In Chianti Classico, on a warm October day, we savored succulent burgers under the Tuscan sun. Mac Dario has been open for four months in Panzano and it’s clear that Dario Cecchini has another hit on his platter.
Until our order for Veloce e Toscano (Fast and Tuscan) arrived just minutes after we sat down, the only thought I had was: “Does Dario ever sleep?”
After the 2006 opening of Solociccia (“It is not a restaurant. It is the home of a butcher.” See Instructions for Use) and the 2007 debut of the Officina della Bistecca (“The Officina is not recommended to those of little appetite.” See the small print.), it’s easy to wonder why Dario wanted to dive into the world of fast Slow Food. Remember, he’s also spent the last 33 years building the Macelleria Cecchini into one of the best-known butcher shops in the world. (See links below for more about Dario, Solociccia and the Macelleria Cecchini.)
The answer was very clear by the time we finished the most fabulous burgers and perfect roast potatoes served in Italy. Dario is surrounded by incredible people, each of whom add their best to a dining experience – any of the varied dining experiences – from that at home, savoring the fennel pollen-coated pork chop Dario sells in the butcher shop, to Maria Teresa welcoming you in to eat “only meat” (not exactly) at Solociccia to Simonetta’s torta all’olio di oliva, served at all three venues, to Riccardo’s half pound Medaglione (a burger of the best beef) to the grill masters, Carlo and Angelo, to Dante…
Dante was a find. Legend (probably not all true) has it he wandered into sunny Tuscany from the cold north (Udine). He meets a butcher known for reciting reams of poetry from another Dante (Alighieri) and the rest is history. Dante now coordinates the fast-paced Mac Dario and the leisurely Officina della Bistecca.
But back to the food. Mac Dario offers two fixed menus – Veloce e Toscano and Accoglienza (loosely translated: Welcome).
Fast and Tuscan costs 10 euro and fills you up with the Medaglione, a huge rounded patty of pure ground beef, lightly dusted with fine breadcrumbs. It is flanked by slivered sweet red onions, fresh tomato slices and crispy yellow potatoes. For those who want the bun experience, a basket of crusty buns, wood oven-baked Tuscan bread and focaccia is offered.
The meat is not seasoned. On the table is Dante’s own Chianti Catsup (fresh tomato salsa with a red pepper kick) and Profumo del Chianti (herbed salt), Kim’s sweet and spicy mustard and Judy’s hot and sweet pepper jelly (Mostarda Mediterranea). Just tasting the condiments reminds us of the collaboration that goes into the experience at Mac Dario. (Kim, alone, is credited with tasting dozens of versions of Veloce e Toscano before Dario settled on the final styling.)
The crispy potatoes with soft yellow centers are pure comfort food. Harvested near Prato, the spuds are peeled, chopped, parboiled, and finally, roasted in the oven with sage and extra virgin olive oil. A sprinkling of salt finishes them off.
For newbies to the Macelleria, the second menu at Mac Dario may be the best way to go. The Welcome meal costs 20 euro and offers a bit of everything from the butcher shop, including Sushi del Chianti (beef tartare with parsely, garlic, ground red pepper, lemon juice, salt and pepper), Tonno del Chianti (pork boiled in white wine, then marinated in olive oil with sage and bay leaves), Arista in Porchetta (slow, fire-roasted pork loin), Cosimino in Salsa Ardente (fine-ground veal meatloaf garnished with Judy’s pepper jelly), raw carrot and celery sticks and Tuscan bread.
Extras include red or white wine, fruit juice, coffee and Simonetta’s scrumptious torta (rich with bit a lemon and a crunchy sugar dusting), and digestivi dell’Esercito Italiano (liqueurs made for the Italian Army). You may bring your own bottle of wine – there is no corkage fee.
Famed for the clean trendy design of Solociccia, Dario repeated the feat at Mac Dario with the long black slate rock picnic tables, flanked by surprisingly comfortable red iron geometric chairs, under large umbrellas, located outside the Officina della Bistecca, upstairs from the butcher shop. The view is pure Tuscan – the valley of Greve and the ridge to Lamole.
Dario, Kim, Simonetta, Maria Teresa, Riccardo, Carlo, Angelo and Dante are only a few of those you may have the pleasure to meet in Panzano while tasting a bit of Tuscany. A couple of dozen more of those who are helping Dario sleep at night, but are unnamed here, will make your visit one to remember.
Want to know more? See the following links:
Boots in the Oven on Solociccia
Bill Bufford in The New Yorker on Dario
LA Times on Dario’s visit to Los Angeles