I will never forget driving through the hilly roads of Tuscany and staring out the passenger side window of our little black Fiat 500 at the beautiful sepia-tinted landscape around us. Neat vineyard rows, the occasional bundle of graceful Cypress trees, a charming stone house atop a hill here or there. We’d park the car every so often and get out to take a moment and fully enjoy it.
As we approached the walled, medieval town of San Gimignano, fourteen stone towers became visible in the distance and for a second I actually mused that they might be skyscrapers or industrial cooling towers miles away. The towers, originally 72 of them, were built by rivaling families for defense purposes and stood up to 230 feet tall. Now, the ones that remain form the unforgettable skyline of San Gimignano, recognizable from afar. Crossing through one of town’s eight entrances, we explored the incredible piazzas and churches, not to mention the spectacular views of the region over the city walls. We loved San Gimignano so much the first day that we returned for dinner to see it in the dark the following night. The place was still full of life, with plenty of restaurants lining the narrow, steeply sloped streets.
We chose Osteria delle Catene on a peaceful side street off one of the busiest roads that cross the town. After waiting just a few minutes for them to clear a table, we sat outside and scanned the menu, hungry for some authentic Tuscan fare. The guy helping us, who I think might have also been the owner, was very friendly and helpful while we ordered. We got plenty of warm smiles from him throughout the evening.
It was tough choosing from that menu, which offers a nice array of meats and cheeses as antipasti, pappardelle and pici pasta with hare, boar or herby tomato sauces, and all sorts of wonderfully rustic, slow-cooked stews and meat dishes as secondi. Sausages with beans, tomato and sage, and the oven cooked lamb sounded especially appetizing. They also offer a tasting menu, including one which highlights a beloved regional PDO product, the famous saffron of San Gimignano.
We chose to share a bowl of pennette and sauteed onions dressed in a peppery Chianti sauce. This is a shorter, thinner version of penne, with grooves on the sides that catch the savory sauce. The onions were cooked with red wine until tender to form a fantastically simple and comforting topping.
My order was the hare stewed in a combination of three local wines from San Gimignano. The meat itself was cooked to a juicy, wonderful texture and the combined flavor of the three wines was very deep and comforting, but there was just a tiny bit of salt missing to bring the dish into a savory realm. As it was, the stew was slightly sweet from caramelized vegetables and the wines weren’t able to shine through as well as they could have. Nevertheless we finished the entire bowl and savored the sauce by sopping it up with bread.
The star of the show was the brightly colored Trippa dell’Osteria. The furry strands of tripe were cooked with tomato, onion, carrot, garlic and red pepper, which masked any funky flavor the innards might have had after being cleaned, and formed a totally approachable dish. The tripe was tender, tight, and slightly mushroom-like in texture. Another saucy entree we ended up finishing off with plenty of bread, and talking about for days after.
We stayed at Osteria delle Catene late past closing time, but our guy was very patient and did not make us feel rushed at all. After finishing our wine we strolled around, my boyfriend recounting which towers and walls he had climbed in the video game Assassin’s Creed (which left him with a surprisingly sharp knowledge of how to navigate the town). We drove back to our agriturismo near Pancole, feeling happy and very satisfied by our Tuscan dinner.