My friend Katie and I were able to spend less than 48 hours together during our visit to Lucca, but it was full of great conversation and amazing food. After eating a small breakfast at our hotel and exploring the beautiful streets of Lucca, we ventured back to Buca di San Antonio.
The restaurant owners’ warmth and kindness bestowed on us when we were turned away for dinner left us more eager to each lunch there the next day. After discussing the menu and our gluten-free options, only one item we had initially selected had gluten in it. Lucky for us – because our second choice ended up being one of the best dishes I ate during my trip.
Our waiter, Cristiano was beyond helpful. When he presented us with our gluten-free bread, he looked at me with a wry smile and said “Now don’t cry, we recently had a woman in our restaurant who hadn’t had bread for 17 years who was brought to tears by this.” I managed to keep the tears in check but was truly touched by the care and thoughtfulness Cristiano demonstrated throughout our time at Buca di San Antonio. The gluten-free bread was warm and crusty. They buy it from a local gluten-free bakery called Il Forno Lenci. (Unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday so I wasn’t able to make a visit myself.) Even more remarkable though was how the bread tasted after it cooled. Inexplicably, the roll gained in pleasing power as it cooled. Tha facaccine disappeared so quickly that I only vaguely remember its exquisite flavor.
For our primo, we split the Tagliolini alla papaline — pasta sauteed with butter, nutmeg and ham — made with a gluten-free corn pasta. A hint of creaminess, flavor in abundance, yet it was not heavy. The nutmeg was unexpected but complemented the dish perfectly.
For our mains and sides, we split everything and since Katie had turned away the gluten-filled bread there were no concerns about cross-contamination. As a mushroom and polenta fan, I was excited to see Porcini mushrooms with polenta di formentone on the menu. The funghi porcini were crisp, balancing out the creaminess of the polenta. The dish was so simple, almost buttery, the texture perfect. I gladly finished the plate when Katie demurred.
After our delicious roasted fagioli from the night before, we ordered a simple side of fagioli with olive oil.
The zucchini and eggplant dish we initially eyed was off-limits, so we ordered a roasted guinea fowl breast with moscato grapes and crisped prosciutto. The combination of the crispy prosciutto, sweet stewed grapes and simple roasted hen was spectacular. This is one of those instances where living gluten-free is truly a blessing. Aside from the roasted guinea fowl dish that we never would have tried, the attention we received from the entire staff completely changed the dining experience. One of the owners was not only eager to show us the gluten-free designations on the door, he also joyfully recounted the restaurant’s experience with gluten-free customers. He gave us an affectionate look while saying, “Sono tutte belle famiglie e questo lo conferma” “They are all beautiful families and this just confirms it.” – So sweet, we couldn’t have felt more loved and cared for!
The mysteries of dessert beckoned after such exceptional main courses. Cristiano offered me gluten-free biscotti and even asked me to sample a new pane dolce they were trying out from the gluten-free bakery. I could not refuse his pleading request. We all agreed the bread would be better as a breakfast roll rather than a dessert – though it was tasty when dipped in sweet Vin Santo.
Katie returned to “la via caduta” (the fallen way) when picking a chocolate cake that wasn’t gluten-free. I began my quest to eat my weight in Pecorino cheese by ordering the formaggi misti with honey and pine nuts.
This lunch and my time in Lucca were merely the beginning of an almost magical vacation. Next stop – gluten-free Firenze!
Buca Di San Antonio
Via della Cervia 1/3
Phone: 39-0583-55881 Closed Sunday Evenings and Mondays
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