Dining In Siena: Osteria Le Logge

Osteria Le Logge

33 Via del Porrione
Siena Italy 53100
PH (39) 0577 48013
Closed Sundays and for the month of January

Directions: Just off the campo; if facing the Palazzo Pubblico, walk to the left and you will find Via Porrione.

Le Logge is my favorite restaurant in the town of Siena. I have tried many other spots, but I keep coming back to Le Logge. It is busy with locals and travelers alike. The atmosphere has a buzz and can be noisy, but that is part of the charm. At lunch and dinner, people fill the restaurant and outdoor dining area along Via Porrione, just off of the Campo. Without pretense, dishes are based on local fresh ingredients, and the excellent wine list provides a wide selection of local wines plus whites from Northern Italy to pair with the excellent food.

The late entrepreneur and larger-than-life Gianni Brunelli and his wife, Laura Vacca, founded Le Logge in 1977, as well as Le Chiuse Di Sotto, a very good winery. Laura continues the tradition of quality in both. Mirco Vigni, the manager of Le Logge,  suggested the recipe below for a dish that epitomizes the restaurant’s philosophy of combining fresh ingredients in an appetizing yet simple fashion. As eloquently stated by Vigni, “the ingredients are the actors.” I think you will agree.

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Spaghetti Con Rigatino Di Cinta Senese, Cipolla Di Cannara e Pecorino

Spaghetti with Pancetta, Onion & Pecorino

Primo Piatto (First Course)

Servings: 6

1 pound spaghetti setaro (a semolina variety of pasta from Naples)

3/4 cup finely chopped Rigatino Di Cinta (not available in U.S. alternatively use organic Pancetta or Guanciale)

1/2 cup finely chopped vidalia onion

2/3 cup freshly grated aged pecorino

¾ cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

Diced chives to taste

Salt to taste

Boil a pot of water. Add salt at the boiling point. Using a paper towel, spread the olive oil over the surface of a large skillet. Sauté the pancetta and onions for 8–10 minutes on low-medium heat or until the onions are translucent.

Add the pasta to the boiling water when you begin to cook the pancetta. It will take approximately 8 minutes until the spaghetti is almost al dente.

Remove and drain the pasta in a colander and add directly to the skillet while it is still on a low flame. Add the grated pecorino and vegetable broth, and continuously stir until the broth has been absorbed and the pasta is coated in pecorino (no longer than a minute or two).

Toss the pasta with the chives, leaving some to sprinkle on individual plates. Enjoy!

 

Author’s Note: If you like spicy, add a pinch of black pepper when you add the vegetable broth. The spice combined with the nuttiness of the cheese and freshness of the chives is delicious.

 

Il Palio

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I have seen Il (the) Palio 9 times. The palpable combination of emotion, intensity, and history make it a unique spectator experience that never gets old.

Without the visual and auditory nuances of first-hand experience, it is difficult to convey the spectacularality. That said, try to imagine the Piazza Del Campo-the heart of Siena turned into a horse race track, where 8 inches of dense clay-like dirt covers the stone walkway that surrounds the center. The race consists of 3 laps which lasts approximately 90 seconds. The jockeys ride bareback at heart thumping speeds down an unven pitched track with several dangerous turns including a 90 degree bend where more often than not jockeys are thrown from their horses. And if the horse that finishes first comes in without a rider, that contrada still wins. The horse is the undoubetdly the star of the competition. The crowd is always at max capacity, including standing room only in the center and temporary stadium seating on the outer rim of the piazza. The atmosphere goes from absolute silence when the contrade are announced to a combination of screaming, crying, and jubilation.

The Palio serves as a metaphor for those born in Siena. Held every July 2 and August 16, this spectacle has a history that began centuries ago. It is a way of life all year round for those who relive the history that enfolds in the Piazza Del Campo of Siena twice a year.

