Have you ever entered somewhere and immediately felt at home? Felt like you were meant to be there?
The Butcher from Panzano, Italy
There's a small town in Italy's Chianti region that will make you feel just that.
Panzano is a city of a little over one thousand people. Life is simple there. Life is different. It's slow, in a way that's absolutely beautiful.
And in the center of quaint, quiet Panzano, you can find a busy, loud butcher shop blaring AC/DC.
This is Dario Cecchini.
A contrast to everything Panzano embodies, Dario's shop is a bustling center of town. Wine and laughter are constantly flowing at all times of the day.
If you're lucky enough to visit Dario's butcher shop, you'll be greeted with a glass of Chianti regardless of the time of day. Quite literally, we were greeted with "chianti in the morning" and a big smile from Dario himself -bright and early at 9am.
You'll see beautiful cuts of meat. You'll be greeted with delicious bread and oil. This shop is one of the most unique places on earth.
I was blown away, and I hadn't even sat down for dinner yet.
If you've never heard of Dario Cecchini, watch his biography on Netflix's Chef's Table. It's a gorgeous representation of his wholesome spirit and the vibrant life he brings to his profession. The show truly captures how much he loves the life cycle of the animal - from birth, to butcher.
Dario's life wasn't easy, but he always had a positive attitude. This, coupled with his love for food and childhood memories, is why you feel so at home in his show and restaurant.
When we were planning our trip to Italy, we decided we needed to visit Dario's restaurant.
We were so excited to book a bed and breakfast in Panzano minutes from the restaurant, and the bed and breakfast happened to be owned by Dario's sister.
We were even more excited to book our dinner reservation at Dario Cecchini's Officina della Bistecca.
It would be our first night in Italy. It would be on my dad's birthday. What could be more special?
Fast forward to December 26th.
After we visited the shop in the day, we regrouped and arrived fifteen minutes before our 8pm reservation.
We walked in to an even more crowded shop, full of the patrons we would soon be dining with.
We were greeted with a slew of appetizers; homemade salami, chianti butter, cheeses...and this was just the start. And of course, one could not turn down a glass or two of chianti.
Appropriately enough, Thunderstruck was blaring in the background. Dario was cutting the steaks that we would be enjoying. The atmosphere was electric.
At 8pm, we were led up a narrow staircase and the night began.
Dario Cecchini's Officina della Bistecca is the upstairs of Dario's butcher shop. It's simple and inviting, comprised of one long table and two smaller tables.
As we sat, we were greeted by other guests. A family from Washington to our right, a couple from Russia to our left. At Dario's long table, you become family with the people you sit by. Boarders are irrelevant.
Olive oil, vegetables, bread, and a special seasoning salt await you at the table, as well as three generous carafes of chianti.
The dinner service has two options - vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Each option costs 55 euro.
I opted for the carnivorous experience.
Before the beef carnival began, large bowls of tuscan beans were brought to the table.
THESE BEANS. They were one of the best things I've ever eaten.
With the perfect amount of garlic, salt, and olive oil, these canellini beans were perfection.
I've tried to recreate them twice since I returned home. I don't know if I'll ever crack their code, but I'll keep trying.
After we were graced with the beans, the beef courses began.
The first course - beef tartare. If you think you don't like beef tartare, think again.
This was the best tartare I've ever had. Seasoned with Dario's special seasoning salt and really good olive oil, the beef melts in your mouth.
It's so, so good.
As I restrained myself to not devour an entire plate of tartare, course two arrived.
Seared rump carpaccio, as all of the other dishes at Officina della Bistecca, is served on a large platter.
Everything is family style. The waitstaff walk around with each delicious course, liberally distributing the meat.
Like the tartare, the carpaccio was incredible. The meat is so fresh, tender, and juicy.
One of my favorite things about dining at Officina della Bistecca is that they use the entire animal in their food.
Dario and his team truly appreciate the animals they butcher - they use every single bit in the dishes they serve.
It's different, but it's delicious.
After the third course, I was starting to feel the massive amounts of food I was consuming.
But I had to tough it out - because the dinner was really just getting started.
Just when I thought this restaurant couldn't get any better, Dario walks up the stairs holding the most enormous steaks I've ever seen.
The next three courses are the purest form of cooking I've ever seen. Meat and fire. That's it.
The steak cooks over an open flame. It's kissed by the fire for eight minutes on each side.
The product is a very rare, juicy steak. It's cut in small pieces and served family style.
The first steak was the Costata all Fiorentina. It's like a bone-in rib eye.
If you're lucky, the waiters will give you the bone to devour the scraps off of. You better believe that I took advantage of that.
The next steak was the Bistecca Panzanese, an original cut native to the city of Panzano.
One of my favorite things about Italian steaks is that the cuts of beef are so different than what we have in the US.
Panzanese steak is cut from the upper thigh of the steak. It's leaner, but delicious.
At this point, I was hitting a wall. With the beans, meat, and wine, I didn't think I could eat another bite.
And then the potatoes came out.
Normally, potatoes aren't something that I get excited about. But these potatoes were different.
I have no idea how they make the baked potatoes at Officina della Bistecca, but wow, they are delicious.
Topped with chianti butter (a spread made of pork fat and wine), these potatoes literally melted in my mouth.
And as we were enjoying them, the last steak course came out.
The queen of Italian meats: The Florentine Steak.
This steak is revered by Italians, particularly in the Tuscany region.
It's comparable to a porterhouse steak. But there's just something about The Florentine Steak that I don't think can be re-created anywhere else in the world.
This was more than a meal. It was a privilege.
We became friends with our table mates that night. We drank wine, toasting to things going on in our lives, while learning about theirs.
We laughed with the wait staff.
And at the end of the meal, we all split olive oil cake with coffee, and don't forget the Grappa.
Dario has wine glasses that say "Carne Diem." It's a cute play on words, but I believe it has a deeper meaning.
Carpe Diem means to seize the day - living well, with good food and good people around your table. Dario does this with meat, and I respect him so much for that.
In this crazy world, this message is one thing that we can control.
We can respect each other the way Dario respects his animals.
We can welcome others like the patrons sitting at the long table every evening at Dario Cecchini's Officina della Bistecca.
I've got a lot to learn about the culinary world, but I do know this: wherever you're from, whoever you are, you are welcome at Dario's table.
And you won't have a single bad bite.