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Art, Churches, Cultural Attractions, Dining, History

Puppets in Palermo—A Stopover in Sicily’s Biggest City

July 2, 2017


Welcome to Palermo.

We took a drive right up the center of Sicily on SS624 to reach Palermo. The ride is scenic, beautiful and pretty straightforward. As you approach, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the city sprawl and the bay—bellissimo!

Palermo is Sicily’s capital city and it’s most populous. Its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, cultural attractions, and incredible cuisine draw visitors from around the world.

Palermo is the largest and busiest city in Sicily and has plenty to offer the visitor looking for a bustling urban experience. We had less than two full days in Palermo and there is far more to see and do than we had time for.

The simple facade of Monreale Cathedral gives no indication of the superb golden mosaics inside this “must see” church.

Let your first stop in Palermo be a visit to Monreale Cathedral. This stunning cathedral has golden mosaics that rival, and some say surpass, those at Venice’s Basilica San Marco (St. Mark’s). This is truly a spectacular church, considered to be the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily, and should not be missed. The somewhat plain façade belies the beauty that awaits inside.

The breathtaking golden mosaics inside Monreale Cathedral rival those at St. Mark’s (San Marco) Basilica in Venice.

Narrow, busy streets and overcrowding make parking a challenge in Palermo and the area surrounding the cathedral is no exception. There is a well-marked, supervised pay parking garage just down the road from the cathedral. Walk carefully along the alley- like street back up to the church.

The clear message here is: Do not park in front of this garage. Parking is always tricky in Palermo. When in doubt, find a pay lot.

After enjoying the splendor of the cathedral, we had a terrific lunch at Bricco e Bacco Brasserie, just kitty corner from the cathedral. It was a lovely place with good, local specialties and friendly service. Since we arrived after the lunch crowd, it was also quiet. You’ll find the restaurant at Via B. D’Aquisto, 13, Monreale, Phone for a reservation +39 091 641 7773. It’s a popular spot.

Driving in Palermo can be a harrowing experience and is not for the faint hearted.

Wind your way down into the city proper, navigating traffic carefully. All bets are off in Palermo and traffic can be heavy. Stop signs seem to be a mere suggestion and traffic signals are also sometimes ignored.

Farm fresh fruits and vegetables are sold at stands throughout the city. Be aware that in Sicily, what we call broccoli is cauliflower here.

Street markets like this one, selling clothing, dry goods, kitchen wares and other necessities can be found throughout Palermo. Ask for a “piccolo sconto”– a discount. Bargaining is part of the fun.

We really enjoyed walking all around the city to get the flavor of it and to get our bearings on our first visit.  We covered a lot of ground, including the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, which is Palermo’s “high street.” Here you’ll find upscale shops and stylish boutiques, cafes and bars. Palermo also has numerous street markets with household necessities, clothing and dry goods, fruit stands, and food stalls, including the well known Vucciria and Ballaro markets.

Hands down, our favorite cultural institution in Palermo was the Museo Internazionale delle Marrionette. Yes, it is a puppet museum and far more compelling than you might expect. Sicily has a strong tradition of puppetry used for both entertainment and political commentary dating back centuries.

In addition to providing entertainment, puppet shows were often used to express political and social view points, particularly when the literacy rate was low.

Plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the expansive collection and exhibits at the International Museum of Puppetry.

The museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 puppets of all kinds from around the world.

Marionette soldiers in full armament along with their battle- ready horses are on display in this large gallery.

The attention to detail and historical accuracy of the costumes is impressive.

They have puppets and marionettes from around the world, from the simplest paper puppets to the most elaborate marionettes. You’ll see everything from fairy princesses and dragons to entire armies dressed in armament from throughout the ages, all with remarkable attention to detail.

Even Laurel and Hardy make an appearance here.

You’ll find examples of puppets from the primitive to the extraordinarily elaborate.

Puppets from around the world including Africa, Indonesia and Japan are represented.

There are also a variety of settings and backdrops on view. We found our visit to the marionette museum to be an absolutely enchanting experience. The museum hosts puppet shows, too, of course.

Enjoy these fine examples of Japanese Bunraku puppets.

The museum often hosts puppet shows and has videos of productions on view.

For more information and show times, please visit The museum is at the end of Via Butera on the Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualina, 5.

Known for its medieval art collection, the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia at Palazza Abatellis is a former palatial residence dating back to the 1490s, which went on to become a convent and then a monastery. It is now a regional gallery and museum.

Built for the Kingdom of Sicily’s Port Master, this fine former residence now houses an impressive collection of Medieval art and other treasures.

Here you will find sculptures, frescoes and paintings by Italian artists, as well as Flemish and other European masters, sacred art, weaponry and more.

Sculpture, paintings, religious art and more await visitors at the Palazzo Abatellis.

Though the building suffered terrible damage during Allied bombing raids in WWII, frescoes such as these from the 1400s survived.

Unfortunately the website has not been updated for some time so it is best to call the museum at +39 091 623 0011. It is located at Via Allora, 4.

To see how the upper class lived centuries ago, visit the Palazzo Mirto   The Palazzo Mirto is part of a network of “house museums” found throughout Italy. It was originally built for the Filangeri family in the mid 17th century and falls into the ancestry category of homes.

The Palazzo Mirto provides a glimpse at the opulence the upper classes enjoyed during the time of the Kingdom of Sicily.

The palazzo is filled with beautifully appointed rooms featuring elaborate furnishings, ceramics, antique musical instruments, and art. One of the most spectacular is the Chinese Room, likely decorated in 1876 when the house was renovated.

The Chinese Room was the height of fashion when it was designed in the mid 1800s.

There are also classic carriages on display along with other historic treasures that paint a picture of Sicilian life for the upper class in the days before the Risorgimento when Sicily was still a kingdom.

Splendid furnishings and elegant porcelain are among the items on display at Palazzo Mirto.

The museum is located at Via Merlo, 2 and telephone is +39 091 616 4751 for updated information.

Enjoy a performance or take a guided tour– these are the only ways to get inside the magnificent Teatro Massimo.

If there is a performance at the Teatro Massimo, get a ticket and go. Regularly scheduled dance, opera, and classical music are all performed here. If you’re feeling flush, you, too, can rent the royal box —you just have to purchase all 27 seats in it.

The Teatro Massimo is known for its excellent acoustics and grand stage.

If time does not permit you to attend a performance, take a guided tour, which is the only other way to see the inside of this magnificent and historic building.

This beautiful and historic theater is among the largest in Europe.

A model of the theater is displayed in the lobby.

The theater boasts one of the largest stages in Europe and is worth seeing. Built in 1897, it is known for its outstanding acoustics and is still the largest theater in Italy with 1,300 seats. It is appropriately located on the Piazza Verdi. +39 091 6053580

The Politeama Garabaldi Theater hosts regular performances in Palermo’s historic city center.

We wanted to visit the highly regarded National Archeological Museum but it was closed for renovations during our visit. Please go to for current information.

A stroll through Sicily’s capital city yields surprises.

We did not visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccine, the home of about 8,000 dead bodies, amassed over the course of several hundred years, all dressed up and on display. We find the entire enterprise rather ghoulish and having seen the Capuccine Chapel in Rome, which features skeletons of dead monks, felt no obligation to see this seemingly far more ambitious enterprise. Apparently it is a popular place on many tourist itineraries and so we mention it here.

Flags fly outside the Porta Felice Hotel on the small but busy Via Butera.

There are lodgings at all price points and with all levels of service, as you would expect in a large city like Palermo. We stayed at Hotel Porta Felice at Via Butera, 45. Tele. 091 6175678. This is in the old section of town near the port.

Pleasure craft and fishing boats crowd the marina at the end of Via Butera.

Even though the hotel is on what appears to be a small side street, it is pretty busy. We were upgraded to a nice suite, even though we’d booked through The location was very convenient and we walked everywhere we wanted to go, after turning in our rental car.

Friendly service and excellent Sicilian specialties await diners at L’Ottava Nota.

We only had two nights in Palermo and wound up having dinner both evenings just down the street from our hotel at L’Ottava Nota Ristorante, via Butera 55 091 6168601   The restaurant was small and lovely with fantastic food and great service. The fish dishes were all spectacular. Everything was fresh, artfully prepared and delicious.

Perfectly prepared pasta makes a delicious first course.

White fish in a light curry broth was a favorite.


Seafood dishes were the star attraction for us, but L’Ottova Nota has superb meat and vegetable dishes, too.

A fish in a light curry broth with vegetables was so good I still think about it, though it is no longer on the menu. We mentioned we were staying at the Porta Felice and were happily surprised to learn we’d get a 20 percent discount on our meal because we were guests there. We cannot confirm that the special pricing is still available but it never hurts to ask, should you dine here. The restaurant is just a few doors down from Porte Felice on Via Butera, 55. The telephone is +39 091 616 8601.

We had an excellent lunch at Trattoria Piccolo Napoli, Piccolo Napoli had been recommended by an Italian friend in the wine business but apparently Anthony Bourdain had once dined here and the owner told us that lots of Americans had been showing up ever since. Our welcome was much more cordial when we told him (in Italian) that his friend Sasha had sent us! Try the panisse (chick pea fritters) to start and have any seafood you like—it is all super fresh and simply, but deliciously, prepared.