Siena is a city of 17 contrade, or boroughs. The contrade held an important military and adminsitrative role in the middle ages, and now remains an opportunity to show civic pride and patriotism. All contrade take part in the processional of the Palio, but only 10 participate at a time in each Palio.

The horse is assigned to each contrada by lottery, and from the time each is assigned to the race, there is always a barbaresco, or caretaker, that watches over the horse, even to the extent of sleeping next to the animal. This is done to protect the horse from a competing contrada.

The winning contrada takes a flag, or palio, and the victoriuos horse is showered with hugs and kisses. However, if a contrada’s horse comes in second, or if a specific ‘enemy’ of a contrada wins even though that contrada may not be in the race, the members of that contrada can be seen openly sobbing.

The Palio is a passion that further unites an already tightly-knit society. From beginning of the display to the end of the race, when celebratory songs are sung by the winning contrada, there is symbolism of Siena’a past, reinforcing the unity of a people whom historically struggled to maintain their survival.

If you plan to visit Siena in early July or mid-August, Il Palio is a unique cultural experience, and an exciting addition to any itinerary. A knowledgeable guide is necessary when it comes to arranging tickets for the race, and/or attending any of the accompanying festivities.

The Province of Siena

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There are very few places in the world that offer the variety of landscape and gastronomic delights that distinguishes the province of Siena. The town of Siena is also the capital of the province, rich in artistic treasures, historic architecture, and one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. While only one of the town’s restaurants makes my list of favorites, the geographically expansive province boasts some of the best winemakers, food artisans, and restaurants in the country.

The province of Siena breaks down into seven historical areas: the Alta Val D’Elsa, Chianti Senesi, Monterrigioni/Siena, Val Di Merse, Crete Senesi/Val D’Arbia, Val Di Chiana Senese, and Val D’Orcia/Amiata, as well as 36 communi (local governments), each defined by differing landscapes and agricultural bounty, including wheat, olives, grapes, and other fruit. The boundaries extend north of Siena to the rumpled green vineyards and olive groves of San Gimignano, to the woodlands of Castellina in Chianti. South of Siena one discovers the open farmland of the Crete Senesi and the famed winemaking district of Brunello Di Montalcino in the Val D’Orcia. It is hard to argue with the beauty of the region, especially the southern part of the province where the land around Pienza was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, limiting development.

The cuisine and restaurants are as varied as the landscape. Among the treats in store for you are marvelous goat cheese, fine pecorino (a sheep’s milk-based cheese), some of the best wines of Tuscany, intense olive oils, remarkable Cinta Senese charcuterie, and a dense concentration of great restaurants. Andiamo ragazzi!

The Town Of Siena

Siena is Florence’s historical rival, a late medieval town with picturesque stone-paved streets and one of the more scenic piazzas in Italy, the Piazza Del Campo. It is an intellectual’s playpen with so many architectural, artistic, and historic sites that ambitious touring—no mean feat along the steeply inclined streets—will quickly build your appetite. While Siena has many places to shop and eat, I have two favorite spots that should be part of everyone’s excursion: one to stock up and the other to caffeinate.

Culinary Treasures

Food Shopping
Antica Drogheria Manganelli
Via di Città 71-73, Siena
PH (39) 0577 280 002
Directions: Banchi di Sopra becomes Via Di Città when it abuts the Campo; continue up the street, and it is on your left.

This foodie treasure trove is perfect for the traveler who has rented a villa and intends to spend some time in the kitchen while on vacation. Alternatively, it is perfect for those who just want to munch on gourmet goodies and confections. My family and I have shopped there for years, and if you are close to Siena, you should too.

The shop itself is very attractive with antique glass and wood cabinets chock full of Tuscan goodies. Upon entering, aromas of freshly made desserts and spices stimulate the olfactory senses. There is a wide selection of premium olive oils, salami from the famous Falorni butcher shop in Greve in Chianti (known for its spectacular sausages), an excellent wine selection, freshly made artisanal pasta, desserts, and Amedei chocolates. The owners also make their own Panforte, a dense flat cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied fruit, cocoa and spices—a specialty of Siena that is increasingly hard to find at this level of quality.

