One of our favorite restaurants in Arezzo is underground. Directly across from the Basilica San Francesco in the piazza of the same name, you’ll need to carefully step down four wide grey stone steps and duck your head to enter Ristorante Buca di San Francesco.
As your eyes adjust to the soft amber glow, you’ll be warmly welcomed by Mario de Filippis, who has been its gracious host for more than 40 years. Now, look around you. You’re seated in the cellar of a 14th century palazzo, surrounded by a frescoes on the walls and a resounding assortment of Italian artworks, artifacts, and tchotchkes. It’s a delightful Tuscan curiosity shop.
Mario says the stones that make up the floor beneath your chairs are remnants of an ancient Etruscan road. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s all part of the restaurant’s – and Mario’s – immense charm. Mario is like an indulgent nonno, grandpa. He tells me to look the other way and “sneaks” little chocolates over to Lulu while my head is turned. He sets before Lulu a plate of the softest, creamiest fresh Mozzarella I have ever tasted (because I did taste it).
“Mario! Yey!” cries Lulu.
He urges me to try the Panzanella -a popular Tuscan summer salad with olive oil crisped bread chunks mixed in. He also encourages me to a have a glass of wine, “on the house!”
“Mario! Yey!” I cry too.
Later, he surprises us both with free desserts. A small slice of apple bread torta for me and gelato for Lulu, chocolate – ma certo¸ of course.
To me, the flavor of the place and its host almost exceeds that of the food. At Buca di San Francesco, you’re in good hands. Mario’s.