Snack on some panisse as you peruse the menu.

Simply but perfectly prepared pastas and seafood dishes shine at Piccolo Napoli.

Through a small window into the kitchen, we watched the chef toss a whole octopus into a pot, plate it and serve it to a young girl who devoured every bit. We had pasta with shellfish and then I had a beautiful swordfish dish. For dessert, they brought us the ubiquitous “winter melon.” The melon is sweet and refreshing and so called winter melon because it can be picked in the summer and stored throughout the winter.  We saw it on menus throughout Sicily. The restaurant is on the Piazzetta Mulino a Vento, 4. Telephone is +39 091 320431.

Palermo is a fascinating and vibrant city and certainly worth a visit. We’ll be back.

Our final meal in Palermo was an extremely casual, but excellent pizza lunch at the airport, which we enjoyed out on the observation deck with a view of planes coming and going, and of course, the beautiful sea!



Dining, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Portland, Restaurants

Let’s Eat—Downtown Portland: Departure, Mucca, Andina, Irving St. + Imperial

June 6, 2017

Portland is known as a food lover’s paradise and for good reason. The Rose City has something for every palate and budget from food trucks to fine dining. Every time we visit, and it’s pretty regularly, the big decision is always where to eat next.

It’s hard to beat the views and ambiance at Departure Lounge on the rooftop at the Nines Hotel.

If the weather is nice and the skies are clear, begin your evening at Departure Restaurant + Lounge on the rooftop at The Nines Hotel. There are splendid views—some of the best in Portland, by our reckoning– to accompany your beverage of choice.

Head upstairs for beautiful views, a lively happy hour and tasty Asian-fusion cuisine.

There are appetizers to order and you can take a peek at their rooftop herb garden. The rooftop is hugely popular so go early or be prepared to stand. Seating is limited but no one seems to mind. Happy Hour takes place every day from 4-6 p.m.


If you’re looking for dinner, as well as drinks, inside Departure you’ll find an Asian- fusion restaurant with good food and attentive service. The menu features a fine assortment of sushi, salads, dim sum, kushiyaki dishes, wok fired items, and chef’s suggestions. They offer lots of small dishes good for sharing, which is what we did. There’s plenty of seafood to choose from, like the wildly popular poke, as well as meat and vegetarian selections.

Order dinner at tables or the bar inside Departure Restaurant + Lounge.

There are plenty of sushi options from traditional to vegetarian rolls available.

The wings in a sweet chili glaze were tasty, as was the steamed short rib bun and the pork shumai. The chili prawns were a little salty and we thought could have used more heat, but flavorful, nonetheless. Crispy Striped Bass was a highlight, served with mango, cashews and a chili lime sauce.

Chicken wings were crispy and delicious.

Chili prawns were perfect for sharing.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge has an interesting wine list with plenty of wines that have been selected to pair perfectly with the food. They also offer a full compliment of cocktails, as well as spirits, beer, saki, teas and interesting sounding “no proof” libations. Knowledgeable staff are happy to help with decision making.

The wine list has lots of fun choices that complement the menu nicely.

Mind your step– you may well feel like you’re aboard an aircraft, especially walking down the long hallway towards the restrooms.

For views, atmosphere, beverages and a bite to eat, it’s hard to beat Departure.

Prepare for a delightful dining experience at Mucca.

If you’re in the mood for delicious Italian cuisine prepared with care and graciously served in a charming, intimate setting, try Mucca-

Enjoy a taste of Italy with a Sicilian flair in Downtown Portland.

The prosciutto and burrata is a great starter and easy to share, as is the insalata barbabietole (beet salad) with ricotta and hazelnuts. Try the excellent scallops with Parmesan fondue, if you’re looking for something richer.

A generous portion of creamy burrata is hiding inside this delicious nest of prosciutto.

The pastas are all terrific (we’ve tried just about every one here), especially the tortelli ai funghi—a beautiful dish of fresh pasta stuffed with mushrooms and ricotta, and topped with asparagus in a light and lovely cream sauce.

The tortelli with mushrooms is a personal favorite at Mucca.

The papparadelle with boar ragu is a hearty dish, full of flavor and reminds us of Tuscany. For an interesting take on risotto, try Mucca’s preparation with elk sausage.

This braised rabbit ragu with olives and pine nuts is typically served with a red beet tagliatelle. Here, we substituted pici pasta for the tagliatelle.

Elk sausage makes Mucca’s risotto delightfully different.

If you have a big appetite, opt for the pork shoulder, which is slow cooked, and falling off the bone. It’s served with creamy polenta. The daily fish special is always a winner, too.

Mucca’s wine list features producers from across Italy from Tuscany to Sicily.

Enjoy a digestivo after your meal. Mucca has many excellent ones to choose from.

With the exception of some French sparklers, the wine list is all Italian, from regions throughout the country from Piemonte to Sardinia. Knowledgeable servers are happy to help with your selections. In our experience, Mucca never disappoints.

Marvelous Andean cuisine awaits at Andina.

If you have a taste for amazing Peruvian cuisine try Andina You’ll find South American cooking in both traditional and contemporary, or NovoAndean (as they call it here), style at this big, bustling eatery.

We always say “yes, please” to the empanadas at Andina. Both the beef and vegetable versions are terrific.

Empanadas are just one of Andina’s “don’t miss” tapas dishes. Several superb preparations of scallops, shrimp, and other seafood, vegetable dishes, soups and stews, plus cerviches make up the extensive list. There are so many great sounding options it can be overwhelming to choose.

Pimento Piquillo Relleno, stuffed with quinoa, cheese and Serrano ham, makes a very tasty starter.

A classic Tortilla de Papa brings potatoes to a new level.

The tapas are meant to share so be sure to bring friends. That also gives you the chance to try more of their tasty dishes. There have been times when we have selected so many tapas; we could barely eat our entrees, which we would also recommend sharing.

Crunchy, crispy Chicharrones de Langostinos are perfect for sharing.

Among Andina’s entrees, we recommend the lamb shank, which is perfectly prepared and served with traditional accompaniments. It’s a very large portion. The fish dishes are also very good, especially the tuna, which is served with red lentils and a gooseberry sauce. There are numerous vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options here, too.

Quinoa turns up in a number of dishes, including this delightful presentation of Quinoa con Verduras.

Though walk- ins are welcome to dine downstairs or in the busy bar area on a space available basis, if you want a guaranteed table, it’s essential to reserve. You’ll be glad you did.

Another award-winning downtown dinner spot to try.

 Named one of Portland’s 2016 Best Restaurants by The Oregonian, Irving Street Kitchen is right down the street from Andina in the Pearl District. Irving Street is going for an “elegant casual” vibe and it seemed to be very of the moment on the Saturday night we dined there.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time at Irving Street Kitchen.

They have a terrific “wines on tap program” so you can sample a bunch of local wines you might not have heard of—we hadn’t– without breaking the bank. There were four whites, six reds and a rose on tap, all from Oregon and Washington, when we visited.  In addition to the wines and beers on tap, there are craft cocktails and a nice wine list with lots of choices from the Pacific Northwest.

Sample a few selections from the “on tap” wine program featuring wines from independent producers in Oregon and Washington.

Irving Street has heartier starters like the charcuterie or cheese selections, Manila clams, and meatballs, for example, but we began with salads, which were fresh and crisp. We had the baby lettuces and the Bibb wedge—classics, updated with additions like wildflower Riesling dressing and candied bacon with pecan nibs, respectively.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

We started with several crisp salads, including the Bibb Wedge shown here.

The double pork chop was superb and enormous, as was the buttermilk fried chicken. Both were extremely satisfying and big enough to share. The carrot butter poached halibut sounded awfully tempting but we went for the salmon this time and weren’t disappointed.

The succulent double pork chop was redolent with a smoky flavor throughout.

Crispy buttermilk fried chicken was a winner.

A peek inside Irving Street’s kitchen.

Irving Street Kitchen is hip and happening so definitely book in. Get one of their curtained booths if you can, or stake out a seat at the buzzy bar. Irving Street Kitchen also serves brunch on weekends and has a Happy Hour. Check it out!

Another downtown favorite is Chef/Owner Vitaly Paley’s Imperial. This casual and always crowded restaurant has been one of our Portland “go tos” for years.

The award-winning Imperial is popular for good reason.

Though former Top Chef finalist Doug Adams is no longer in the kitchen, his signature fried chicken is still on the menu, served with house-made hot sauce and honey. (Word has it that Doug is opening a new place in the fall–we’ll keep you posted).

The signature fried chicken is a standout!

 Though we don’t love paying for bread and butter, the Parker House rolls with Jacobsen Sea Salt are always on our table at Imperial, along with a big basket of their terrific fries.

Imperial’s fries are irresistible. Maybe it’s their “secret sauce.”

The sunflower seed brittle on the kale and vegetable salad makes that one special. The duck meatballs are a terrific starter, too.

Sunflower seed brittle gives this kale salad a satisfying crunch.

The duck meatballs deliver big on taste.

