La Taverna Di Vagliagli, Vagliagli, Italy.

March 2017.

In Tuscany to buy wine, my friend and I rented an AirBNB house for three days while we visited Chianti producers. The place was advertised as being in the town of Radda, but turned out to be about 20 minutes away along a winding paved tertiary highway and then a dirt road. Now you may never have heard of Radda, but nobody has heard of Vagliagli, the nearest town to our rented house. Can’t really blame the owner for wanting to associate her place with the bigger, better-known town. Unless of course you are the one stuck out in the middle of nowhere for three days driving an extra 40 minutes to your destinations.

Never mind, about a twelve-minute drive away from the house (which turned out to be a drop-dead charming medieval farm house that had been quite nicely modernized) we found this quiet original Italian restaurant with Michelin stickers decorating the front of it and gave it a try. We weren’t disappointed so we went back a second time.

Entering at the top of its wide old concrete front stairway, the kitchen is on the left, includes an open fireplace for grilling, and has a couple of chefs busy inside who give a hearty welcome. Staff are predominantly male, relaxed and accommodating, and the dining room is small but filled up almost completely with locals through each evening. The atmosphere exuded tradition and unaffected confidence in its warmth, good service and good food.

Unfortunately the menu isn’t online and it’s been a week or so since eating there, but I remember beef tartare as a starter and roasted pork as a main. The puck of raw meat was ground more finely than I seem to prefer, but was perfectly fresh if more or less unseasoned internally. Salt, pepper, and some lemon improved it. My pork came with vegetables which I don’t recall, but was beautifully roasted and seasoned with simple herbs although I found it a bit chewy. Somehow the meat’s toughness didn’t put me off and I completely enjoyed it. Second night I had the roast lamb which turned out to be a short three-chop rack perfectly roasted, alongside sliced boiled potatoes also roasted. Very simple food but nicely prepared, and pleasantly served in a soothing atmosphere.

Server was a fiftyish Italian guy with enough English to help us through decision-making. Discussing the list of Chiantis available, he surprised us by recommending the cheaper one. It was delicious and even better washing down the very nice food. Price was moderate, probably about $80 for the two of us with the wine.

Food and drink is very much about perception, isn’t it? They say that’s been scientifically proven, although why anybody would bother with that kind of an enterprise I have no clue. It’s clear in my mind that if I had sat down to exactly the same food in a brightly-lit noisy room with Walmart atmosphere laminate tables and rubber cove base, dished up by a rude dismissive twentysomething who hated her job, I wouldn’t have been much impressed. But the ambience, service, aroma, and dignity of a serious small restaurant reinforce its flavours and vice versa. The overall impression benefits immensely. Food 8.0, service 8.8, ambience 9.2, value 8.1, peace and quiet 8.3.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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