Author’s Note: A kilo, or kilogram is a bit more than 2 lbs, but if you want approximately a 1/4 pound, you can order with the phrase “Vorrei un etto,” or “due etti,” for about 1/2 a pound. Alternatively, depending on the product, you may be able to try it before purchasing by asking “Posso avere un assaggio?” meaning “May I have a taste?”

Coffee
Fiorella Torrefazione
Via Di Città, 13 Siena Italy
PH 0577 271255
www.Torrefazionefiorella.it

Whenever you witness Tuscans waiting on a line for coffee, you should take note.  Caffè, or coffee in Italy, better known to Americans as espresso, is an ingrained cultural staple that elicits little fanfare. Unlike the hipster coffee onslaught in the U.S, do not expect a heart or some kind of portraiture in your Cappuccino in Italy. The one commonality is that in both the U.S. and Italy, great espresso is not always so easy to find.

While you likely will not find it in any guidebooks, Fiorella Torrefazione is a clear exception to that general refrain. Years ago, I had an early meeting in Siena, and I saw a line of locals out the door to fit in the standing room only bar for a morning cappuccino.  I joined the fray. The bar itself is very unassuming, though elegant, and the coffee is sublime-at once, intense and flavorful, yet not bitter.

Given my surprise at the quality of this coffee in this tiny café, I struck up a conversation with the owner, Francesco, who explained that he sources and roasts his own beans, which you can buy onsite.  So, whether you are walking buy and need a quick pick-me up or your staying close-by and have the necessary accouterment for a home brew, this is your coffee mecca.

 

Stay Cool

With the advent of Daylight Savings and the arrival of cool weather in NYC, I was reminded that the summer has long gone. Fortunately, autumn has it’s own benefits, not least of which is a better restaurant (red) wine experience.

While, to a certain degree, optimal wine temperature is a matter of personal preference, there can be no disagreement that wine served too warm (or too cold) can ruin the experience. When it is eight-five degrees outside and a server selects a red wine from shelf halfway up the wall, chances are that wine is not the ideal temperature. There have been several occasions where upon asking a waiter to put a bottle of red wine on ice I have occasionally received sarcastic and/or puzzled responses, including the reminder that the wine is actually red. However, credit to those arbiters of good taste that grab the ice bucket posthaste with an affirming quick wink and a nod.  Clearly, those servers are treated to a glass and an outsized tip!

It is remarkable how the difference of a few degrees can affect one’s perception of wine quality.  Without burying you in details, younger, crisper wines like Sauvignon Blanc (or Beaujolais for reds) are better served on the cooler side, while Chardonnay (or Cabernet Sauvignon) are better served less cool, but there are even exceptions within those classifications.  Generally, if a wine is too cold, the aroma and flavor are often minimized so the wine’s texture might seem a bit more angular and a flavor profile lacking in complexity.  Conversely, when a wine is too warm, the aromas become muddled, and the alcohol can overwhelm the texture. While the right temperature for enjoying wine is somewhat subjective and can depend on grape varietal, there are no wines that taste good when they are too warm-that goes for both reds and whites, which makes wine service worst during the summer months.

A wine’s textural appeal involves the right balance of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness.  While that may sound like the simple result of fermented grape juice, wine is an incredibly complicated chemical concoction with a myriad of different organic acids, alcohol compounds, polyphenols (tannins), sugars, vitamins, and minerals.  At inappropriate temperatures, the sensation of balance becomes distorted.

Temperature does not only affect the palatability of wine, but also the flavor. The flavor of wine is not detected by taste buds, but by millions of olfactory senses in the nasal passage, which differ from person to person and even by gender (woman in general have a stronger sense of smell than men).