Some of the other “don’t miss” dishes are the barrel planked pork secretto, roasted half chicken, any fish done la plancha-style, and the fried rabbit with bacon, though we haven’t seen that dish on the menu lately.

Perfectly prepared Planked Pork Secretto from Tails & Trotters, is served with a fantastic Romesco sauce.

The grilled halibut is simply delicious.

The wine list features plenty of French selections but Oregon, Washington, and California wines are also well represented. Italian wines, along with craft cocktails, reserve, draft, and bottled beers, and ciders are all on offer.

There are always new and interesting wines to try on Imperial’s list.

Though we missed seeing a few of the friendly faces that always made dining at Imperial a bit more special, we still had a wonderful dinner on our most recent visit. Imperial serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Try their Happy Hour, too– the food is terrific and the prices are a real deal.

These are a few of our downtown favorites in Portland. We’ll be back with more dining recommendations in another post. In the meantime, let us know about your Portland picks!



California, Dining, Restaurants, San Francisco

San Francisco’s Star-Studded Dining Scene: Al’s Place, Lord Stanley, Kin Khao, SBP

October 27, 2016

Forget any notion of stuffy dining rooms, pretentious servers and worshipful silence that Michelin- starred restaurants may conjure in your mind. A recent trip to San Francisco showed beyond a doubt that dining in that city’s expanding constellation of contemporary, casual (unless you feel like dressing up), one star Michelin restaurants is more about revelry than reverence.


Think fun not fussy at San Francisco’s constellation of one-star Michelin restaurants.

Al’s Place, Lord Stanley, and Kin Khao were on our list this time, as well as a return to State Bird Provisions, which we discussed in detail in a previous post.


Al’s Place

We were only able to get a 5:30 p.m. reservation on a Sunday night at the very popular Al’s Place The sparely decorated room was packed when we arrived. There are only 46 seats at this Mission District eatery and they are in high demand—it’s no wonder with Chef/owner Aaron London at the helm. His creative cookery is the reason Bon Appetit magazine named Al’s Place best new restaurant of 2015. Just about everything coming out of the tiny kitchen was remarkable.


Chef Aaron London (AL’s Place) was kind enough to stop and smile for a quick pic. His fantastic fries are pictured to his left.

We were a party of four that night so had the chance to sample quite a bit of the menu, which is designed for sharing. One of our guests had food sensitivities but the kitchen was incredibly accommodating.


There’s a reason Al’s Place is packed. The food is stellar and the service exceptional.

Start with some Snackles—small dishes just right for munching while you enjoy an aperitif and decide what else you’d like to eat. We had chickpeas Catalan style and the highly touted brined French fries served with a smoked apple dipping sauce. The fries lived up to their reputation–crispy and differently delicious!


Catalan style chick peas with a tasty Romesco sauce was one of the snackles we chose.

Next up were the Cold/Cool choices. Some eyes rolled when I suggested a salad, but our server, Rebecca, assured us that this would be the most beautiful salad ever and she was right—cool, crisp greens, avocado, pistachio, all topped with lovely edible flowers.


A beautiful salad, indeed.

We also chose the green bean casserole. This is not the casserole of anybody of a certain age’s youth—the dish was composed of perfectly cooked green beans served cold with tiny tomatoes, micro greens, basil, and creamy burrata—yum!


Not your mother’s green bean casserole.

The black lime cod in stone fruit curry was the star of the Warm/Hot offerings, for us. The fish was perfectly prepared and the curry was complex with just the right amount of heat.


The cod in stone fruit curry was spectacular.

The yellow eye bean stew with torn bread was hearty and could have been a meal on its own. Some at our table found it a little salty though.


Yellow eye bean stew with torn bread was a substantial dish.

Our pick from the Sides was smoked brisket. We’re still not sure why this dish is considered a side. It was a large portion and our companions pronounced it thoroughly delicious.  We got a second order.


The brisket could be the centerpiece of any Sunday supper.

On our visit, Limited Availability choices included trouty brioche, fish head under a brick, a dry aged rib eye and foie gras. Limited Availability means just that, so if you see something you like, order it. It may not be on the menu the next time around. We said, “yes” to the trouty brioche with its terrific textures, colors and tastes. It was a thick slice of brioche with roe and pickled green peach—superb.


Trouty Brioche featured creamy cheese nestled under a bed of crunchy roe on a tender slice of brioche.

Though we all were very satisfied with our dinner, we couldn’t resist dessert. The brownie with ice cream was perfect for sharing and a sweet ending to a sensational meal.


We always try to save room for dessert. A good idea at Al’s Place.


Dine al fresco at one of the street side tables.

Al’s Place also has a few outdoor tables on the side of the restaurant. Perhaps we’ll try one of those on our next visit– and there will definitely be a next visit!


Lord Stanley

If you go to Lord Stanley, and you should, consider sharing all of the dishes you want to try, especially if there are only two of you. You’ll have the opportunity to try more of the delicious dishes on offer that way.


Lord Stanley has tables upstairs and down. The room is casual and lively.

We shared starters—salt cod beignets and onion petals in sherry vinegar and then had the heirloom tomatoes—all deliciously good and clever rifts on what only sound like simple dishes.


Onion petals in sherry vinegar topped with edible flowers was our first dish.


The salt cod beignets were tasty with a dollop of house- made tartar sauce.


A look inside the beignets.

Each dish had something special and unexpected—all in a very tasty and good way. The heirloom tomatoes were done with cardamom and gazpacho, for example.


Perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes in a light, bright gazpacho.

We both had the incredible halibut for our entrees which was served with butter beans, roasted dashi, and samphire, whose crunchy texture reminded us of ice plant. It was all delicious, prepared perfectly, and easily big enough to share. We realized we could have had a meat dish as well, had we chosen just one order of halibut. The short rib at the next table looked amazing—and we were assured that it was. Next time!


The halibut was succulent and rich.

Lord Stanley has a well-priced and interesting wine list. Our server was very knowledgeable and made several excellent suggestions for wine pairings.


Lord Stanley’s interesting wine list has a number of organic/ biologic wines on offer.


This light Loire Valley red was organically cultivated and manually harvested. It was a fine complement to our meal.

Though we’d had plenty to eat, we splurged and had the dark chocolate pudding with black sesame and toasted rice for dessert. The “pudding” was a delightfully different assemblage of tastes and textures from the dark chocolate crumbles to the crispy toffee on top.


The dark chocolate pudding was a winner in both taste and texture.

img_4092Don’t be put off by Kin Khao’s simple surroundings. Located in the Parc 55 Hotel in what looks a lot like a coffee shop—this place is really good. They have extraordinary Thai food, attentive, knowledgeable service and a solid wine list with interesting choices that complement the cuisine nicely.


Spare surroundings belie the rich, tantalizing Thai food on offer.


The brief wine list perfectly complements the complex flavors of the food.

Entrees are pretty large but the appetizers are so good, it’s hard not to start with one or two. The Som Tum Papaya Salad is complex, flavorful and super hot—maybe the spiciest item on the small menu, but one bite leads to another and after a few, you’ll enjoy the heat.


If you like it spicy, don’t miss this papaya salad.

The Pretty Hot Wings are just that, and pretty tasty, too. They hold their own against Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok wings in our estimation.


Tangy, spicy and just right, these wings hold their own against more well- known competitors.

The Pinto Market Lunch with green curry, rabbit meatballs, pork riblets, salad and rice was more than satisfying and a veritable smorgasbord of taste treats.


The Pinto Market Lunch is a hearty, satisfying meal full of flavor.


A light chicken broth and a additional house- made curry sauce come on the side.

We also had a very hearty and savory noodle dish called Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiew.  Tender braised pork cheeks with rice noodles, Ngiew flowers, cherry tomatoes, pickled mustard greens in a hearty pork broth made a delicious dish. Curries are prepared in- house from scratch each day.


Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiew was a sensational dish with complex flavors.

For a smaller appetite or on a hot day, try the chicken fat rice with ginger poached chicken, served with a restorative cup of chicken broth—light and delicious.


The Pad Kee Mao with drunken egg noodles, ground pork, chilis basil and onions was outstanding. It’s also available as a vegetarian dish made with tofu.

Kin Khao has numerous vegetarian and gluten free items on their menu. Some items can easily be made vegetarian by substituting tofu.


Kin Khao’s dining room between meals.

We’ve enjoyed several meals at Kin Khao and have been delighted each time. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.


State Bird Provisions


State Bird Provisions is still a tough table to get but well worth it.

Our unreserved and enthusiastic recommendation of State Bird Provision still stands. We had another terrific evening enjoying lots and lots of small, shared, interesting dishes at this popular Michelin one-star restaurant.


Perfect heirloom tomatoes with crunchy quinoa and tahini chili oil. Piquant and refreshing.


Sashimi grade fish and careful spicing makes SBP’s take on poke outstanding.

If you can score a table here do it, even if you have to get up at midnight, 60 days in advance to book, which is exactly what we do. If that doesn’t work out, take heart, they do take a limited number of walk-ins at 5:30 p.m., every night. For more on SBP, read my earlier post.


A whole grain pancake topped with fiscalini cheddar and heirloom tomato is a two bite treat.


