Dining at La Dogana, in Capezzano Pianore.
It was love at first bite for me at the trattoria La Dogana. I went for the first time last fall, while judging at a film festival in Viareggio on the coast of Tuscany, awarding it my personal Best Meal of the Week trophy. I have returned several times. Amazingly, each time the food tastes even better. The name La Dogana (the customhouse) was inherited by the Pierucci family when it took over the establishment. The local spin is that, because it stands on the border between the municipalities of Pietrasanta and Camaiore, it must have been a customhouse - who knows? I do know that chef-owner Vittoriano's enthusiasm is clearly contagious. His wife Lida joins him in the kitchen, and son Daniele is La Dogana's simpatico sommelier.
The Dogana experience begins at the entryway bar, where you can have a glass of wine and a taste of first-rate salumi. My favorites are brine-cured Chianina beef (a rare Tuscan breed) and deep-fried whitebait, called avanotti, which are served on the yellow paper that's a rustic Tuscan tradition for draining fat off deep-fried foods. Diners then sit in one of three small dining rooms and confront a big decision: fish or meat? I've always gone with fish, but allow Vittoriano to choose my dishes, preferring him to tell me how many courses I'd like.
A recent meal began with fresh, supersweet raw scampi dressed with extra-virgin olive oil. Tagliolini are sauced with mollusks like vongole verace (carpet-shell clams) or colorful spiral-shelled garusoli. Vittoriano serves a dish he calls Titanic - a few scampi clinging onto a raft of toast in a sea of artichoke broth, surrounded by a scattering of oil. Better than the movie! I love the firm white-fleshed rombo (turbot) paired with thinly sliced raw artichokes, drizzled with olive oil, and the gallinella (gurnard) poached with potatoes and zucchini. Daniele is terrific at pairing wine with his parents' cooking. His selection is personal, ample, well-priced, and studded with unknown gems.
La Dogana, via Sarzanese 442, Capezzano Pianore, Camaiore; tel. 39-0584-915-159. Closed Wednesday.