Our dinner was to begin at 8:00 pm. We arrived in Panzano early, at 7:15 pm. It’s not a big place and we ended up at the butcher shop, the door to which was open even though the shop closed at 4 pm.
Wine was being poured, salumi was being served, and good cheer was being dispensed in huge quantities. When someone asked Dario if he could buy meat and cheese, Dario explained that the shop was closed, that he was just showing hospitality to the people who would be dining in his restaurant that evening, and by the way “you do not buy cheese in a butcher shop.”
Abandon hope all ye who enter, for you are now in the hands of a butcher.
This is what appears on the top of the menu for the Officina della Bistecca. But lest you think it is a menu in the traditional sense, it is not. It is a fixed menu, fixed by the butcher and designed to give you the best the Chianina beef has to offer:
Chianti crudo (beef tartar) Brustico (seared beef) Costata alla Fiorentina (bone-in rib eye steak) Bistecca Panzanese (Panzanese steak) Bistecca Fiorentina (T-bone or porterhouse steak)
Pinzimonio di verdure dell’orto (fresh raw veggies with olive oil and salt) Fagioli all’olio (Tuscan beans with olive oil) Patate al cartoccio (baked potatoes) Burro del Chianti (Chianti ‘butter’) Pane Toscana (Tuscan bread)
Vino di Vittorio (Vittorio’s wine) Acqua liscia o con le bolle (water without or with bubbles) Caffe’ alla moka e torta all’olio (espresso with olive oil cake) Grappa Cecchini e Cordiale dell’Esercito Italiano (grappa and brandy)
One could sit inside or out. We chose to sit inside because, in spite of the heat thrown off by the grill, we wanted to see all of the action. It was a good choice as the preparation of the meal is a show not to be missed. Upon entering la Officina ones eyes were immediately drawn to the enormous cuts of meat awaiting the grill. These didn’t look like steaks; they looked like roasts. Obviously very well aged, gorgeously marbled, simply spectacular.
Angelo appeared to be the grill master; he spent most of the evening with his tongue sticking out . . . was it just another way to dissipate the heat of the fire? Who knows, but it certainly added to the feeling of the evening and it clearly didn’t adversely affect his mastery of the grill. It turns out that a properly prepared steak should not be touched with anything metal while it is being cooked. That meant that Angelo was right over the grill, shifting meat with his hot pad-gloved hands, prodding with his fingers to check the meat’s progress. It also turns out that you don’t use any seasoning on this meat, except, possibly, for a few drops of Angelo’s sweat, because the meat is so exquisite by itself.
While Angelo was cooking, at least half a dozen other fellows were bringing yet more meat, pouring wine, mixing olive oil with “profuma di Chianti,” a salt seasoned with the essence of Chianti, for our raw vegetables, and keeping everyone happy.
From the raw veggies to the raw beef to the many varieties of beef steak to the beans, cake, etc., etc., the meal was fabulous. As each cut of meat was done cooking, it was whisked off the grill, cut into portions and served around the table. Amazingly, there were even seconds if one wanted them . . . more amazingly still, some people did . . . even some people very close to me!
The only non-beef meat product that was on offer was the Chianti butter; it is pork lard . . . or maybe not, maybe it is beef lard . . . nonetheless, it is lard that has been rendered and sort of whipped together with wonderful salt and herbs. It was pretty much to die for on the baked potatoes . . . actually, the entire meal was pretty much to die for figuratively and, possibly, literally. I just hope everyone was taking his or her cholesterol pills. But, as it says on Dario’s card (in my rough translation):
He who eats the fiorentina, fears nothing.
. . . least of all a tiny bit of cholesterol.
We left the restaurant sometime after 11:30, after close to four hours of conviviality over food around a table. This was an anniversary dinner to cherish.
I’ve included this post under the category “friends” because all of the people we met this evening were friends: Dario, Angelo, Marina, Marcello, all the rest of the Italian staff, the German couple sitting on Michael’s left, the Russian couple sitting on my right, the Danes, the Belgians, even the guy from Portand standing behind us waiting for the bathroom. All were friends if only for an evening. Shared experiences are what we think traveling is all about.
An aside on language: I recently read a book titled “Globish” that dealt with the fact that English has become the global language. That certainly played out during our meal. As one gentleman and his family sat down at the end of the large communal table, he asked those seated closest to him, “do you speak English?” He was Danish but the assumption was that if we had a shared language, it would be English. He was correct, of course. Michael and I had a lively conversation with the German couple next to, and across from, Michael; and, I had a somewhat more challenging, but equally rewarding, conversation with the Russian couple next to me.