State Bird’s extensive wine list has something for every palate. Try one of their wine flights.

The San Francisco Bay Area now has 49 Michelin star-rated restaurants from Los Gatos to the Napa Valley. What are you waiting for? Let’s go eat!  Find new favorites?  Please share them with us.


Desserts, Dining, Firenze, Florence, Italy, Pizzerias, Restaurants, Tuscany, Wine bars

Florentine Favorites: Where to Eat

September 28, 2016

Many visitors to Florence seem to be on a quest, trying to squeeze in as much culture as they can in a few short days. Don’t overlook the culinary component of travel. Take a deep breath and spend some real time in this glorious city if you can, and take time out for some superb dining while you’re here.

A quick 10- minute walk from our apartment near the Duomo over the Ponte Santa Trinita brought us to Il Santo Bevitore’s welcoming doors. It seemed like everyone inside was having a great time. We did, too, and put it at the top of our list of Florentine favorites.


Il Santo Bevitore on the Altro Arno is one of our absolute Florentine favorites.

The comfortable dining rooms (there is a large one, pictured above, and a smaller one just beyond it) are lively and full of happy diners enjoying the excellent cuisine. The atmosphere is casual and warm with just the right amount of buzz.


You can request an English menu or practice your language skills with the Italian one.

The food is absolutely delicious and the service is attentive and friendly. Some stand outs were the porcini risotto, the pigeon, rombo, and the veal.


This simple pear and pecorino salad was a perfect starter.


We always say, “si” to a sformatino– a light, savory custard just right as a first course..


Il Santo Bevitore’s veal was perfectly prepared.

You can’t go wrong with the pastas, meat or fish—whatever you choose is going to be good. Save room for dessert though.  The chestnut torte and yogurt mousse were both terrific.


The succulent pigeon is a game bird lover’s delight.


Fresh fish (rombo in this case), lardons, and potatoes were elegantly plated and beautifully prepared.


Save room for dessert. This yogurt mousse was spectacular.

We would’ve eaten at Il Santo Bevitore every night, but felt the need to explore some of Florence’s other delightful dining options. Remember, reservations here are a must. Il Santo Bevitore is open for lunch and dinner.

img_3068Try Cucina Torcicoda for lunch or dinner. They have a restaurant, a casual trattoria, and a pizzeria– all in the same building.  When you book in, and you must reserve, let them know which you prefer. They’ll be very different dining experiences but all delicious.


Torcicoda’s elegant and tranquil dining room.


Torcicoda’s wine list features fine selections from all over Italy.

We had an excellent dinner in the restaurant. The food was superb and the service attentive.


This exquisite pork dish was rich and flavorful. The chestnuts gave it a great contrasting texture and crunch.


Memories of this sensational truffle- topped tenderloin make my mouth water.

The casual trattoria has a different menu from the restaurant’s and it looked good, though we didn’t have time to try it.


We’ll try the casual trattoria next time.

We ate lunch at Torcicoda’s pizzeria and sampled four different pies. We were especially pleased with the ones topped with fresh buffala mozzarella cheese– gooey and delicious but with a crisp, thin crust–just the way we like our pizza.


The pizzeria was packed day and night, so be sure to reserve.


Fresh buffala mozzarella, available on a number of Torcicoda’s pies, upped the yum factor.


Pizza bianca with sausage and broccoli rabe was another hit.

The pizzeria also has a good-sized outdoor dining area which is open rain or shine. It’s fun to watch the parade of tourists passing by on their way to the beautiful Santa Croce across the piazza, as you enjoy your meal.

img_3368We walked past Konnubio one afternoon at lunchtime and it looked so inviting we decided to go back for dinner.  It was a good choice. The restaurant is casual and lively but the noise level is not over the top.


Diners were just beginning to arrive when we took this photo. Every table was taken in both dining rooms when we left.

The food was beautifully plated and everything we tried was delicious.


Seared tuna with fresh asparagus was pleasing to the palate and the eye.


Tender lamb with caper berries was outstanding.


Konnubio has an extensive wine list and knowledgeable, helpful waitstaff.

You should reserve a table as we saw only one walk in party seated, while others were turned away. See if you can sit in the main dining room at one of the tables with the big comfy chairs instead of the side dining room, if you can.


Cantinetta Antinori is owned and operated by the Antinori wine family The restaurant is located in the beautiful Antinori family palazzo right in the center of Florence. We’ve had many delicious lunches here as well as a very good dinner.


Enjoy fresh baked bread and Tuscan olive oil from Antinori’s estate while you peruse the extensive wine list.


Thinly sliced artichokes with parmesan cheese was a winner.

The food is typical Florentine cuisine and oriented to the seasons.


Crispy potatoes topped with filet of white fish, sundried tomatoes, and capers was full of flavor and texture.


The hearty stewed beef on a bed of polenta is typical Florentine fare.

They have an extensive wine by the glass (or half glass) program so you can sample many of Antinori’s broad line at reasonable prices. It’s fun to try wines you may not see at home.

img_2002Cantinetta Antinori is very popular with local business people especially at lunch, so book a table.


We had a good lunch at Trattoria 13 Gobbi Via Porcellana 9/r tel 055 284015. We discovered this cute little place tucked away on a small side street on one of our meandering walks through this beautiful city.


The dining room is charming and features plenty of vintage posters, advertisements and more to catch your eye.


The flavorful vegetable soup was presented in this lovely copper pot.

We plan to give dinner a try there next time.


Trattoria Cibreo is another one of our lunchtime favorites. We go to the trattoria at Via di Macci 122R, instead of Signore Picchi’s very popular but pricier restaurant, Ristorante Cibreo. The food is terrific and the menu seasonal. Be aware that they don’t serve pasta and they take no reservations at the trattoria. They open for lunch at 12:45 pm and you need to be there early to get a table. People will be lined up and waiting for the doors to open. The trattoria is closed Sundays and Mondays. There’s a tripe truck parked nearby that the always has a line. Snack while you wait?


While not to my taste, this tripe truck does a great business.

Here are a few other Florentine restaurants we’ve enjoyed over the years: Omero is a wonderful classic Florentine restaurant way up above the town with great views. The food is delicious, the service is attentive and this well-known eatery is extremely popular. Be sure to book in for lunch or dinner.

Il Latini is the place for multi- course and enormous meals. There wasn’t a menu when we went for lunch–they just kept bringing food to the table. It was all good and there was plenty, served family style. The key word here is “basta”! Enough! Tell them how many courses you want before they start bringing it—especially if you don’t want the meat courses.

Del Fagioli means the beans, literally. This is a good, casual family place close to the Uffizi. The owner seemed to know at least half the patrons when we had dinner there some time ago. Corso Tintori 47r telephone for a reservation—they were turning people away. 055244285

There are so many wonderful restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias in Florence you’re bound to find some to fit your taste and budget.  Please share your favorites with us @traveltawk. Buon appetito!








Chocolate, Desserts, Dining, Family Fun, Firenze, Florence, Italy, Markets, Pizzarias, Restaurants, Shopping, Tuscany, Wine bars

Florence’s Fantastic Mercato Centrale

September 22, 2016

Craving a cappucino and a cornetto? Need a bouquet of fresh flowers or picnic provisions? How about fresh pasta to enjoy at home? Or maybe you’re just in the mood for pizza and a beer? Florence’s Central Market or Mercato Centrale Firenze  is Florence’s answer to foodie heaven.  Housed in a historic building originally erected in 1847, and open from 10 a.m. to midnight, this is the place to go.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 8

Pick up picnic provisions like salami, cheeses, prosciutto and more at Florence’s Mercato Centrale.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 6

Fresh pastas and delicious sauces to go with them make a tasty and quick meal that’s easy to prepare in your vacation rental.

The market on the ground floor is fun to explore with every kind of seasonal produce, pastas, sauces, meats, cheeses, and flowers. Anything you could want that’s fresh and in season is right here.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 3

The Mercato Centrale has a bounty of seasonal produce, herbs and fresh flowers.

Upstairs at the Mercato Centrale is one of our favorite stops for for lunch, though you can also have breakfast, snacks, sweets, drinks and dinner here.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 16

Neapolitan-style pizza is done right at La Pizzeria Sud.

Go get some terrific Neapolitan style pizza at Pizzeria Sud. You can take your slices to one of the communal tables or go upstairs for table service. We opted for the former and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the place.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 14

Lunch is ready!

There are lots of tasty options– pasta, panini, cheese and meat platters, fish, pizza, even burgers and fried chicken to choose from. There is also a coffee bar, wine, beer, pastries, gelato and delicious desserts–something to please most any palate.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 17

Choose your favorite foods from the array of vendors upstairs at the market and grab a seat at the communal tables. Mangia!

Everything on offer here from the hamburgers made from Chianina beef at La Toraia di Enrico Lagorio, the pasta from Raimondo Mendolia, Maurizio e Poala Rosellini’s fresh fish, the bufala mozzarella, beautiful baked goods, chocolates and gelato are all of the highest quality.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 20

A great selection of fresh or aged cheeses to eat now or enjoy later are readily available.

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If you’re looking to really splash out, try these fragrant truffles.

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If your tastes run more to fried foods, you’re in luck.

