Gastronomy as intellectual provocation or “dinner with friends in Siena” (Osteria Le Logge)

Alfonso and I met up in Siena yesterday afternoon and joined good friends Laura and Francesco at Laura’s restaurant Osteria Le Logge for dinner.

As I prepare to head up to Friuli today, there’s not enough time to post properly on the brilliant meal and stunning flight of wines. But here’s a “taste” of the “intellectual provocation”… THANK YOU, again, dear friends, Laura and Francesco, for opening your hearts to two weary Americans traveling along the wine trail in Italy…

Atlantic croaker sausage with mineral-water-macerated lettuces sous-vide

veal tongue Carpaccio in salsa verde

vitello tonnato with seaweed and ポン酢醤油 (ponzu jōyu)

Parisi egg with potato foam and marzolino truffles

fusilli with chicken livers and eggplant

Marcarini 1967 Barolo Brunate

A sad day in Siena…

Above: Ricciarelli from Nannini in Siena. I took these photos in October while visiting a good friend there.

From Frank Bruni’s editorial today on Berlusconi’s “post-script” to the report in the Wall Street Journal that the Monte dei Paschi Foundation might lose control of the historic bank — the “world’s oldest bank” — the news from Italy is depressing these days.

Panforte.

It’s hard for me to write about Italian wine these days when people I know and care about are being affected directly by the economic crisis in Europe.

A good friend from Siena writes:

    [Monte dei Paschi] is the oldest bank in the world (founded in 1472). It is the third largest bank in Italy and it has represented everything for Siena since the beginning. It is the financial lung of the city and of the province. It used to distribute Euro 250 million ($400 million) every year to everybody who asked for restoration of the bathrooms of the contradas in Siena, or for a new soccer field, or for a book illustrating the old gates of Siena, or to make a show, or to go to a wine fair. Directly or indirectly MPS [Monte dei Paschi di Siena] has been the Babbo Monte [“Daddy Monte”] exactly like a generous dad [see this WSJ profile and report on the crisis]. Now MPS is in big crisis like anyone else in Italy but with a bigger aftermath than any other. On the stock exchange, MPS lost from the beginning of the this year 88% of the value dropping from 3,00 euros to 0,29 euros for share. So this is a problem. A big problem. A huge problem for Siena.

Cantucci.

“Maybe it is finally the time to consider tourism the first industry of Siena,” writes my friend, “and start again from this point.”

If you’ve ever been to Siena, you know that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also a cultural hub of Western Civilization, a city whose contribution to Italy’s national history is rivaled only by its intellectual and aesthetic treasure.

The Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank is just up the street from the Nannini pastry shop.

I’m no fan of bankers but it’s sad to think of what Siena would be like without Monte dei Paschi, an institution that has helped to protect and cultivate the city’s works of art for more than 500 years.

Some of Italy’s greatest wines are raised within a forty-minute radius of Siena — Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano…

Our Italian friends are in our thoughts these days…

The best meal in Italy so far: Le Logge, Siena

Honestly, the meal, earlier in the week, at Valter Scarbolo’s Frasca in Friuli was an all-time great. But dinner last Thursday in Siena with friends Marina and Francesco at Laura Brunelli’s Osteria Le Logge was one of the best meals of my life.

I’d eaten at Le Logge many years ago but not since the Brunelli family brought chef Nico Atrigna (right) to Siena from Campania in the mid-1990s. Laura Brunelli (left), whom I’d never met, also dined with us.

Parisi Slow-Cooked Egg with Dashi Broth, Licorice, Chives.

Note the intense yellow orange of the yolk. Parisi feeds his chickens goat milk to obtain the rich flavor and color. The best egg I’ve ever had, hands down. (See Katie Parla’s excellent post on Parisi.)

Marinated Anchovies with Tomato and Spring Onion.

Ricotta Pudding with Eggplant and Thyme Cream.

Ox Tongue with Cured Cinta Senese Shoulder Served over a Spinach Orzotto. (Cinta Senese is Siena’s heirloom striped pig, smaller in size than most hogs, making for ineffably delicate salt-cured pork.)

Veal Roulades Stuffed with Escarole and Pine Nuts Served over a Raisin and Onion Ragù.

Lamb Confit with Dried Fava Bean and Swiss Chard Sauce.

What did we drink? Stay tuned…