Lucca the Luscious

Our first sunny and warm day in Lucca, appropriately enough a Sunday, was spent with both religious and secular splendors.

We started our day at the Cathedral of Saint Martin, begun in the 11th century. While the bell tower is under restoration, the facade is clearly a confection of various styles, with lovely ornamentation and Biblical scenes.

The interior is also lush, with grand Gothic arches and Renaissance paintings. The original statue of St. Martin offering his cloak to a beggar is inside the church and a reproduction is on the exterior.

Next door is the Cathedral Museum, which had some very rare and special things to show. More saints’ relics!!!

On the secular side, we had the chance to see what is inside one of those foreboding exterior walls concealing the palazzi of the past. Palazzo Pfanner is still a private home, right in the center of town, but parts are open as a museum. It was begun in 1660, and owned by several families of the merchant nobility. The current family has owned it since the mid-19th century and has undertaken its restoration. Imagine what is beyond the doors that aren’t open in this city.

The interior staircase is stunning, and may be familiar as the setting for Portrait of a Lady in 1996. It offers lovely views of the Baroque garden.

We saw the remains of an even older palazzo, this one from Roman times, over which was built every era’s version of a palace. Called “The House of the Boy on a Dolphin,” its foundation has been uncovered and its signature mosaic reconstructed. The same history could be found under all of Lucca, as it was an important Roman fortress city. Talk about having ghosts…

We even had a bit of a medieval procession to admire:

Lucca does look even better in the sun, so today was a perfect time to just stroll around and admire the big and little moments that make this city so sublime.

Don’s Food Corner

We were all set to return to the restaurant where we had yesterday’s wonderful lunch. A true Tuscan steak had been on my mind all night. I looked to make sure the restaurant was open, and it was. Today as we passed it on the way to look at the Duomo I thought I should see if they were to be open on Monday and move the lunch back a day. The restaurant doors were open and I saw lots of scurrying about. I stepped in and asked about Monday.  No, they would be closed on Monday. OK, I said, we’ll be back later for lunch. Alas, no, was the reply. The entire restaurant had been taken over for a wedding. Huh? Gee, I hope the newlyweds will be very, very, very, very happy.

That meant a new search.  We ended up in a recommended restaurant that was far less formal than yesterday. It was definitely a neighborhood place filled with Italians out for Sunday lunch. The cooking was rather rustic. The tablecloth was paper.

We started with a shared dish of risotto with mushrooms. It didn’t come up to the level of yesterday’s perfection, but it was fine. I’d be happy to know how to make risotto like that.

For a second course, Jo went for a deep-fried chicken and vegetable plate that was touted as a house special.  The vegetables were a combination of artichokes, eggplant, fresh basil leaves and zucchini. The chicken was cut into small pieces, some with bones and some without. The breading and deep-frying method seemed like a cross between tempura and Popeye’s Fried Chicken, but without the spiciness. It was an interesting dish, but I doubt it will catch on except as this restaurant’s house specialty.  (Interestingly, other diners – many  of whom were obviously regulars – had ordered this dish.)

Intent on getting a Tuscan steak before we leave Tuscany, I ordered the grilled steak and a side of roasted potatoes. The steak is sold by the weight. I went with a portion of 500 grams — or a little over one pound. As expected, it was grilled over an open fire. It was a juicy and perfectly prepared T-bone steak I would call medium-rare. I’ve looked at recipes for so-called Tuscan steak that seem to feature all kinds of marinades of rosemary and garlic. This steak had none of that,although it did come with a lemon wedge. Besides this addition of the lemon, it was how you find a steak served in Montana as “cowboy style.” It was very excellent, but I wouldn’t say it changed my thinking about steak.

We had a nice bottle of red Montecarlo wine with it.  Wish we could have had our first choice of restaurants, but it would be hard to complain too hard about our alternative.


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