Florence was filled with stellar restaurants that fit nicely into our budget. Most of our meals hovered around 25 euros per person (not including wine). There is also the treasure known as the San Lorenzo market in Piazza Mercato Central that I will talk about later.
Our first meal on our first night in Florence. They have a wide selection of prix fixe menus ranging from 15 euros to 19 euros. You can also order ala carte. We actually ate here twice. The second night being less successful than the first. Overall, I would say that this was a solid restaurant with very nice décor.
Since it was our first night in Florence, I had to try the ribollita. Im not sure how good Il Cavallinos verson was but the it was good. The thick vegetable soup was more akin to oatmeal in consistency. It was a little tangy which I assume was due to the bread and the soup also contained a hint of red pepper. Gnocchi with truffle cream sauce was killer. The gnocchi was a little on the dense side, but that truffle cream sauce was good enough to make your lips quiver. At 6.50 euros, it was a steal in my opinion. The then had the osso-bucco with risotto which was also good but not spectacular.
On the repeat visit I had a very delicious minestrone soup and an okay porcini with tagliatelle.
Its very desceptive and you can walk by the place without noticing it. However, I had an excellent peene ai porcini for an unbelievable 5 euros. The penne was perfectly cooked, dressed in olive oil, and a mix of large dried porcini and fresh small porcini. Hmmm. I then had a mixed grill which were two skewers of rabbit, pork loin, Italian sausage, and chicken. All 4 were flavorful, juicy, and succulent. Again, a very affordable 8 euros. My friends frito misto was less successful. It was mostly calamari and 2 shrimps. The calamari was good, but not as good as the fried calamari he ordered at Le Maschere in Rome.
The thing to order here is the steak. Though I started with a very decent cannaloni with a most flavorful meat filling, the Florentine steak rocked my world. I would, and I know this is blasphemy, put it on par with Lugers. If I had to pick between Lugers and the Florentine steak here, I might actually go with Le Mossacce. This comes from a most ardent fan of Lugers mind you.
Anyways, they charged us 2.60 euros per 100g and the menu stated minimum of 500g. We were served a huge slab of the most gorgeous looking ribeye steak I had ever seen. It was medium rare, tender, and the flavor left my friends and I speechless. Maybe someone can enlighten me on how they were able to make the gorgeous flavor penetrate the entire thickness of the steak when supposedly all they use is salt, pepper, and olive oil. Maybe it was the the tuscan olive oil but my world was turned upside down on the first bite. Since I use Lugers as the standard, and since most steaks fall beneath that standard, I was unprepared for something that might actually have surpassed the measure by which all steaks should be measured. Its a good thing I have reservations at Lugers in 3 weeks so I can go straighten this aspect of my life out.
Right next door to supposedly the best gelato joint in town, we decided to try Trattoria Pallotino after initial survey of the menu peaked my interest. I had a pasta craving that night and did a very taboo thing by ordering 3 pasta dishes. I couldnt help myself. The choices were all so good and if I had to do it again, I would order 3 more. My order was received by a couple of confused looks and an amused smile by the female chef, but they were all very friendly about it.
My first dish was risotto with artichokes. The artichokes were a little on the tough side, but the risotto ranked amongst the best Ive had. Every grain of rice was cooked through and the creamy goodness of whatever cheese they used left me fending my friends off with my fork after I foolishly offered them a taste.
The second dish was Ragatoni Pallatino which was the rigatoni (a touch undercooked) served with a cream sauce of pancetta and onions. Another excellent dish. I soon began to understand why the staff looked a little amused at the order. The portions were enormous. One dish alone could fell a person with a normal appetite. I began to have doubts on whether I had enough gluttonous resolve to finish my third pasta dish something labeled stinche on the menu.
A third, enormous helping of pasta was placed before me. Bowtie pasta with zucchini, tomatoes, and that treasured scent of truffles all bound together by a heavenly cream sauce. I tore through the dish with renewed vigor and when I finally surfaced to breathe, I realized that there were at least 3 other pasta dishes on that menu that I had wanted to try. I dont think one could ever go wrong with a pasta dish at Trattoria Pallotino. Id bet a gelato on it.
The Treasure Known as San Lorenzo Market
On the day of our departure, we decided to swing by the San Lorenzo Market to pick up some gifts and to try out a little stand we had noticed a day earlier.
The placed reeked of legitimacy. Old Italian men sat around devouring mouth-watering bowls of stew and plates of pasta. I was like a kid in a candy store. Turning left, right, then left to see what people were eating. Then I saw it. People waiting in line at the far end of stand for a sandwich. The lady behind the counter dipped a fork into a caldron of broth and brought out a heart-stopping piece of brisket. I watched mesmerized as she carved and made sandwiches with that hunk of heaven.
I ordered the pasta with ragu, and pointed frantically at the sandwiches being made and tried to communicate in what tattered Italian I had picked up in the past week to let the guy at the cashier know that I wanted whatever that lady at the end of the stand was making. I think I heard him say pannino bollito? I bobbed my head feverishlyhoping that I was actually ordering the right thing. I paid and walked over with my ticket stub to claim my prize. The lady once again dipped her fork into the vat of beautiful brown broth and brought forth that treasured brisket. She filleted the bread she had by her side and said something in Italian. I must have had a blank look on my face because she decided to go the charades bit and move her hand as if dipping the bread into that vat of brown goodness. I smiled and nodded. She pointed to what looked like hot pepper paste. I nodded.
I took the sandwich and my bowl of pasta to a nearby table. I inhaled the pasta which was excellent tortellini with a very flavorful meat sauce. I then took out that sandwich and took a bite. Heaven. The bread had a wonderful crust but it was nice and soft on the inside. The bottom portion of the bread was the portion dipped in the juices and that was all good. The meat was rich and flavorful and I couldnt tell if it was the red pepper paste or that meat that exuded a hint of garlic. When I finished my sandwich, I knew I only had room for either another sandwich or for that nice beef with potato stew I had seen people order earlier. After much soul searching, I went with the beef stew which was also heaven in its own right. The tortellini was 2.60 euros, the sandwich was 2.10 euros, and the stew was 5.10 euros. Oh how I wished I had stumbled on this place on our first day in Florence. Even now, it breaks my heart to think how many lunches I could have had at that market, on how many brisket sandwiches I could have consumed in the 4 days I was in Florence. I write this in the hopes that people visiting Florence in the future will not make the same mistake I did. Its really a shame that none of the guide books mention this place but then again, I guess this is what this site is for.