Our first dinner in Florence last week, we had reserved a table at Il Guscio, Via dell' Orto, 49 in the Oltrano near the Carmine piazza. This place, open for dinner only, was recommended to us by a contact living in the city and it is written about by Maureen Fant in her excellent book, Trattorias of Rome, Florence and Venice. Il Guscio has two rooms and they were both filled during the hours we dined here. Nice decor, pale yellow walls, white tablecloths, friendly and unpretentious service.
Here is what we had during our first dinner there:
Primi: Ricotta-filled ravioli with a rich sauce made from guinea hen (faraone) with balsamic vineger; Maltagliati (hand-made and hand-torn pasta) with sauce of shrimp and fior di zucchini. Both were wonderful.
Secondi: Lombatina di vitello and tiny lamb chops, both fried with olive oil and rosemary and just enoough salt. Served with amazing roast potatoes. Both these meat dishes were simply prepared from high-quality ingredients and both were utterly delectable.
There is a lengthy wine list, with Italian and French selections at what appeared to be reasonable prices. Our meal, with house wine and water, cost 60 Euro. Very good value and excellent food. You need to reserve here, as we saw several people turned away without reservations and this was on a Tuesday night in January. Phone: 055-224-421.
The next night we had hoped to try Diladdarno, which had been enthusiastically written about by a fellow hound. We made the trek to Via dei Serragli, 108r, also in the Oltrarno, with high hopes of a great meal. Arrived at the address to find the steel shutter pulled down and a hand-lettered sign stating that the restaurant would be closed until March!! My partner, who does not share my enthusiasm for scoping out each and every promising lead, was getting cranky by this time so we took a chance and walked over to Il Guscio again. At 7:30pm opening time we were lucky to get a table, with the proviso that we would give it up by 9pm. No problem. This meal began with a plate of one of two house special antipasti (the other is a seafood assortment): a mound of vegetable mousse, a packet of robiola in filo dough, and a sopressata-spiked vegetable puree flavored with orange rind. All but the last were terrific. Then, a repeat of the previous day's primi, (ravioli and maltagliati, this time with a shrimp and artichoke sauce) they were that good! Main course #1 was peposo, a Florentine version of beef stew that was braised in wine for a very long time, I think they told us 5 hours. Great, deep flavor with lashings of pepperoncini. I had the filet of beef wrapped in a sheet of lard and braised; served with delicious onion mousse and those roast potatoes. Great quality meat but not an overall interesting dish. Next time I would order one of the several seafood secondi; Il Guscio actually specializes in fish and shellfish, unusual in Florence, but my partner and fellow taster is not a fish fan. With house wine, again, and water, this dinner cost 65 Euro including 2 E. cover.
I give a big thumbs up to this place; packed with locals, great food and great value for the price.
Two more food notes on Florence: Dried porcinis were an excellent buy; I paid 8 Euro for a 100-gram bag of whole mushrooms at the central market. If you are taking a train or plane trip, the central market is a good place to buy a meal packed to go; the vendors there have cooked food, salads, meats, cheeses, etc etc and will prepared sandwiches or platters to take with you. We were bound for Bologna so passed on this option this time, wanting to get in as many meals as possible in what we had heard was the eating capital of Italy. (Bologna food notes to follow soon.)