We even sampled the trippa fritta—fried tripe, a Florentine favorite, though not to my taste.

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Trippa fritta is a Florentine favorite.

After lunch (or dinner), you’ll probably want coffee and something sweet. Please remember that no self-respecting Italian would even consider ordering a cappuccino, latte or similar milky coffee drink after breakfast hours. Stick to the espresso. Ask for a caffe lungo if you miss your American coffee. Desserts are in abundance here and include gelato, pastries, cookies, and cannoli, which are stuffed while you wait—as they should be. Crushed pistachios on the ends are optional.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 19

These confections look almost too good to eat. Almost…

Upstairs is also where you’ll find Eataly which features Italian grocery items, household goods, personal care items and my favorite Florentine soaps from Nesti Dante. You’ll also find a wine shop specializing in Chianti Classico selections, a cooking school, a bancomat (ATM)  and public restrooms which are in short supply in many cities like Florence.

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If you’re looking for Italian wines, particularly those from the Chianti Classico region, you’ve come to the right place.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 13

Students pay rapt attention at the Lorenzo de Medici Cooking School upstairs at the Mercato Centrale.

If you feel the need for yet more shopping, there are also stalls outside the building on the surrounding streets with scarfs, leather items, and souvenirs—all the typical Florentine goods you’d expect to find.

mercato caentrale nov 2015 - 10

Shoppers can find everything from dry pasta to Pinocchio at the market and stalls outside.

Buon appetito and happy shopping!

Dining, Italy, Restaurants, Tuscany

Tuscan Tables: Where to Eat In and Around Panzano

August 2, 2016


Finding great places to enjoy the local cuisine can be part of the adventure when you’re traveling, but sometimes it’s nice to have at least a couple of dining recommendations. Here are a few of our “go to” restaurants in and around Panzano in Chianti:


One of our all time favorites for an elegant and delicious dinner and/or lunch in the countryside near Panzano is La Locanda di Pietracupa in San Donato in Poggio.  The restaurant’s dining room is understated and polished but it’s the cuisine here that really shines. Credit for the inventive, refined rifts on Tuscan cuisine go to the two young couples who own the restaurant. They take fresh, local ingredients and give them a delightful and sophisticated twist. In the autumn, enjoy lighter than air ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, while summer brings tagliolini topped with delicate zucchini blossoms and truffle. The filet of beef may be wrapped in a paper thin sheet of lardo or accompanied by a rhubarb sauce, depending on the season. The Fritto della Locanda, their version of fritto misto, comes with chicken, rabbit and seasonal vegetables fried in the lightest batter possible.   Everything is spectacular here but save room for dessert—those are too delicious to miss. La Locanda di Pietracupa has a lovely outdoor terrace for warm weather dining and has four rooms available for rent upstairs over the restaurant. Be sure and book in—it is very popular. We’ve met people from Florence who’ve driven down just to dine here. For more information about the menu, the rooms and cooking classes visit or


Many of our favorite restaurants feature outdoor terraces for warm weather dining. Here is Osteria Alla Piazza’s, which in summertime will be very busy for lunch and dinner.

There is a bend in the road between Panzano and San Donato where you’ll find a tiny hamlet called La Piazza. The hamlet has little more than a few stone houses and a terrific restaurant called Osteria Alla Piazza This area favorite has several appealing small dining rooms and an expansive terrace for warm weather dining.


Tagliolini with fresh truffles is a seasonal favorite.

Osteria Alla Piazza changes their menu regularly to capture the freshest seasonal ingredients at their peak. During an autumn visit a few years back we feasted on the porcini—presented beforehand in a big basket for our appraisal, and served in every course we ordered. With great anticipation, we returned just a few days later to further satisfy our craving for these meaty mushrooms only to be told, “funghi finito”—no more, all gone, season’s over!


The elegantly prepared guinea fowl was superbly satisfying.


The beef tenderloin–filetto all’ aceto balsamico was a standout at Osteria Alla Piazza.


Save room for dessert. This panna cotta with strawberries was delicious.

Several dinners we enjoyed earlier this summer confirmed that the kitchen at Osteria Alla Piazza is still clearly committed to providing diners with the season’s best. Don’t miss the tantalizing tagliolini with truffles, the melt in your mouth filet of beef with cippolini (tiny onions), or the fritto misto, which someone in our party seemed to order everywhere we went. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and reservations are strongly suggested. For current menu and reservation information visit or email


Passing through Lucarelli on the road from Panzano to Radda, you’ll find Osteria Le Panzanelle — a local favorite—and one of ours, too. It’s always busy and always good. Friends who live in nearby Radda in Chianti complained it was getting harder for area residents to get a table during the busy summer months, so reservations are a must.


Osteria La Panzanelle is a local favorite– and for good reason.

At Le Panzanelle you’ll find classic Tuscan cooking in a casual, lively setting. Begin with platter of local charcuterie, the Affettati Toscani—a nice big plate of prosciutto and delicious Tuscan salami. The involtini di melanzane, which is sliced eggplant rolled around cheese and baked with a tomato sauce and capers is also a tasty starter.


A heaping platter of prosciutto and local salami is a great way to start a meal at La Panzanelle.


The eggplant is hearty and big enough to share.

There are plenty of terrific pastas to choose from—you can’t go wrong here. For the main course they offer an enormous Bistecca alla Fiorentina for two, roasted rabbit with capers and anchovies, hearty cinghiale con olive (wild boar with olives), scottadito di angello (lamb chops) and other Tuscan specialties like peposo—a delicious slow cooked beef dish.


You’ll find delicious Tuscan classics at Le Panzanelle.


Simple scottodito–lamb chops with a translation meaning “burn your fingers.”


Hearty meat dishes are popular in most Tuscan restaurants. Le Panzanelle’s kitchen turns out a superb selection.

We’ve eaten here many times over the years and have tried most things on the menu. We’ve always been delighted with our meals and service is always friendly. It’s just a short 10 to 15 minute drive from Panzano and well worth it. Unlike many local restaurants, which close in November and reopen in late spring, Le Panzanelle is open nearly year round except for their vacation closing sometime in January/February. Visit for more.


For fabulous food and amazing views go to Ristoro di Lamole in the tiny hamlet of Lamole. You’ll drive up a beautiful winding road in the hills near Greve, passing orchards, vineyards and country homes, and when you reach the top—the friendly staff at Ristoro di Lamole will be waiting with a warm welcome.


Fillipo will be sure you’re well looked after at Ristoro di Lamole.

Be sure to reserve a table on the terrace so you can enjoy the stunning countryside views along with their innovative and sophisticated take on Tuscan cookery.


Enjoy the spectacular views from Ristoro di Lamole’s terrace.

House made burrata makes a great starter and the ravioli with pear and pecorino should not be missed.


The creamy burrata was served with locally sourced mushrooms.


Meat courses like the tender pork filet and rabbit are outstanding and the fritto misto was perfect. Everything we ate– from the antipasti to dessert– reflected a refined sensibility and was absolutely delicious.


Pasta with truffles was perfectly prepared at Ristoro di Lamole.


Pastas range from the delicate truffle enhanced, to hearty fare like this papparadelle with wild boar.


The filet of pork reflects the kitchen’s sophisticated take on classic Tuscan cuisine.

The Lamole Lamole wine from this area is just one of the more than 300 bottles on Ristoro di Lamole’s extensive wine list. Open for lunch and dinner. Visit for more information.


Oltre il Gardino is a family-run restaurant right off Panzano’s main square, the Piazza Bucciarelli. We ate here for the first time on our recent trip and were very pleased with their solid, classic Tuscan cookery.




Ravioli with spinach, pecorino and sage was a hit.


The papparadelle with wild boar was a favorite, too.

The menu focuses on Italian comfort food and includes favorites like bruschetta al pomodoro, ribolita (tomato soup with bread), house made pastas like papparadelle with cinghiale (wild boar) and tagliatelle with pigeon.The ubiquitous Bistecca alla Fiorentina, peposa, and other typical dishes, were all well prepared.


Tender fried chicken is representative of the comfort food served at Oltre il Gardino.

The dining room in the converted farmhouse is cozy and well appointed. Every table was taken the night we were there, mostly by Italian diners, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Even though it was a full house, service was attentive.


In the warm weather, the restaurant opens their summer bar—an expansive terrace with beautiful views overlooking the Conca del Ora, the shell of gold. Lunch, aperativi and dinner are served on the terrace. For menus and more visit


La Cantinetta di Sassolini is off the Piazza Ricasoli at #2, in the old part of Panzano up the hill from the main square near the church of Santa Maria Assunta.



The dining room at La Cantinetta di Sassolino.

The menu centers on typical Tuscan dishes. Dinners can begin with assorted local cheeses like pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese often served with jam, crespelle—delicate crepes stuffed with vegetables, which happened to be asparagus on this occasion, and one of our favorites, sformata, a light savory custard of seasonal vegetables.


A delicate savory sformata was sensational at Sassolino.

Next up are pastas, which are often sauced with game or meat here. Main courses like tagliata di manzo- sliced beefsteak, roasted meats, lamb chops, or chicken fricassee are served in ample portions.


