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Life In Lucca

Great Fish in Lucca!

As Lucca is land locked, it can be pretty tricky getting really good fish at a restaurant and I have been disappointed on countless occasions. In fact, if you ask many Lucchesi where they go to eat good fish, they will often reply that they go to Viareggio. A friend of mine, Lucchese and fellow fish lover, Stefano Cinquini, told me that if I really like fish I should try the fish market by the Coop and Mercatone Uno in Sant'Anna, about a 5 minute drive from the walls on the road that goes to Viareggio.

Il Mercatino del Pesce, (Fish Market) has a very friendly, serviceable air to it. There is a large fish counter that forms a U shape in the center of the market, and here you can buy fish to take home and cook yourself. On the far end of the U is a pre-prepared fish section for those that want to eat fish at home, but don't feel like cooking it. This offers all the old standard fish sauces to put on pasta, such as lobster sauce, clam sauce, octopus sacue, and shellfish sauce. They also have at least 3 or 4 seafood appetizers you can choose from. So you can have them give you a 1/2 kilo of whatever sauce you like along with a few appetizers. They'll pack it up for you and all you have to do is reheat and serve over pasta when you get home. Really simple and it's actually got me thinking that it would be really helpful for dinner parties when you don't have time to cook all the courses.

The real jewel of the market, however is the very unassuming restaurant, with only a a handful of tables, just a few feet away from the actual fish counter. As there are few tables and the restaurant only takes diners from 12:00 to 2:30 p.m., it is best to either come early, say no later than 12:30 p.m. , or to reserve a table in advance. They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

To order your meal, you have to go up to the pre-prepared section of the fish counter and there you will find a very friendly lady who will explain all the specials of the day. You can point and choose the prepared dishes you like, or you can find out what the cook has got available for the day. The day I went, we ordered a plate of mixed seafood appetizers (antipasto di mare misto), Livornese style fish soup (Cacciuco) filled with shellfish and big lumps of local fish and served with crispy chunks of bread, and then I special ordered a mixed grilled seafood plate (grigliata mista di pesce). The mixed grilled seafood was prepared on the spot, after I placed my order. I told the woman at the counter to just put in whatever was freshest that day. It was seriously delicious. The chef really knows how to prepare seafood properly. The plate came with grilled squid seasoned with just a bit of olive oil and parsley, super tender and sweet to eat, a skewer of cuttle fish and shrimp dipped in bread crumbs and baked in the oven, and then two fillets of a white fish whose name I did not recognize. The entire dish was some of the freshest fish I've ever eaten. Really, really good. The Cacciuco was also excellent. Not heavy and greasy like others I've eaten. Also, the mixed seafood appetizers were really good and featured a fresh shrimp and spelt salad along with batter dipped and deep fried smelt, hot out of the fryer.

I noticed, after ordering, that other people got oven baked potatoes, which looked delicious. And still others got fresh "fritto misto", (a mix of shrimp, calamari, and small local fish that is batter dipped and deep fried). I think the next time I go, I'm definitely going to order the fritto misto, it looked fantastic. I also noticed that they advertised that all the vegetables they use as well as their bread was organic. Nice touch. My son, deeply inspired by all the yumminess, ordered an organic orange soda, which I have to admit, despite my misgivings, was actually really tasty, not too sweet like most kids drinks. We finished our meal with a small cup full of home made tiramisù. We spent 45,00 euro total on the meal, which I think was a good deal for mixed antipasto for 3 people, two seafood entrees, water, soda, and dessert for 3.

Contact information:
Mercatino del Pesce
via Giacomo Puccini, 1534
S.Anna, Lucca
Tel: 0583 512753
Opening hours of Fish market: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays
Opening hours of restaurant: 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Driving directions from the walls of Lucca: exit Porta Sant'Anna (the gate that opens up onto Piazzale Verdi, the bus stop and the tourist office), go straight through the light taking via Giaccomo Puccini in the direction of Viareggio. Pass the church of Sant'Anna on your right. Continue straight until you hit a stop light with a mattress store on your right. Turn right at this light and immediately start looking for a parking space. The Mercatino del Pesce is the store with the orange awning that is on the opposite side of the street from the mattress store. You can also bike to this place from the Walls and it should only take you about 10 minutes.

