First, thanks to the chowhounders and to Elizabeth Minchilli for their generous response to my request for recommendations and for Elizabeth’s great app. I apologize for my delay in getting this out. We arrived by train from Rome on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 and checked into our hotel, Antica Torre Tornabuoni. I had told them that it was our 30th anniversary and they upgraded us to a room overlooking the Arno and left a fruit basket and bottle of wine. The hotel has gorgeous terraces and a bar and breakfast room with splendid views. Our first stop after checking in was Ino for marvelous panini. My husband had the caprese with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. I had the prosciutto with salsa tartuffo. The bread was marvelous. Before we had finished both of us were planning our return visit. On our second visit on Saturday, the small space was bursting with people perched on every surface. If you love gorgonzola, as I do, this is the place to get it. The bread soaks in the oozing perfectly ripened version they feature. The outstanding gelato shop, Carapina is around the corner. My husband had their dark chocolate and was in heaven.
Wednesday dinner was at Sostanza. I have to say that hands down, this was our favorite meal in Florence. We were greeted warmly and given a choice of places to sit. We began with the tortellini in brodo and a tomato salad. The soup was what a Jewish grandmother promises but never delivers. The broth was rich, comforting, and salty. The ripe tomatoes were a showcase for the delicious olive oil. My husband had the bistecca alla Florentina and said that it was probably the best steak he had ever eaten (and he has eaten a lot – too much – steak in his 59 years). It was perfectly seasoned, cooked, and very juicy. He was supposed to share it with me but after tasting it, reneged and only allowed me one bite. I had the famous butter chicken. It was delicious but paled in comparison to the bistecca. It tasted like grilled chicken smothered in butter. I love butter but still wish I ordered the bistecca. Dessert was a satisfyingly mushy dulce de leche type cake that our waiter said he made with his own “little hands.” Reserve now!
We went to the marvelous Mercato di San Lorenzo on Thursday morning. A must is the incredible balsamic vinegar emporium, Conti. We came home with 30 year old balsamic vinegar (to celebrate our 30 years together) and truffle salt. I wish we had bought more! We couldn’t decide on Nerbone versus Porks for lunch so my husband took the latter and I the former. Nerbone is quite the scene. Line up near the cash register to pay for your sandwich. I order the bolito (boiled beef) with both the salsa verde and the spicy red sauce. The beef is hand sliced and put onto your soft roll and then dipped in beef juices. It is awesome. Whereas Nerbone was wild, Porks was tame. The porcetta made with roast pork was very tasty and less drippy than the sandwich from Nerbone. We stopped for gelato at Vestri in Santa Croce in the afternoon. It is hard to pick a gelato flavor with all the gorgeous chocolates there to distract you. Again, my husband adored the chocolate gelato. I had the Bronte pistachio and it was also great. We had dinner at Al Tranvai (San Frediano) that was in a charming spot across from a lovely square. Much less frenetic than the other restaurants in Florence, it was a peaceful, relaxing meal. I had the pappa al pomodoro that was delicious and my husband had the mushroom tortellini that was also very good. We didn’t have the guts to try the fried rabbit so we opted for the vegetarian artichoke sformato and a side of the fried zucchini. The zucchini was sublime the sformato was fine but nothing special – proving no guts no glory. The chestnut pudding was also delicious. This is the one place that I suggest skipping the house wine that is on the tables in straw jugs. It was a lower quality than the house wine at other restaurants. Most of the locals (we were the only tourists there) were ordering bottles.
Friday we walked down the hill from Piazzale Michaelangelo and had a late lunch at Zeb (San Niccolo). The restaurant is an elegant modern gem. We sat at the counter and learned what the chef was cooking that day. We wanted to eat light so we ordered a first course and two sides of the gorgeous sautéed and roasted vegetables. I ordered the pumpkin ravioli with fresh grated cheese. My husband had a tagliatelle al Ragu. Both were delicious and managed to be both light and rich at the same time. The vegetables, especially the broccoli rabe, were a wonderful accompaniment. We wish we could have eaten the amazing looking fresh napoleon that was the only dessert selection, but we needed to save room for dinner. I took the recommended Tuscan white wine and it was the most delicious wine I had the entire trip. The meal was very reasonably priced.
Friday dinner was at Casalinga. We had a reservation and thus bypassed the throng of people waiting on line. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Service was friendly and efficient but we did not feel rushed. I had an artichoke starter that was like a carpaccio with an accompanying slaw that was marvelous. My husband continued his caprese comparison tests and pronounced it excellent. For our second course I had a veal chop and my husband had a pork chop. Mine came with a gravy that you might expect from your Midwestern grandmother. Both were competent but without the savory seasoning/marinades we had in other places. We skipped dessert to stop for gelato on the way to the hotel. Our feeling was that although it was very pleasant and incredibly affordable, Casalinga did not achieve the culinary heights of our other choices. We had gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita. This was our favorite gelateria and we returned several times (My husband decided that one could not eat too much gelato). The couches in the seating area offer a nice option for resting weary feet.
Our last night we were at Cipolla Rossa. This is a beautiful trattoria right near the Duomo. We planned to follow Elizabeth Minchilli’s recommendations and share the ricotta mousse and the spaghetti in red wine sauce and then each have our own main course. The mousse was splendid but the spaghetti caused a major problem. It was so unusual and amazing with just the perfect spicy blood-red winey sauce that neither of us was willing to share. We called over the waitress and immediately ordered another. She told us that it was not a problem and that it happens all the time! I still dream about that spaghetti. For our mains, I had the bistecca and my husband had the pork chop. My bistecca was very good but did not reach the sublime level of the one at Sostanza. My husband’s pork chop (which did not have the marinated onions because they were out of season) was excellent. The atmosphere, service, and food were memorable and a perfect way to conclude our 30th anniversary trip to Florence.
Good eating Chowhounders!