delicious and cheap meals we had: 2 euro buys a slice of truly transcendent focaccia. Our favorites were pesto e pomodoro (pesto and tomato) and the formaggio (cheese). We ate that focaccia twice in one day and made a special trip back the following morning for more. The nearby view of the Mediterranean is pretty nice, too.

Gelato

il Gelatauro
San Vitale, 98/b Bologna
One of the best things I ate in Bologna was a pistachio cookie here (you’ll find pictures of the kumiri cookies here). But it is primarily a gelato shop. I had zucca e canella (pumpkin and cinnamon). Mr. WholeHog had some crazy bergamot flavor.

Grom
All over Italy (and now in NYC!)
Seriously intense flavors – their extra dark chocolate is really over the top. But I loved the unexpected and surprisingly successful flavors like licorice or nougat (torroncino).

Restaurant

Hosteria Il Carroccio
Via Casata di Sotto 32, Siena
I wonder if I would have liked Siena so much if we hadn’t had such a tremendous lunch at this small restaurant near the Piazza del Campo. Everything we had here was simple and delicious: ribollita, a “green bean torte” (basically mashed potatoes, green beans, and a spectacular tomato sauce – one of the many Italian dishes that were much more than the sum of its parts), wild boar, and grilled pork with pistachio, radicchio, and pecorino.

Mr. WholeHog started on the maiale (pork) while I finished the ribolitta and the look on his face after the first bite told me just how good it tasted.

Best Meal (Ever?)

Solociccia
Via Chiantigiana 5, ingresso da via XX luglio
Panzano in Chianti Firenze

I never saw the Slow Food snail at Solociccia (“only meat”), but it was easily the slowest meal we had — and the most leisurely at 2 hours. Dario Cecchini comes from a long line of butchers, and at Solociccia, he serves his family’s recipes. He states online and on the menus that the food is “thoroughly Tuscan”. Believe me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

My favorite of the six absolutely incredible meat courses we were served was the simple, perfect slices of roast beef. Mr. WholeHog loved the “ramerino in culo” (beef skewered on branches of rosemary).

Not Slow But Good

Trattoria Sabatino (Florence) was a mere half block from the apartment we rented in the San Frediano area of Florence. It was frighteningly cheap and quite good. We particularly loved the polenta with sugo. Tables can be communal which I liked because we got to see what the Italians ordered.

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