You have to be a pretty serious food geek to know who Dario Cecchini is. I first learned of him by reading Bill Buford’s excellent book Heat (Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany) where Buford learns the secrets of butchering and more from the larger-than-life Cecchini. Ever since reading that book, I’ve been fascinated by the Butcher of Panzano and by some stroke of luck, I actually got to visit the town of Panzano in Italy’s Chianti region of Tuscany and meet Cecchini himself this past November. It was everything I had hoped for and more.
The shop itself is fairly small and gets packed during the day when it functions as a traditional butcher shop. At night, though, it transforms into the anteroom of your beefy dreams. That’s because Cecchini operates La Officina della Bistecca (The Steak Office) upstairs and it was there that I had one of the best meals of my entire life.
It all starts with a huge spread of housemade salumi, wine, whipped lardo, and olive-oil soaked bread. You can’t fill up too much downstairs, though, because the real show starts when you climb the stairs. What awaits you? Five courses of the best beef you’ve ever tasted. First up: Chianti crudo or beef sushi, lightly seasoned and served with a small wedge of lemon for an acidic burst if you need it. This irony bite tastes like the platonic ideal of beef. Just look at that ruby red color:
The rest of the meal is beef, beef, and more beef. Giant porterhouses and bone-in ribeyes sizzle on the grates of the burning hot open-air grill. Platters of the richest, most deeply flavored steaks are passed around and mouths alternate between chewing and laughing. This isn’t so much a meal at a restaurant as the most convivial dinner party you’ve ever attended.
The host at the center of it all is Dario Cecchini, a huge Italian with a tan leather vest and an orange kerchief tied around his neck. He’s part ringmaster and part Pied Piper, leading us all down a meaty path to satisfaction. My favorite part of the meal was his presentation of the costata fiorentina (bone-in ribeye). The exuberance is hard to describe, so you’ll have to see it for yourself:
I could go on and on about how amazing the meal was, but it’s probably easier if I just show you…
There are meals in life that you know will stick with you until the day you die. This was one of those meals.