Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations


Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Web: bencista.com
Prices: €€€
This review is on the restaurant only.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá’s restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7’s stop “Regresso” following the signs.

The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak – €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).

The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife’s pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother’s house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife’s dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.

While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.


When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.

The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.

For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.

For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.

Recommendations for a better experience:
1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question

Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert – pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro’s superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …
CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

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CombatCritic’s “TravelValue”: Italia (Italy)


Sicilia (Sicily)
Arriving in Rome after an uneventful plane ride across the Atlantic, I found the Easy Jet counter for my leg to Palermo, Sicily. Easy Jet is anything but, with extra charges for everything, my €49 fare quickly became nearly double at €90.
Not So Easy Jet’s Rome (Fiumicino) check-in counter was chaotic and I stood in line unnecessarily for 10 minutes before realizing that there was a bag check counter for those smart enough to print their boarding passes online. Even then, the short line took forever as the large family in front of me took items out of their bags to meet the 20 kg weight limit (44 lbs). Finally checking my bag 30 minutes later, I made my way to.the terminal and in to Palermo.
Trapani and Erice
Upon arrival at Palermo’s new Falcone-Borsellino Airport for my bus ride to Trapani, not quite my final destination, my wife’s picturesque, medieval hometown of Erice, I took the Segesta bus straight from the airport to downtown Trapani where my wife and her cousin were waiting for me. There are trains to Trapani, but the Italian train system is sometimes unreliable and I would have had to travel 20 kilometers back to downtown Palermo to catch the Trapani train, so the bus was faster and cheaper (€9.60).
Trapani is a medium size city that sits on the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest corner of the island of Sicily and Erice sits atop a nearby mountain, easily visible for 20 miles in any direction. Trapani is fairly clean and beautiful, but Erice is the gem of this area and a medieval delight.

 

 
You can take the cable car from Valderice at the bottom of the mountain (€2.80 per person round trip) or if you have a car, you can drive to the top where parking is liberal and inexpensive. Erice is a walled city and quite small, easily walked in 2-6 hours depending on your pace, how many of the quaint shops you want to stop in, or if you want a leisurely lunch or dinner in one of a small selection of restaurants. If you arrive at the right time, June through August, you can try the unique and delicious jasmine gelato (ice cream). You have not had ice cream until you habeas eaten gelato, and jasmine is a variety and delicacy found nowhere else in the world. Spend time enjoying the stroll over the cobblestone streets, but be sure to wear shoes with soles that will not slip on the shiny rocks, which can be quite treacherous, particularly when wet.
 
There are many wonderful things to see in and around Trapani, including Basilica della Madonna di. Trapani, the town of Marsala, the Egadi Islands of Favignana, Marettimo, Levanzo, the Greek ruins at Segesta, the island of Mothia, San Vito Lo Capo, and Agrigento’s expansive Greek ruins, about an hour and one half south of Trapani.
 
The people and food of Trapani must be enjoyed, with the people passionate and friendly, and the food robust and unique. The local cuisine has a definite Arab influence, having occupied Sicily for several centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. CousCous can be found as a staple in many dishes in exchange for pasta, and is a delicious and unique change of pace from many ‘primi piati’ (first dishes) found elsewhere in Italy.
 
Summers are quite hot in Sicily, so make sure you dress appropriately, luring sunglasses and sunscreen, and book a hotel with air conditioning unless you enjoy sticky nights.
 
Firenze (Florence)
 
IL DUOMO
 

 

 
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) is the center of Florence. Begun in 1296, it was completed in 1436 with an exterior covered elaborately with polychrome marble in shades of green and pink bordered by white. 
 
The second largest and most beautiful cathedral in Europe, “Il Duomo” and its equally impressive baptistri (baptistry), dominate this large piazza surrounded by medieval pallazzi (palaces). Crowded during peak seasons, watch out for gypsies and pickpockets, and DO NOT sit on the church steps (it is now illegal), but enjoy this “awe inspiring” scene with a drink. , a gelato (ice cream), or meal at one of the many bars and restaurants in Piazza del Duomo.
 

 
In Tavola (Cooking Course in Florence)
Phone: 39.055.217672
Email: info@intavola.org
 
For those who love to cook and always wanted to attend a Tuscan cooking course, In Tavola is a small Tuscan cooking school across the Arno via Ponte Vecchio from centro storico (the historical center) and down an ally across from Palazzo Piti. The school has offerings from a 3 hour pasta making class on Saturdays at noon during the tourist season (April to November), as well as 2, 4, 9, and 17 lesson courses (beginner and intermediate), all the way up to the 25 lesson advanced course. Here are just a few of the many courses offered:
 
Home-style Pizza and Focaccia
This course is dedicated to the preparation of Pizza and Focaccia. Participants learn how to prepare, knead and cook pizza, breads, bread sticks and Focaccia.
 
Regional First Courses
This course is dedicated to the wealth and variety of Italian Regional cuisine, from the North to the South of the peninsula. Typical dishes from each region will be prepared, including Spaghetti Carbonara, Trennette al Pesto and Linguine alla Viareggina.
 
Tuscan Cuisine
This course is dedicated to the cuisine of Tuscany. Participants learn how to prepare traditional recipes such as Ribollita soup, Baccala’, Spelt soup, Crostini and typical desserts.
Professional Course I level
4 Week Course (Total 9 lessons / 27 hours)
2 lessons per week ( 3 hour each lesson)  + 1 exam
Participants learn the basics of the Italian culinary arts as taught by an expert Chef.
 
 
Fabrizio, the school’s owner and resident expert teaches classes with zest and humor, making all participants comfortable and left feeling included, no matter their level of expertise. We attended a 2 1/2 hour course where students made an antipasto, melanzani pizzaiola (eggplant smothered with fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese, then drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven), looking like a miniature pizza and tasting delicious when done. The antipasto was followed by a primo (first course), gnocchi pomodoro, which consisted of hand made potato gnocchi in a fresh and simple tomato, garlic, and parsley sauce. The course, and the subsequent meal, concluded with a chocolate souffle, first frozen after preparation, then baked to perfection and sprinkled with cocoa powder and powdered sugar. A nice compliment would have been a dollop of fresh whipped cream, but the souffle was delicious nonetheless. 
 
Finally, the meal is enjoyed as a group in the schools medieval wine cellar, a cool, arched brick structure immediately behind and below the school’s kitchens. The meal is accompanied by an abundance of water and local wine, for those who wish to imbibe. We were there with the University of Kansas Italian Department’s “Study Abroad” Italian total immersion program, so the students, mostly underage by American standards, could not enjoy the vino…and neither could the instructors. Fabrizio and other staff members make their way around the tables to chat and answer questions and the course concludes with the distribution of menus including all of the recipes attempted, successfully in this case I might add, during the 3 1/2 hour class. 
 











Coming Soon

 

Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo    
Vecchio, Galleria degli Uffizi        
 


                                       Ponte Vecchio

Galleria dell’ Accademia


Palazzo Pitti



Bargello



Fiesole



Lucca and Pistoia by Train

Venezia

Roma

Verona

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Capri, Ischia, and Procida

Sardegna

Cinque Terre

and many, many more …

Title:  CombatCritic’s TravelValue: Italia (Italy)
 
Key Words: Italy, Italia, Florence, Firenze, duomo, ponte vecchio, ponte, vecchio, destination, cooking, class, course, piti, palazzo, Bargello, Fiesole, Lucca, Venice, Rome, Capri, Naples