It’s perfectly fine to share a pasta course. Just say, “Uno per due, per favore.”


Tagliata di manzo makes a great Sunday supper.

The dining room is lovely and boasts a large fireplace, which is a welcome addition in the colder months. The restaurant also has a terrace for outdoor dining in the summer. Note: Enter through the doors on Via Giovanni di Verrazano, though you can park in the piazza if there’s space.


Service is warm and welcoming at La Cantinetta Sassolino in Panzano.

We didn’t have a chance to return to Il Vescovino on our visit to Panzano this summer, but would recommend it based on earlier visits. The menu features Tuscan favorites; beginning with antipasti of Tuscan salami and prosciutto, chicken liver pate, olives and fennel. Pastas include local specialties like pici, which is a thick hand made spaghetti, and tagliatelle with funghi or papperadelle with a ragu. Grilled chicken, braised beef, Bistecca Fiorentina (from Dario Cecchini’s macelleria), porchetta and tagliata di manzo—the grilled, sliced steak popular in Italy, round out the menu. The restaurant has gorgeous views from inside and out on the terrace, which looks over the vineyards below. Il Vescovino is at via Ciampolo da Panzano, 9, 50022 Panzano, Greve in Chianti, Italy +393383648446.


Dinners at Dario Cecchini’s restaurants are multi course, family style affairs. Bring your appetite!

In an earlier post on Panzano we mentioned Dario Cecchini, the uber popular butcher from Panzano with a worldwide following. We would be remiss not to include his terrific restaurants here again: Solociccia, which is Tuscan slang for “only meat” and features cuts from all parts of the cow; Solociccino, a mini version of Solociccia open for lunch only; Officina della Bistecca showcases sensational steaks including the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina; and Dario DOC—just for lunch from Monday through Saturday and the only Dario restaurant where reservations aren’t needed. All of the restaurants serve family style, multi course, prix fix meals, and while famous for top quality meat, vegetarian options are available. Visit for more on the macelleria, restaurants and butchery classes.


“Tuscan butter” (center) and other delicious meat products on display at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano.

Panzano and environs are very popular travel destinations, particularly in the summertime. Avoid disappointment and make reservations. These are some of our favorite places to dine in and around Panzano. We’d love to hear about yours, so please leave comments.

Mangia bene!





Dining, Family Fun, Italy, Restaurants, Tuscany, Wineries

Picture Perfect Panzano in Chianti

July 22, 2016

Panzano in Chianti is right in the heart of Chianti’s wine growing region and has been one of our favorite Tuscan getaways for many years. The small town is located midway between Florence and Siena, on the Chiantigiana/Highway 222, making it the perfect location from which to embark on day trips to these beautiful Tuscan cities.  Other popular destinations like San Gimignano, Volterra and Pisa are also within easy driving distance, as are lovely nearby towns like Radda, Greve and Castellina in Chianti.


Steps lead down to reception at Villa Pecille in Panzano.

We always rent from Sammie Daniels, founder of Stay Italia   In Panzano, we’ve stayed at Casa La Rota and Villa Pecille numerous times. Both are located on vineyard property owned by the family behind Fontodi Winery and are situated on the Conca del Ora, some of the most gorgeous countryside in Tuscany. Casa La Rota is surrounded by vineyards and is a five-minute drive into town. Villa Pecille overlooks the Conca del Ora and is a short walk into the village of Panzano.


La Rota is surrounded by Fontodi’s beautiful vineyards.


Casa La Rota.

All the apartments at La Rota and Villa Pecille are fully furnished and equipped with just about everything anyone could need to feel at home. Some have fireplaces. The two properties offer a range of accommodations suitable for two to eight people and both have swimming pools, ample outdoor areas for relaxing, and laundry facilities.


One of the terraces at Villa Pecille.


The pool at Villa Pecille.


Both La Rota and Villa Pecille have lots of lovely outdoor spaces to enjoy.

Sammie, who is American, is an expert on the area having been here since 1985 when she opened a B & B in nearby Greve. She went on to remodel and manage the Vignamaggio Hotel, which was the setting for Much Ado About Nothing starring Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson in 1993. In 1995, Sammie moved to Fontodi and opened Casa La Rota and has been there ever since. Sammie can assist guests with restaurant recommendations (I’ll share my favorites in another post), wine tastings, even organizing dinners prepared in your villa.


Our spacious, fully equipped kitchen at Villa Pecille’s La Loggia.


La Loggia’s beautiful dining room is perfect for entertaining.

Sammie also has other properties in the area and several apartments in Florence. Detailed information on all of the villas and apartments is available at


The Piazza Bucciarelli is at the center of village life in Panzano in Chianti.

While not a large town, Panzano has its own market every Sunday morning in the main square— Piazza Bucciarelli—until about 1 p.m. The market is a great place to pick up fresh produce, fabulous cheeses, hot roast chicken, pasta and sauces, clothing, and household goods.


You can purchase Mr. Moreno’s superb selection of cheeses at Greve’s Saturday Market or in Panzano on Sunday mornings.


Clothing, accessories, shoes and more are available at Panzano’s Sunday Market.

The stores in town including the Coop (supermarket), pharmacy, and smaller shops near the main square and on Via Giovanni de Verrazzano, the road that leads up the hill to Santa Maria Assunta, are also open on Sundays but only until 1 p.m. There is also a much bigger weekly market in nearby Greve on Saturday mornings.


Fresh seasonal produce is at the heart of the market.

The town of Panzano is home to perhaps the most famous butcher in the world—the colorful, Dante- reciting Dario Cecchini  His Antica Macelleria Cecchini is technically a butcher shop but really so much more. Walk into his macelleria on a Sunday morning and it’s like there’s a party going on. He has a great spread of complimentary appetizers including his famous “Tuscan butter” (lardo), salamis, cheeses, olive oil, bread and wine.


Dario Cecchini may be the best known butcher in the world.

In addition to superb meats ready for your grill or oven, it is possible to purchase prepared dishes like porchetta—a delicious roast pork dish, polpetti—giant meatballs, and other local specialties for a picnic or easy meal at home. Service is friendly and English is spoken—Dario’s wife is a Californian. The ever-accommodating Dario is often willing to pose for photographs for international visitors who make the pilgrimage to Panzano to see him.


The very personable Dario Cecchini with our son this summer (top), and many years ago during one of our first holidays in Panzano.

Dario also has several restaurants: Solociccia, which is Tuscan slang for “only meat” and features cuts of beef from top to tail; Solociccino is a mini version of Solociccia and open for lunch only; Officina della Bistecca showcases sensational steaks including the famous Bistecca Fiorentina; and Dario DOC—which serves lunch from Monday through Saturday and is the only Dario restaurant where reservations are not required. All of the restaurants serve family style, multi course, prix fix meals, and while famous for top quality meat, vegetarian options are offered.


Complimentary meats, cheeses, bread, wine and Dario’s famous “Tuscan butter” are a tasty treat for visitors to the macelleria.

The butcher shop and restaurants draw people from around the globe-a lot of people. Dario’s Sunday lunches are especially popular so book in advance if you’d like to partake in these multi course extravaganzas. In the warm weather diners are served outside on long communal tables. We’ve met interesting people from all over the world at these delicious, leisurely meals. Dario also offers classes/workshops in butchery, which must be reserved in advance. All the details for the shop, restaurants and classes are at


This sculpture welcomes visitors to Il Molino di Grace’s tasting room outside Panzano.

Wine tasting is a popular Tuscan past time and Panzano is a marvelous place to indulge in this pleasure. There are three wine bars or enoteca on or across from the main piazza—Enoteca Baldi at 25 Piazza Bucciarelli, Misticoteca at 13 Piazza Bucciarelli, and the newest, Il Cardo at 50 Piazza Bucciarelli. These are all about a three-minute walk (or less) from one another.


Enoteca Baldi is popular with locals and visitors alike. Bring your beverage outside and enjoy it on the Piazza if you like.

Enoteca Baldi and Il Cardo offer a selection of light foods to accompany your wine.  Misticoteca, whose delightful owner Misty always has a warm welcome for visitors, has olive oils, specialty foods and gift items available for purchase. There almost always seems to be a crowd there.


Misticoteca was a popular place to watch the Giro d’Italia but this enoteca always draws a crowd.

We were fortunate to have our recent visit coincide with the Giro d’Italia—a major bicycle race—and its attendant 15 Giorni di Rosa or 15 Days of Pink—an exhaustive calendar of public events ranging from bicycle themed films, musical concerts, theatrical performances, free lectures, and of course, wine tastings.


The Bar Dante Alighieri in Radda is perfect for a coffee, light meal or a drink.


Shopkeepers in Radda were thinking pink for the Giro d’Italia.

The events were held in Radda, where the race would begin; Castellina in Chianti, San Donato, Panzano, through which the race passed; and Greve, where the race would end.


Greve welcomed racers and bicycling enthusiasts for the Giro d’Italia.

The day before the race, Unione Viticoltori de Panzano in Chianti presented Vino al Vino Miniatura, a smaller version of the wine tasting event the group hosts every September. All members of the organization had their wines available for tasting.


Panzano’s vintners presented Vino al Vino in Minaturo the day before the big race.

