In the shadows of the Chiesa di San Giuseppe, parish church of the Onda Contrada, is a remarkable restaurant, La Taverna di San Giuseppe. Marco, son of a family of Sienese restaurateurs, had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant in the neighborhood of his birth. That opportunity came in 1998. In transforming what was formerly a garage, without power or plumbing, into dining space, a chance discovery led to the unearthing of the remains of an Etruscan dwelling that dates back to two centuries B.C.! Hewn out of tufa rock, the house is below the street level of today, making it a perfect cellar for the storing of wine and the aging of local pecorino cheeses. It is not only a useful aging environment, but it makes for an intimate, softly lit room for wine and cheese tasting.
The dining room, itself, is equally interesting with the exposed brick ceiling, reminder of its medieval heritage. The wooden tables with simple paper placemats reflect the character of taverns of a bygone era and yet acquire an elegance in the softly lit room. What comes from the kitchen to these tables is what draws people time and time again to dine here. Marco, together with his son Matteo, believes passionately in using the gifts of the land, according to the season, as food was meant to be prepared and consumed. And what they do with these gifts truly pays tribute to the rich bounty of Tuscany’s farmlands. Matteo, a gifted sommelier, knows and honors the gifts of the vine.
Menu offerings change regularly to reflect the harvest of the season. What are some of the many specialties that La Taverna creates? We sampled the delicate hand-made pasta, known as stracci (meaning rags) with a sauce of pumpkin and leeks. Gnudi, “unclothed” ricotta and spinach ravioli on a puddle of ragu fiorentina are a very tasty treat. Tagliata aromatica, tender slices of beef prepared with aromatic olive oil, is a dish not soon forgotten. The lamb chops garnished with fried saffron on a crusty slice of bread and roasted potatoes are presented almost too beautifully to eat, but eat them we did!
La Taverna di San Giuseppe satisfies on many levels. Its history, its attention to detail both in cooking and presentation, and its friendly staff all contribute to a wonderful dining experience. But what makes this restaurant truly special is meeting father and son, two of Siena’s treasures - a memory you can take with you, and savor, like the sweetness of their dessert wine.