There are hundreds of various aroma compounds in wine, some of which are unique to specific grape varieties and others that are a byproduct of the fermentation and maturation process.  At the right temperature, these volatile compounds create a complex nose that depending on the person may detect subjective nuances.  However, if a wine is served at an inappropriate temperature the wine is objectively skewed, and can cause a fantastic wine to be unpalatable in the worst case, and less complex at its best.

Most restaurants refrigerate their whites, so there is less issue with white wine service. However, a surprising amount of fine dining restaurants do not store red wines at the optimal temperature (approximately 58 Degrees), which is not only detrimental to the integrity of the wine, especially during the Summer months, but is also a disservice to the consumer. Many imbibers (and even restaurateurs) do not realize the degree to which appropriate temperature affects the aroma, palate, and ultimately the potential enjoyment of wine.

While perfection is unattainable, I implore restaurants next Summer to stay cool, and allow the wine to warm up in the glass not least of which because it sends a message that they care about proper storage and respect of the provenance of the wines they serve.  As an added bonus, I can avoid the confused, snarky responses when I ask for Bordeaux on ice.

Poggio Antico

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Poggio Antico is both a restaurant and a very good winery located outside of Montalcino. The first time I dined at Poggio Antico was for my 21st birthday. It was a boys’ day out of eating and drinking and touring wineries. However, it was a spur of the moment decision, and we spent much of the first half of the day driving and searching for some of my favorite wineries. At that time, many of the smaller wineries hadn’t caught on to the concept of tours, so we encountered a few disappointments. However, after a long morning, my father, my Uncle Matt, and I found Poggio Antico. We were tired, maybe a bit frustrated, and starved!

We drove up a long white road lined with cypress trees to arrive at Poggio Antico. The maitre d’ hotel Maurizio Tola greeted us. While Maurizio is no longer with Poggio Antico, and has gone on to explore his own opportunities, he was congenial, provided great service, and we later became good friends. We enjoyed a tasting menu that had creative takes using local, traditional ingredients and a 1985 Poggio Antico Brunello Riserva.

In conversation with the owner and founder of the restaurant Paola Gloder, she suggested a recipe for chicken liver parfait for this book, which made me smile because it took me back to my aforementioned 21st birthday dining experience. I remember when we asked Maurizio what we should try, he noted that people come from far and wide for the chicken liver parfait, which at the time made my father nervous: He knew my uncle (his brother) was such a picky eater that he did not even like seeing olives on the dinner table! However, to his surprise, my Uncle Matt was interested in it all, specifically the liver, and he finished every bit. The chicken liver parfait was the highlight of the meal, but the whole lunch was special. The service, wine, and company made my birthday a very special one, and the experience remains one of my fondest memories of my late uncle.

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Core Values: Not Just Words

One of the most rewarding lessons I learned in graduate school was the importance of culture and values in building a brand or company. I co-authored a case study that was eventually published about the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, where we studied the company’s rise to success looking at traditional business metrics like financials, operations, and strategy, but we also looked at the intangibles. We concluded that one of the core principles of their success was their people and the company culture. Four Seasons core values revolve around what they refer to as a “Service Culture” and those are are not just words. Their hospitality mentality is pervasive in all departments. It is not only meant to guide customer service principles, but also how employees are meant to treat each other. It guides hiring (and firing) choices, strategy, operational decisions, even where they choose to locate hotels. Ultimately, their strongest competitive advantage and greatest asset is their people. Many entrepreneurs and investors should appreciate the power of the right people, company culture, and the importance of core values in building an enduring brand.

Many of my investments have been much more focused on those principles rather than just conventional metrics like discounted cash flows or P/E ratios, and not only has it lead to sizable gains, but as an entrepreneur, consumer, and an investor, it is rewarding to own a small piece of something where customers feel a connection to the brand that is dedicated to a higher purpose beyond just what they sell. That idea also plays a role in employee satisfaction & ambition. Below, I have a selected a few retailers that I believe embrace culture and core values throughout their respective organizations.

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