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posted by gina, 2010-10-12

[Life In Lucca] [Restaurant Review] []


New Wine Bar on Piazza S. Andrea

If you are visiting Lucca for the first time and would like to sample some of the local wines, but don't want to spend a fortune, check out this new wine bar just off of the via S.Andrea, near Torre Guinigi. The owner has collected several table wines from the region as well as from Chianti and the Maremma. He has them on tap and sells them by the bottle, to stay or take-away, or by the glass.

The owner does sliced Tuscan meats and cheeses as well as vegetable soufflés and assorted other snacks to accompany a glass or two if you just feel like tasting a few different wines.

Address and contact info:
di Vinae
via S.Andrea, 14
55100 Lucca
(tel) 0583 080743

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posted by gina, 2010-10-11

[Life In Lucca] [Lucca Info] []


Cantine Bernardini

This restaurant slash wine bar used to be known here in Lucca as Don Quixote. I would go for a drink every now and then, but the food was never anything special, so it eventually closed down. Two years ago, they reopened with a new owner, new name, and new chef and I think they got everything right this time.

I ate there this past May for a tasting with a caterer that the owner collaborates with, so I have to say that I ate off the menu, but the experience was memorable. Every dish was unique and extremely well prepared. The owner, Massimo, is a sommelier, so the wines he paired with our different courses were perfect.

What I really liked about this restaurant is that they dare to reinvent Lucchese cuisine instead of just sticking to the typical dishes you can get at every restaurant in town. For example, a dish that you will find on every restaurant menu here in Lucca is "Tortelli al Ragù". Typically, this would be a ravioli sized pasta stuffed with chopped meat that is lightly seasoned with clove in a read meat sauce. The chef at Cantine has completely turned this dish around and instead offers it as fresh pasta stuffed with potatoes and sausage and tossed with slivers of truffles! Talk about raising the bar. Bravo to you chef Daniele!

If you like to eat creative dishes that you can't necessarily reproduce at home, then I think Cantine Bernardini is well worth a visit. The menu changes with the season. Here are a few examples of some of the dishes they are offering on the menu this season:

Appetizers

Potato and smoked salmon timbale plated on a base of creamed beet root and raspberry vinegar sauce accented with cream of red trout paté 10,00 euro

Purée of chickpeas topped with sweet and sour onions and crispy balls of fried cod fish 10,00 euro

First Courses

"Tortelli" fresh pasta stuffed with potatoes and sausage and tossed with slivers of fresh truffles 14,00 euro

Spatzle made with chestnut flour and served with potato cubes, bacon, swiss chard and pecorino cheese 12,00 euro

Second Courses

Fennel encrusted pork tenderloin served with a carrot flan 15,00 euro

Roast duck with smoked heart served on a veluté of oranges and red onion petals 17,00 euro

Sliced beef with truffles served with string beans wrapped in bacon 20,00 euro

Dessert

"Stracciatella" style pudding made with fresh ricotta cheese, dark chocolate and fresh figs 6,00 euro

Dome of dark chocolate 7,00 euro

Pineapple and Pistachio Bavarian Cake 7,00 euro

Opening Hours:
Lunch: 12:30 to 14:30
Dinner: 19:30 to 22:00
Closed: Mondays for lunch and all day Sunday

Contact Info:
Cantine Bernardini Via Suffragio, 7
Tel: 0583 494 336
website: www.cantinebernardini.com
email: info@cantinebernardini.com

Walking Directions: Walk to Piazza Bernardini. Just opposite the parking lot is Palazzo Bernardini. The restaurant is located on the back entrance to the Palazzo, basement level, so you'll have to walk behind the Palazzo and then look for a green door with a bird on it. There are a few tables outside.