Wineries represented at that festive Saturday afternoon event included Fontodi, Il Molino di Grace, Casaloste, La Massa, Cennatoio, Fattoria la Quercia, Tenuta degli Dei and Castello dei Rampolla, among other local producers, 20 in total by my count. A souvenir glass and the opportunity to taste all of the delicious wines on offer cost just 10 Euro. There was live music in the Piazza Bucciarelli as well as local art on display to keep participants entertained while they sipped.


Great wines, music and a beautiful day brought people to Panzano’s Piazza Bucciarelli.

We visited Fontodi and Il Molino di Grace for wine tastings on this visit, and have toured and tasted at many others over the years. Visit for a list of local wineries, touring/tasting/direct sales availability, and other information.


A visit to Fontodi– one of the region’s premier wine producers.


The delightful and knowledgable Rina Lapini prepares to pour Fontodi’s flagship Flaccianello for visitors.

Contact wineries directly to make arrangements for private tours and wine tastings prior to arriving in Tuscany. Some are open to the public and some are not. Some offer complimentary tastings and some charge a fee.


Doors on Via Giovanni de Verrazzano, the main street off Piazza Bucciarelli leading up the hill to Santa Maria Assunta.

Panzano is also a fine place to have custom shoes, belts and hand bags made by local leather artisan Carlo Fagiani; visit a gallery that specializes in local artists’ work (we enjoyed a photography exhibition by Jeferson Silva Castellari and purchased one of his photographs on canvas); pick up antique or modern hardware; stop into a beautiful church– Santa Maria Assunta, which has a painting of the Annunciation attributed to Ghirlandaio and a 14th century Madonna from Botticini; or just relax with a coffee at our favorite bar, Caffe la Curva (it’s called Bar of the Curve because that’s where it is), or stop by for gelato and apperitivi later in the day.


Order custom made shoes, belts and handbags at Carlo Fagiani in Panzano.


Caffe la Curva is a great place to start the day with a cappuccino and cornetto or end it with an apperitivo.


Panzano’s bucolic beauty beckons us back again and again.

However you chose to spend your time in this beautiful place, enjoy la dolce vita in Italia and perhaps you’ll understand why we’ve returned to Panzano in Chianti again and again.




Art, Churches, Dining, Family Fun, History, Italy, Tuscany

Day Tripping– Lovely Lucca

June 22, 2016

The lively and lovely small city of Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini and a wonderful place to spend one day or several. We’ve had a few day trips from our home base in Panzano in Chianti ( more on that in another post) and keep promising ourselves to spend more time here.


Lucca is a popular destination for visitors to Tuscany and easy to reach by car or train from Florence.

You cannot drive inside the walled city. You must park in one of the lots outside. Be sure to look for the pay station if you park in any area with blue lines. White lines mean free parking, but blue lines require payment. We were so excited to get a spot near the Porta Santa Maria that we didn’t even notice we were in a pay zone and came back to find a parking ticket on our windshield. Note—if you get a parking ticket, pay it while you are still in Italy at any Post Office. You can do so with cash or credit card and you’ll avoid paying your car rental company the fee they charge to provide the Italian government with your information plus you’ll avoid the hassle of paying via wire transfer/foreign currency once you return home.


Bicycling is a popular means of getting around in Lucca– inside the city walls and on top of them.

Once you get inside the walls, Porte San Pietro is the main gate–find an Info Point—Porta Santa Maria or Porta San Donato both have them. Pick up a tourism map which has several itineraries for exploring the town. Itineraries are in Italian, English and German and include opening times, closing days, and other important information for the major sites such as museums and churches.


Visitors and locals alike stroll or bicycle around Lucca’s famous medieval walls. Bicycle rentals are readily available.

Lots of people go to Lucca to “walk the wall” or ride bicycles around the city on the top of its ancient fortifications—Passaggiata delle Mura. The medieval walls built in 1544 replaced earlier Roman ones and extend 4,195 meters around the perimeter of Lucca. There are plenty of bicycle rental places just inside the walls, particularly near the Porta Santa Maria. It was a blustery, rainy day when we were there a few weeks ago, so we put this on our list for next time.


Now a place for picnics and soccer practice, the grassy area around the walls was once a moat.


If you have time for a delicious and leisurely lunch (or dinner), go to la Buca di Sant’Antonio, Via della Cervia 3, 55100 Lucca +39058355881 The restaurant specializes in traditional cuisine of the area and the food is delicious.We’ve had several memorable meals here.You must reserve a table because the restaurant is quite popular.


Put Buca di Sant’ Antonio on your list of delightful restaurants in Lucca.


Maccheroni lucchesi al sugo di coniglio– housemade pasta with rabbit sauce– as delicious as it looks.


Puntarella alla Romana– a crisp, bitter salad topped with anchovies widely regarded as a Roman specialty.


Petto di faraona all’ uva moscato– guinea fowl in a wonderful moscato wine sauce with crispy pancetta. Yum!

The Church of St. Michele in Foro is one of Lucca’s “must visit” sites. It was built on the site of the Roman forum in the 11th and 12th centuries and is still the center of city life. The church has works by Luca della Robbia and Fillipino Lippi, among others.


This beautiful church is worth seeing both for its architecture and the wonderful art inside.


San Michele in Forno.

Piazza San Martino is home to Lucca’s duomo of the same name. Built in the Gothic Romanesque style, this beautiful church contains some important artworks by Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto and Fra Bartolomeo as well as the Holy Face of Lucca, a wooden Christ on a crucifix attributed to Nicodemus, as legend has it.


The anfiteatro is another of Lucca’s attractions. Built in the second century AD, the amphitheater’s former arena is now home to many shops and restaurants built into the ancient Roman walls, which are interesting to see from both inside and outside.



This Roman amphitheater once hosted games and gladiators. Now it’s a popular dining and shopping destination.

The Torre delle Ore, or clock tower, dates back to 1390. It is the tallest tower in town and has 207 wooden steps that ambitious visitors are welcome to climb.  In its early days, the time was announced by bells alone but a clock face was added in 1752.


Hardy souls who climb the tower can see the hand-wound clock mechanism from the 18th century. It’s still working!

Lucca has a Puccini Museum, of course, which is at Corte San Lorenzo 9 (near the Piazza Citadella)– the composer’s birthplace. The museum features furnishings, artworks, pianos, musical scores and other personal belongings including letters and notes from and to Puccini.

Shopping seems to be a popular past time in Lucca and there is no shortage of brand names from which to choose.


Lucca has plenty of stores to keep shoppers happy.


This giant sewing machine is a clever advertisement for the Milanese menswear maker.

Lucca is perfectly suited to those who like to wander, and we do, but after awhile we needed a break and stopped in for a gelato at De’Coltelli, 10 Via San Paolina, . Definitely seek this one out for their terrific artisanal gelato offered with complimentary panna (thick, sweetened whipped cream), which just adds to the deliciousness!


Panna is offered free as a thank you to gelato lovers here.

If it’s a drink or coffee you crave, pop in to The Dark Side—a cool little bar at 24 Via San Frediano at the corner of Via Angillara near the Church of San Frediano.


Come over to the Dark Side. You’ll be glad you did.


Step inside San Frediano for the beautiful baptismal font and works by Sienese sculptor Jacapo della Quercia, Matteo Civitali, and Amico Aspertini. The stunning facade features a golden mosiac depicting the Ascension.

Although we had come in for a quick coffee, we stayed for more than a half hour. The bartender was really friendly and he gave us tastes of some popular aperitivos along with descriptions of everything we sampled.


Our knowledgable and friendly bartender at the Dark Side.

The Dark Side’s complementary snacks, served with drinks, looked abundant and delicious, but we were off to Pisa.









Art, Berlin, Dining, Family Fun, Germany, History, Museums

Treasures of Berlin’s Museum Island

February 26, 2016

Take a stroll through the Brandenburg Gate, down Unter den Linden, to the banks of the River Spree. There you’ll find some of the world’s most intriguing and important cultural treasures—the Ishtar Gate, the bust of Nefertiti and so many extraordinary antiquities, classical sculpture and masterworks, it is impossible to imagine they could all be in one place—but they are—Berlin’s Museum Island.


Museumsinsel is home to five separate historical museum buildings, each designed by a well-regarded architect of the time and now part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Here you will find the Pergamonmuseum, Altes (Old) Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode-Museum, and the Neues (New) Museum.


The museums on Berlin’s Museumsinsel are a treasure trove of important paintings, sculpture, and antiquities from around the globe.

According to Visit Berlin, more than 3 million people come each year to view the collections that range from prehistory to 20th century art. Savvy travelers will want to purchase a Museum Pass, which provides entry to 50 major and lesser-known museums, including the five on Museum Island, over three consecutive days for one low fee. The price was 24 Euro when we visited in November. Passes are available at Berlin Tourist Info points, in the museums, and online at


The magnificent Ishtar Gate, believed to date from 170 AD, was dedicated to Zeus and Athena. It was brought to Berlin from Western Turkey in 1903.

