The Daily Diary of a Wandering Restaurateur
Winter Planning Session: Monticchiello and Beyond

Just two days left before we pack up and head back to Rome. Alternately, it seems like we just got here and that we have been here forever. I'm thinking that's a good thing. It means we are thinking of this as normal life, at least for the moment ... and becoming a temporary local is the key to slow travel. It is part of what separates travelers from tourists.

As extreme as the weather was yesterday (you recall what these buildings looked like yesterday morning), today dawned meek and mild, clear, sunny and warmer ... just begging us to get out and about. Never one to argue with Mother Nature, we did just that. Giacomo had been raving about a little restaurant in Monticchiello, a neighboring town about 20 minutes away. Our mission today: check it out!

Monticchiello turned out to be this compact walled medieval hill town, a fascinating place just to wander and soak in the ambience while we waited for the Osteria La Porta to open for lunch. As an aside, if you have ever thought it would be cool to own a little bar in Tuscany, the photo on the bottom left is of a very little bar in Tuscany. The whole building is probably 10x12 feet! I think they re-open tomorrow (although I can't imagine why). Looking out from the town, all you see are rolling hills and the shimmering silver leaves of the olive trees. For a small town, I was surprised to see four or five restaurants although only one seemed to be open at the moment. I could almost see myself living here!

Lunch was at Osteria La Porta, just inside the main gate (la porta) to the town. In addition to Giacomo's recommendation, TripAdvisor had all rave reviews on this little spot. Daria, the ever-present owner, is a friend of Giacomo's and her English, like his, is quite good. We can get along reasonably well with menu Italian but it was nice to have a little higher level of communication. Margene went for a ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. I opted for pappardelle (wide noodles) with wild boar sauce. Both dishes were awesome ... enough so that Margene decided we would be coming back for lunch tomorrow! No argument from me ... even if it means we have to pass on the spinach gnocchi at Trattoria La Grotta in Cortona.

It could be we've found a new favorite place ... but I was thinking about why that might be the case. The food is amazing, of course, but we have had many amazing meals here. The difference, I think, is a personal connection with the owner, however slight. Andrea handled the waiter duties and also seemed to have a reasonable English vocabulary, but did not extend himself as personally as Daria did. It matters.

After lunch, we had to figure out our next move. The day was still too pretty to pack it in, so I asked Margene where she wanted to go. "Just drive," she said ... and so we did. We went south a ways, then east into Umbria and over to Citta della Pieve, the first place we stayed in Italy back in 2000. Then it was north along side west side of Lake Trasamino before turning west and heading back to Montepulciano. We didn't want to get out and walk around anywhere -- we had already been to all these spots before -- but it was relaxing just to drive and pleasant to be reminded of past experiences.

The plan for tonight was to eat light, maybe just share a pizza. But much as I wanted not to miss a meal in Italy, we finally acknowledged that a) we really weren't that hungry, and b) we didn't have the energy for another trip up and down the stairs (and up and down the street!) Besides, we have food in the fridge that we can't take with us. So ultimately, common sense prevailed. We stayed in and just grazed. Are we getting smarter ... or just getting old!

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