Restaurant magnate Danny Meyer used to say that he wanted all his places in New York to be within walking distance of each other. In the tiny country town of Panzano, in Italy’s Chianti region, legendary butcher Dario Cecchini follows the same precept, only the distance he travels between his four businesses can be measured in footsteps, not city blocks. His first restaurant, Solo Ciccia (“only meat”), which features a six-course fixed menu focusing on unusual cuts of grass-fed beef, sits on a steep cobblestone street. Directly across Via Chiantigiana is his two-room butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini. To reach the latest additions to Cecchini’s food empire, head backstage through the white-tiled macelleria, walk up a flight of stairs, and emerge, Lewis Carroll-like, into a beautiful, narrow indoor dining hall and adjacent terrace that is MacDario—Cecchini’s elevated version of a burger joint—which turns into his steak-only restaurant, Officina della Bistecca, on Friday and Saturday nights and for Sunday lunch. The star attraction at all four places, Cecchini spends his days and nights racing between them, a regular exercise routine that has given him a stripped-down movie-star quality since I last saw him.
In late July, a $70 prix-fixe lunch at Officina della Bistecca meant Sushi del Chianti—beef tartare seasoned with Tuscan olive oil, sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon—a dish that was later revamped on a wood-fired outdoor grill manned by a chef protecting his eyes from sparks with motorcycle goggles. Then came Cecchini’s sublimely rare Costata alla Fiorentina (bone-in rib eye), followed by his own bistecca Panzanese, a cut taken from the front of the thigh. After a brief intermission, our booming-voiced host hoisted a couple of just-grilled bistecca Fiorentina—thick porterhouses, three-pounders at least—in his Incredible Hulk–sized hands and gave himself a real upper-body workout, waving them around as he delivered a special introduction for each cut of meat on his menu.
Consuming so much exquisite steak in the span of three hours is a heady experience, one where, oddly enough, everything non-beef is also lodged in your memory. Now, when I recall the lunch, the meat jostles for attention with the pinzimonio (raw garden vegetables) served with extra virgin olive oil, and tender, halved roast potatoes frosted with a melting spoonful of his whipped, herb-infused lardo. But here’s the moment I remember most clearly: In front of every diner appeared a white bowl, into which the server tossed in a splash of olive oil, a generous dash of Cecchini’s Profumo de Chianti (sea salt with bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary), a little red-wine vinegar, and then a ladle of steaming fagioli all’olio—perfectly cooked white Cannellini beans. The dish, which looked like soup and had a salad’s tang, went down easy, like everything else in Tuscany.