The long lines and crowded galleries attest to the fact that the Pergamon Museum is on nearly every visitor’s short list of places to visit in Germany’s capitol city.   It should be. The magnificent Pergamon Altar, Ishtar Gate, and marvelous sculpture and other works from ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, and modern day Iraq, Turkey and Syria are all on display here.  Restoration is underway on the Ishtar Gate, but it remains open for viewing. The Pergamon Altar was closed for restoration during our recent visit and will reopen in 2019. We were fortunate to see it several years ago.


Detail from the Processional Way, which leads to the Ishtar Gate, at the Pergamon.


Stunning Roman mosaics cover the floor in the gallery that contains the Market Gate of Miletus, built in the 2nd century AD in Turkey and excavated and brought to Berlin in the early 1900s.


The stunning Aleppo Room at the Pergamon, seen through protective glass walls.


Facade of the Caliph Palace Mshatta from Amman/Jordan from the 8th century. The 33 meter long, 5 meter high facade was brought to Berlin in 1903 to the Bode Museum. In 1932 it was reconstructed in the Pergamon.

We practically had the galleries to ourselves when we visited the Bode-Museum in November. This beautiful museum boasts art from the Byzantine and Roman Empires, a spectacular sculpture collection spanning from the early Middle Ages to the late 18th century, and one of the most extensive numismatic collections in the world. We could not understand why the Bode wasn’t full of people enjoying these art treasures.


Pedro Roldan’s Our Lady of Sorrows (Mater Delorosa) at the Bode-Museum.


The Bode-Museum is known for it’s sculpture collection. Friezes, sacred art and other cultural treasures are also on display.


Don’t miss the extensive numismatic collection at the Bode. It’s one of the most comprehensive in the world.

The Bode also has a lovely café where we enjoyed a delicious and very reasonably priced lunch along with views over the Spree. The cafe balcony overlooks the museum’s grand entrance below.



The comfortable cafe at the Bode was perfect for a light lunch.


Save room for dessert!

If Impressionist works are more to your liking, visit the Alte Nationalgalerie, home to 19th century works by Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Cezanne, Adolph von Menzel and other well regarded artists of that time period. The Alte Nationalgalerie was the third museum to open on Museum Island.


The Alte Nationalgalerie is home to a fine collection of 19th century paintings– part of Berlin’s State Art Collection.

Housed in one of Berlin’s most impressive neoclassical buildings, the Altes Museum was dedicated in 1828 by Friedrich Wilhelm III for “the study all antiquities and the free arts”. The museum’s permanent collection centers on classic antiquities covering Etruscan, Roman and Greek art and includes urns, vases, sarcophagi, friezes, pottery and sculpture.


The Altes Museum is a popular destination for student and tour groups.

The 3300 year-old bust of Nefertiti is among the highlights at the Neues Museum, or New Museum. After sustaining significant damage during World War II, the building, which was designed by Friedrich August Stuler and constructed between 1843 and 1855, was abandoned. In 2003, extensive restoration began and the museum opened in 2009 with three main collections—Egyptian art from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, prehistoric objects from the Museum for Prehistory and Early History, and classical antiquities. Visitors will find works from around the globe including the Middle East, North Africa, and Northern Europe at the Neues Museum.

For updated information on each of the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island and details on permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, admission, hours and directions, please visit

Note: The banner image is the Cathedral of Berlin known also as Berlin Dom, located on Museum Island.  In addition to church services, the Berlin Dom is open for tours. Numerous concerts and other events are also held there throughout the year. To the right is the Berlin TV Tower, constructed by the Soviets during the Cold War and now a popular tourist destination.


Berlin, Dining, Germany, History, Restaurants, Wine bars

Cordobar and Pauly Saal: Two of Berlin’s Creative Kitchens

February 24, 2016

Berlin’s dining scene is eclectic and exciting. It’s certainly far beyond schnitzel and the ubiquitous currywurst—though there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in these traditional dishes. From Katz Orange to the food hall at KaDeWe, Berlin has something for everyone’s palate. Two of our most memorable dining experiences were at Cordobar and Pauly Saal.


Try Cordobar for a fun night out.

We arrived at Cordobar just as the dining room was beginning to fill and the bar wasn’t yet three deep. Cordobar is a wine bar for the cool kids, for sure, though there were plenty of folks in their prime enjoying the wine and food, too.


The small dining room fills up fast, as does the bar area.

The small and lively space has an extensive wine list, a short list of small dishes for sharing and features one large plate each evening, also for sharing. The menu changes constantly but the website gives an indication of the sorts of dishes the kitchen prepares. While some things may sound strange—take a chance and order them anyway—you’ll be glad you did.


A peek at Cordobar’s extensive wine list.

When I see a glass of Salmon Billecart for less than 10 Euro a glass, I order it— a little bubbly is the perfect start to any evening. While I sipped my champagne, our knowledgeable and friendly waitress guided us through the extensive wine list, which focused on German and Austrian offerings, though it is not limited to producers from these countries.  The list also included many natural/biodynamic wines that are so much in vogue in Europe right now. We chose to order by the glass so we could sample more wines and we were delighted with all of our selections—from Hirsch Gruner Veltliner to Zantho Muskat to Shelter Spatburgunder (pinot noir) to the Joschuari 2012 (gamay)—all new to us and perfect with the food we picked. Guests may also select from the bottles that line the walls.


We started with the fresh baked bread and butter—we spend a lot of time in Portland,  so paying for bread and butter was not a new concept for us. Served in a paper bag, the warm bread was perfect.


The eggplant exceeded expectations.

Some of the dishes we chose sounded like odd combinations but were all absolutely wonderful and unexpected. We shared the eggplant with pineapple, pepper and saffron, and the grilled zucchini prepared with almond milk and miso to start.


The grilled zucchini had an Asian flair.

Next up was the main event—the featured large plate of the evening—lamb neck tacos. The lamb was perfectly prepared with Middle Eastern seasonings and presented as a large chunk of meat on a separate plate.


The Middle Eastern spices were a perfect foil for the rich and succulent lamb.

The “tacos” were cabbage leaves topped with a creamy sauce to which we added the tasty lamb. Different and delicious!


Cabbage leaves stood in for the more traditional tortillas.


The assembled lamb tacos– delightfully different.

Cordobar is extremely popular so if you’d like to be assured of a table in the small dining room, make a reservation. The bar area was packed all night and tables in the dining room were empty only long enough for staff to clean them.


The inviting dining room at Berlin’s Pauly Saal, abuzz with happy guests.

We were really excited to try the Michelin starred Pauly Saal, another highly recommended Berlin restaurant on our list. Pauly Saal features a beautiful dining room, a terrace (closed during our November visit), a lovely bar area and an open kitchen with the very talented Chef Arne Anker at the helm. We had a chance to ask chef about the significance of the rocket above the open kitchen (in banner photo) but it turns out no political statement was intended, just a touch of whimsy that adds a fun focal point to the room.


The restaurant is open for lunch, cocktails and dinner daily. Three menus are offered at lunch—two, three or four courses. Dinner guests choose from two multi -course prix fix menus, either a four- course “little menu” or a six-course meal. An additional cheese course is also available for a surcharge with both options.


Pauly Saal’s extremely talented chef, Arne Anker.

We chose the four-course meal, which sounded deceptively modest: pike prepared with elderflower, oyster and radish; kale salad with mustard, squash and wheat; lamb loin with parsley root, eggplant and zucchini, and for dessert—blueberries with yogurt, white chocolate and rose. While each of these dishes may sound simple, they most assuredly were not. Each dish was truly a culinary creation designed to delight every one of the senses.


Perfect perch.


We’d eat our kale every day if it was prepared like this.


Gorgeous lamb with innovative accompaniments including the faux marrow bone.


Desert was almost too pretty to eat… almost.


Chocolate “stones” artfully mixed with the real thing.

The finale came after dessert — a small dish of chocolate “stone” truffles—presented with real stones.


There are more than 600 bottles on Pauly Saal’s wine list.

Pauly Saal’s wine list is quite extensive with more than 600 bottles on offer. We toured Europe in our by- the- glass selections, choosing two different wines for each course. A German Sauvignon Blanc from Weedenborn, Spanish Albarino by Picarana, a Klingenberg 2012 Spatburgunder and Chateau des Tours Cotes- du- Rhone were among the perfect pairings our extremely knowledgeable sommelier suggested.

Reservations are a must at Pauly Saal but if you aren’t able to secure a table, do stop in to the bar for a drink and a snack—the bar food looked pretty incredible, too.

A walk to the restrooms was a reminder that Pauly Saal is located in a historic building constructed as a school for Jewish girls in 1930.


Placards in the hallway tell the story of 11 Auguststrasse.


Originally built as a Jewish girls’ school, these historic photos depict the students at play and at work in the 1930s.

The building was designed by prominent Jewish architect Alexander Beer. He later perished in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. On the walls one finds numerous photos depicting laughing children at play and studiously attending to their lessons. Placards detail the story of the building and students who once walked these halls.


The building was officially returned to the Jewish community in 2009 and is meant to honor the past and be a part of Berlin’s “creative future,” as the sign above indicates. In addition to Pauly Saal, Camera Work Contemporary Gallery, The Kennedys Museum, Michael Fuchs Gallery, and Mogg & Melzer Delicatessen have found a home at 11-13 Auguststrasse.