There’s a Chinese idiom that says “there are masters in every walk of life”. For Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in Tuscany, and some say Italy or even the world, this saying is definitely true. A larger-than-life figure, this Dante spouting Tuscan has been featured in all major media outlets, including multiple appearances on various food travel shows, such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
Everyday, tourists from all over the world travel to the sleepy town of Panzano either to buy beef, pork, sausages and other food products from his butchery, or to eat at 1 of his 3 eateries: the fast food lunch concept MacDario; Solo Ciccia, the all meat, non-steak restaurant across the street from his butchery; or Officina della Bistecca, where diners seat in communal tables in front of the hot coal grill eating far more meat beyond health advisory levels.
Eating at Officina della Bistecca is less a formal event than an invitation to a friend’s place for a dinner party. The mood is festive and casual, with the evening’s diners spilling out of the butchery and into the small street. The eating begins at this point, with charcuterie and crostinis set on a buffet table in the store amidst books and products sold in the shop. Dario’s assistants keep our cups filled with wine and water poured out of large vessels.
Soon, we shuffle our way up to the restaurant on the second floor, and are seated on a long table, communal-style, so close to the grill the heat from the glowing coals were palpable. A paper menu accompanies each setting, detailing the 50 euro menu which includes everything from meat to sides to dessert to drinks and tax.
Much of what we were going to eat that evening were displayed in front of the diners: the bowls of crunchy garden vegetables so fresh and sweet, and who could ignore the giant slabs of Spanish beef by Dario?
As the steaks were loaded on the grill and started sizzling and sputtering, so did the clicks and flashes of cameras brandished by the diners, all steak pilgrims to one degree or another. I hadn’t seen so many DSLRs in Italy since leaving Venice.
The meat comes in 5 courses, the first two a spin on steak tartare. I had seconds of the chianti crudo, enjoying the freshly chopped meat seasoned with zesty lemons and fragrant peppers. I love regular steak tartare but dare say the vibrant, sunshiny flavors of Chianti crudo beat out all the capered, onioned, worchester sauced steak tartare I’ve tried thus far.
The brustico de sushi del chianti, essentially a very lightly seared kebab was excellent too, the smokiness of the grill marrying wonderfully with the spicy Tuscan olive oil that is poured on the tender meat.
For steaks, Dario treated us to not one, not two, but three cuts: a bone-in rib eye (the least tender with some veins); bistecca panzanese (boneless) and the classic bistecca fiorentina. After a short but entertaining show-and-tell, Dario expertly sliced through the meat that were served rapidly by his assistants.
Though I’m not a big steak person, the beef was tender, juicy and very flavorful even without any seasoning. But if you have a preference for doneness, definitely indicate it to the server, who would otherwise just pick out whichever piece of meat closest to his reach, some which were overdone.
For sides, potatoes are topped with tuscan butter, i.e. lardo, i.e pork lard seasoned with a lot of salt and woodsy rosemary.
Tuscan white beans are also classic sides for a bistecca fiorentina meal. My neighborhood took to it so much that he had several servings of it, at the expense of losing his appetite by the time the bistecca fiorentina was cooked.
By the time we arrived at the end of the meat courses and a neatly gnawed t-bone, it was 11 o’clock, 3 hours after entering the house of Cecchini.
The evening did not end however until the metal platters of olive oil cake were passed around, and after moments of futile resistance, I ate multiple slices of the fine cake, light with a glorious golden crust, concentrated with pine-nut and orange flavors. I wish I could doggie bag some slices home, unfortunately that’s considered rude in Italy.
We drank copiously, the servers refilling our cups at every turn with the phrase “No drink no party!”. Even after cake and short shots of strong espresso did they continue to press us to drink, grappa and “military liquor” this time.
The picture that bade us goodbye gives me the giggles each time. But it represents a meal at Officina della Bistecca well: a masterpiece, but somewhat irreverent and humorous at the same time. It was an undeniably memorable night of eating well.
Via XX Luglio, 11 Panzano in Chanti Firenze, Italy