Sometimes in life, you chance upon great surprises.
This happened during our Italian sojourn in Tuscany. We wanted to explore the little towns around Montepulciano where we were staying for four nights to discover hidden secrets off the tourist trail.
We were reluctant to head out as it was a really cold and rainy winter’s day but we wanted to explore the small villages around Montepulciano and witness the famous landscape that had been photographed in many magazines.
We head out early to a small medieval hilltop village called Monticchiello, fifteen minutes drive from Montepulciano. Set in the heart of the Val d’Orcia, this UNESCO World Heritage site has been the backdrop for movies like “The English Patient” and “Gladiator” and the subject for many great Renaissance artists.
As it’s small town, it wasn’t listed on many tourist maps nor did any Michelin star restaurants pop up on the food guides. I google “great restaurants” in Monticchiello and Osteria La Porta comes up in the search.
Usually, we don’t completely trust Google reviews as there can be undiscerning patrons out for a cheap meal. However, having read the first 10 Google reviews which were all raving about the food, we decide to take a gamble.
We arrive early to check out the restaurant’s menu. On the door were plenty of Michelin and Gault Millau food guide stickers, a sound endorsement for the restaurant. There are about 30 seats in the dining room, so we decide to reserve a table for 2 before it officially opens at 12 noon.
The room is simple with rustic Tuscan artifacts and a cupboard full of prized Tuscan wines.
We ordered a bottle of the Eclisse Orcia Rossa, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese – the composition typical of many Super Tuscan wines.
It is sweet at first, fruity on the mid palate and finishes with a sour cherry tang of Sangiovese at the end. A delightful start to our meal.
Traditional Tuscan bread arrives at our table to whet the appetite while we study the menu with interesting regional selections such as pici pasta, a Tuscan specialty, spelt risotto and roasted pork liver. There is also a good selection of antipasti, pastas, meats, vegetable dishes, cheese and desserts.
Since it’s winter, truffle is in season and we decide to share the entrée of poached eggs with black truffles and potato crisps. Served in a mason’s jar, you can spell the rich aroma of truffles once the lid is opened.
We dip the thin potato crisps into the soft and gelatinous poached eggs and the earthy shaved truffles. It’s a decadent way to start our meal.
Chopinand orders his favourite pappardelle with cinghale (wild boar), another specialty of the Tuscan region.
The dish preserves all the original flavours of the slightly gamey wild boar, with just a subtle hint of thyme. The pasta is made with spelt, hence the brown colour and is slightly more al dente and the pulled wild boar is tender, flavoursome and unctuous, a good contrast of textures and flavours.
A fork full of pasta and a sip of the Eclisse Orcia Rosso was a match made in heaven on a cold winter’s day.
We have had a few rich meals in the past few days so we decide to only have primi piatti pasta and skip the secondi which is normally meat-based.
I decide on the pici pasta with duck. Resembling thick spaghetti, it is a hand-rolled, rustic pasta native to this region, designed to soak up the rich and warming sauces in winter.
Instead of a tomato based sauce, the duck is braised in its own juices, perfumed with a subtle mix of oregano and sage. The pici is quite thick and dense and when eaten with the braised duck, it really warms the heart in winter.
We were satisfied with an entrée and two pastas between the two of us but the restaurant insisted we try the complementary dessert. I never say no to dessert and when it arrived, it was a beautifully presented bowl, served with two glasses of dessert wine.
At first glance, it looked like tiramisu with a carefully painted crust but it was actually just simple biscotti dipped in vincotto, a syrup made by reducing non-fermented grape must over many hours.
Soaked in this syrup, the normally crispy biscotti takes on a softer texture and when eaten with whipped cream on top, drizzled with more vincotto, carefully teased into a beautiful floral motif, it is a comforting yet light way to end the meal.
Osteria La Porta wasn’t in our original list of restaurants to visit but finding such rustic and wholesome restaurants serving great food dedicated to slow-cooking and using locally-sourced ingredients was indeed a great surprise.
And experiencing this with reasonable price tags and warm hospitality was a bonus!
As we drove from the restaurant after lunch, the Tuscan landscape looks ominous and dramatic with an impending thunderstorm.
Osteria La Porta
Via del Piano 153026 Monticchiello di Pienza
Tel: +39 0578 755163