The hilltop Tuscan village of San Gimignano attracts thousands of visitors each year to view its medieval architecture dominated by 14 bell towers. In 1990, the San Gimignano historic area was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Just 25 miles from both Siena and Florence, San Gimignano is a popular stop on a Tuscan tour, but usually for just a day and maybe an overnight. But consider giving San Gimignano more time to try its restaurants and local Vernaccia white wines. A recent visit opened my eyes to both.
Ristorante San Martino 26 was a delightful discovery located off a quiet side street. The thoughtful menu takes the diner off the main avenue of local Tuscan fare. Chef Ardit Curri spent his youth in Albania before moving to Italy to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, studying with cooking teacher and celebrity chef, Gianfranco Gianetti. (check out Instagram@ardit_curri_chef)
He started working for the Pernarella family, owners of Ristorante Perucà, another local dining spot known for its traditional Tuscan fare. In 2014 they opened San Marino 26 inside an old palazzo and enoteca with Chef Curri helming the kitchen. His approach to the menu has a decidedly global accent which had earned San Martino 26 a listing in the Michelin Guide.
Our lunch started with a few amuse bouches including what looked to be two red olives nestled on leaves. Bite into them and discover a mousse of sweet beets.
Being a non-meat eater, finding well-made vegetables and fish-forward fare amid the Tuscan hills can be challenging. The region is better known for its meat, game, charcuterie, and hearty pastas. I was pleasantly surprised by my first of two courses, a Norwegian Salmon tartare with cucumber, chives, and orange citrus, beautifully prepared and perfect with the white wines we tasted. My dining companions enjoyed a chicken liver starter served with pan brioche and honey pollen.
We all chose pasta for our second and last savory course. It was a generous serving of tagliolini pasta in a rich shrimp sauce with three dollops of a creme with jalapeno.
Being lunch, we ate light but would return for dinner to try a degustation menu, reasonably priced at 70 euros (five-course) and 95 euros (seven-course).
What to drink in San Gimignano
Tuscan wine, of course, and specifically Vernaccia di San Gimignano, an aromatic white wine local to the area. In fact, the D.O.C.G. Vernice di San Gimignano is referred to as “The White Queen of Tuscany” and is the only appellation in Italy dedicated solely to producing a white wine. I tasted several Vernaccia di San Gimignano vintages and found them at their most vibrant when consumed within two years of bottling. I tasted a few older wines that offered a mellower and rounder mouthfeel, but the older wines varied considerably. Best served chilled, Vernaccia di San Gimignano pairs well with many fish preparations, lighter pastas, quiche, and medium-aged cheeses.