Ciao hounds (sorry - I'm jet lagged),
At some later point, I'll try to post more detailed findings from my just completed 10 day trip to Florence/Tuscany but I just wanted to pass on a) my enormous thanks to all the Chowhounders who directly and indirectly (through old posts) helped us plan this trip (which was one long eating binge w/ great art & frenzied shopping sprinkled on top)and
b) offer a few random thoughts to those who may be planning trips:
1) Tuscany has been completely overrun with affluent Germans and Americans. I went 2 years ago in July, and there were noticeably WAY more tourists now. Crazy but true (too many "Under the Tuscan Sun" type books). Bus tours, bike tours, hike tours, couples in cars, you name it, it sounds like New York, Frankfurt or LA a lot of the time. Much as I love Toscana, our next Italian trip will be further afield - and those looking to meld at all with Italians may wish to do likewise.
2) Perhaps following on from the above, Tuscany is not (as compared to, say, Paris or London) a place where the big splurge on restaurants is necessarily in order. We hit several of the much ballyhooed high points (La Chuisa, Cibreo, etc.) and while the food was delicious, it was not proportionally more so when compared to smaller, more "ordinary" trattorias that cost a fraction of the price. There was nary an Italian to be found in the high end places - and everything from service, to atmosphere, to prices at these joints was eerily reminiscent of SoHo. Tuscan cooking is wonderfully simple and its glory comes from the gorgeous raw ingredients available locally - and especially for primi (pastas, soups and the like), a caring small restaurant can do everything a famous place can PLUS that indescribable feeling of actually being in a foreign country. I will post the names of our favorites in the latter category when I dig out my notes - but I recommend asking people "Where do you eat lunch?" etc. - making it clear what you are looking for - hotel concierges will assume that you are looking for a safe English speaking Americanized experience unless you press. Great tips also come from shopkeepers... Looking at the license plates in a a parking lot can also give a clue - too many "Ds" for Deutschland will mean an equal number of your fellow Americans; beat-up non-rental looking Italian plates are a good sign that the locals actually eat there. The welcome you get in these places is much warmer and more genuine - if you appreciate the food, and show it - then the practiced perfunctory courtesies of the big timers.
3) I asked this board about how much to order earlier, and got many responses. The one thing that is almost always true is that if you must skip something, skip dessert - unless there is something fruit based - Tuscan fruit rocks! But otherwise, the winning ordering strategy we worked out was to order antipasti and primi, and then decide on what came after (one or two secondi or salads/cheese etc.)after we'd eaten that. Portion sizes vary too wildly to make any rules of thumb - some places are geared to a four course meal, and in others, primi are incredibly generous. In any event, everyone was more than happy to let us order in stages - except at Cibreo, where there is a formula (and a rushed one at that!).
Anyway, specific reviews to come. Arrivederci