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posted by gina, 2010-10-04

[Life In Lucca] [Restaurant Review] [Lucca Info] []


Let's Go Shopping!

July is the perfect month to go shopping in Lucca: stores will stay open until midnight every Thursday night of this month.

posted by michel, 2009-07-10

[Life In Lucca] [Lucca Tips] []


Lucese

Lucese is a typical country restaurant, about 40 minutes from Lucca. To get there, take the road to Camaiore, turn right towards Gombitelli and drive up the hills for about 20 minutes.

The food is traditional Tuscan, with antipasti, primi, including tagliatelle al cinghiale (pasta with a wild boar sauce) and meat. Nothing fancy, just solid local fare. The house wine is pretty good.

The twist though is that after diner, around 10pm, you can go outside, to the back of the terasse, and soon you will see wild boars coming down the side of the hill! The restaurant people will then give you bread to throw at the boars, which will come as close as 10 feet from you, just outside the little courtyard. Of course there is no fence.

The animals are quite impressive, but they seem to know where to stay and don't seem (too!) threatening. When we asked the cook if the wild boar sauce was made from those boars, he looked horrified. He has names for all of them, and would never harm them. Besides he explained that the meat is very controlled, and he would get a heavy fine if he got caught using meat that did not come from a certified provider.

So we had a good time, especially the kids. You have to keep an eye on the younger ones so they don't get carried away and venture too close to the animals, but all the adults here will keep an eye on them and won't let them go too far.

Taking picture in such low light is a bit challenging, but I found that by uping the ISO to 1600, setting the speed to the slowest reasonable time (1/8) and the aperture to 5.6, and post-processing the color balance, I could get some interesting shots.

Practical information

Address: Via Comunale per il Passo Lucese, 72 - Gombitelli, CAMAIORE
Tel: 0584 97 18 85
closed on Tuesdays

map (zoom to display the road)

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posted by michel, 2008-10-16

[Life In Lucca] [Restaurant Review] []


Miro

Mirò is our new favourite restaurant in Lucca. It's a dinner club located on via del Fosso, near Porta San Jacopo (see map).

The atmosphere is homey. Decorated with old wine barrels, antique pots and pans, and painted a warm Tuscan yellow. It can seat up to 50 people inside and has additional seating in its courtyard under a beautiful pergola for summer dinning.

The menu is short but really excellent. My favourite appetizer is the crostini di radicchio e camembert: warm pieces of toast topped with camembert cheese and pan seared radicchio... yum! The crostini di salsiccia(a sausage and cream cheese spread) are also excellent.

All the pasta is home made, following the recipe of the owner's grandmother. The classic tortelli al ragù (meat ravioli, a Lucca specialty) are very good, but the gnocchi con calamari e radicchio (gnocchi are potato dumplings, in this case tossed with a squid and radicchio sauté) win the prize for me.

As for main courses, we usually only order appetizers and pasta, but when we got the tagliatta (T-bone steak cut on the bias) it was perfect.

Desserts include the usual tiramisù, and pana cotta, as well as a very good dolce a la crema, a cup cake filled with cream and toped with wild berries.

Prices are generally on par with or a little cheaper than other trattorias.

Mirò is a little bit off the beaten path, located in a mostly residential part of Lucca towards the beginning of the canal and closest to Porta San Jacopo. That said, it is still quite accessible, as it is just a few minutes walk from Piazza Santa Maria, and quite close to the end of via Filungo. It really deserves a visit, as the quality of the food is excellent and includes some unusual dishes. Most importantly, the service is very friendly.

It is also makes a great place to do a relaxed welcome diner.

Practical information

Address: via del Fosso 213, Lucca
Tel: 320 8134791

Open for lunch and dinner, closed on Tuesdays

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posted by michel, 2008-07-12

[Life In Lucca] [Restaurant Review] []


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