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Trip Report - Florence - Sept 2003 (very long)

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Restaurants & Bars 29

Trip Report - Florence - Sept 2003 (very long)

GretchenS | Nov 13, 2003 01:09 PM

Will start with an executive summary for those in a rush, then go to expanded notes and finish with some random thoughts. Lots of good food in Florence! Thanks to all whose recommendations led us to it!

1. Executive Summary

Il Ritrovo – very good food, nicely decorated (understated) room, good service. Highly recommended.

Paoli – very good food, good service, centrally located. Recommended.

Cibreo – very good food, limited menu, beautiful room, good service. Recommended.

Taverna del Bronzino – divine food (my favorite in Florence), beautiful rooms, excellent service. Highly recommended.

Trattoria Marione – good food, good value, crowded, hot, and undistinguished room, good if rushed service. Semi-recommended.

Buca Lapi – excellent food, nice but funky room, good service. Recommended.

Trattoria al Mangia (Sienna) – very good food, gorgeous view of Piazza del Campo from outside tables, good service. Recommended if in Sienna.

2. Expanded Dining Notes

We rented an apartment in Florence, which meant that mostly we ate out at lunch and made dinner “at home”, allowing us to shop in the local markets, about which more in the Random Thoughts section.

Il Ritrovo, via de’ Pucci 4/A, tel 055.281688. First lunch in Florence, based on (well-deserved) rave reviews from other Hounds. Two short blocks from the Duomo. Very nice understated décor in a medium-sized room. About half the tables were full, all Italians except for us. Menu in Italian with English translations. Very friendly and nice service – the waitress spoke little English so she sent the chef (who does speak English) out to answer any questions we might have and to take our order. We started by sharing the Verdure di Sapori antipasto which was a lovely vegetable assortment including wonderful stuffed mushrooms, sliced beets, eggplant in tomato sauce and more – four small plates in all. Then two of us had the tagliata – sliced rare grilled steak on a bed of rocket with shavings of parmaggiano – excellent! This was the first (but not last) time we noticed that the beef has so much more flavor than ours does – we decided due most likely to a more varied diet and no factory farming. The third had a delicious veal scallopini with white wine sauce which came with oven-roasted potatoes with rosemary. We also shared the fagioli all’uccelletto – white beans in tomato sauce and rosemary –excellent too. With a wonderful vino nobile de montepulciano, one large and one small mineral water and two espressos, total came to 99 euros (33 pp).

Paoli, via dei Tavolini 12r, tel 055.216215. Near Orsanmichele. Open and crowded with Italians for Sunday lunch. Pretty if somewhat clichéd room with vaulted ceilings, frescoes and tiled floor. Menu in Italian but waiter spoke good English to answer our questions. I had a really excellent filletto al tartufo – steak swimming in truffle butter with shavings of truffles over the top, which came with a side of the butteriest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. My mother had veal scallopini in a white wine sauce with asparagus and truffles. My father had grilled lamb chops with amazing homemade french fries. Everything was very good although mine was the best (IMHO). We also shared a side of very good spinach. With a large carafe of house red wine, large mineral water and two espressos it came to 60 euros (20 pp). We noted that both the antipasto trolley and the dessert trolley were very good-looking.

Ristorante Cibreo, via A. Del Verrochio, 8r, tel 055.2341100. (Trattoria Cibreo is just around the corner at via de’ Macci, 122r.) Cibreo is quite a walk, and not a particularly attractive one, out of the historical center out the via Pietrapiana – if you’ve already walked a lot that day you might want to take a cab. The restaurant takes reservations but the trattoria does not. They share a kitchen and seem to have similar menus. We ate at the restaurant and it was truly an experience we would not have wanted to miss! There is no menu here – instead, a member of the staff sits down at your table and discusses what’s available while you enjoy a welcoming glass of delicious white wine. We ended up ordering one first and three mains but before any of that arrived, we were served an amazing variety of little starters (free although obviously accounted for in the price of the meal). These included tiny liver crostini, tiny bites of herb and cheese flan, prosciutto, a lovely spicy tomato aspic, tiny bits of trifle with herbs and olive oil, morsels of warmed robbiola cheese and delicious homemade potato rolls. Then came the potato-ricotto flan first, much enjoyed by all, which had a rich cheese flavor and was both creamy and light. Delicious pesto and pine nuts on the side so you could vary the taste of each bite. The best main course was the oddest sounding: the stuffed chicken neck. It was basically a very fine terrine (chicken and maybe veal?) stuffed inside the skin of a chicken neck and sliced, served with garlic mayonnaise. The other (which 2 of us had) was described as room-temperature meatloaf and was a very finely textured terrine or mousseline, probably mostly veal, with pistachios and served with homemade mayonnaise. Three sides arrived for us to share: cannelloni beans in olive oil and rosemary, tiny green beans with caramelized red onions and tomatoes, and “stewed potatoes” with lots of good flavorings. We only ordered one dessert – the flourless chocolate cake – but were given a second complementary one – the house cheesecake with bitter orange marmalade. Both delicious even for this non-dessert eater. Fabulous, warm, unfussy service throughout from 5 different staff members. Total with a bottle of good red (notes don’t say what), 2 large mineral waters and 3 espressos: 168 euros (56 pp).

Taverna del Bronzino, via delle Ruote, 27r (corner of via San Zanobi), tel 055.495220 (closed Sundays). A bit out of the main tourist area but only 4 or 5 blocks walk NW of Galleria dell’Accademia. My favorite meal in Florence and one of my top two of the trip (the other being Orso 80 in Rome). Two beautiful rooms with whitewashed walls and vaulted ceilings, half full at lunch, with (as far as we could tell) all Italians. Both our waiters spoke good English and were really delightful, giving us lots of help and advice with the menu. We each had the quail starter and it was great: a boned quail on a plate with a few slices of tiny potato, a few fat asparagus, some tiny green beans, a baby leek – everything fresh, delicious, perfectly seasoned and cooked, with just the barest drizzle of wonderful olive oil. “Heaven on a plate” as my mother said. Then my father had the duck breast – the best I’ve ever tasted – and my mother had a timbale of pasta with several kinds of mushrooms, cream and cheese, topped with julienned vegetables and surrounded by what seemed an intense, velvety reduction of pureed mushrooms – absolutely delicious. I ordered less successfully, having the porcini risotto, which was delicious but not really in a different league from what I can make at home as the other two entrees certainly were. With a bottle of wine, one water and 3 espressos, 150 euros (50 pp). Cannot recommend this place highly enough.

Trattoria Marione, via della Spada (a block or so west of via Tornabuoni). A crowded, noisy place with an equal number of locals and tourists. Nothing gracious about the place but the food was very good and the service, although extremely rushed, was very pleasant. I had pasta with possibly the best meat sauce I’ve ever had. My mother had the crespelle alla fiorentina (basically crepes with spinach and cheese), which were delicious. My father had a superb grilled veal chop. The green salad was fine though unspectacular. OK house red wine, full mineral water. Total: 30 euros (10 pp).

Buca Lapi, via del Trebbio (corner of via Tornabuoni), tel 055.213768. Our one dinner out. Arrived at 7:15 without reservations and were told we could have a table but they needed it back by 9:15. Place filled up rapidly with a few tourists and lots of Italians. Barrel-vaulted ceilings and walls covered with travel and movie posters could have been tacky but somehow were not. Menus available in Italian or English. We shared two firsts: crostini with sausage and ricotta and fagiolini with ventresca di tonno (beans with tuna belly which melted in the mouth), both excellent. Then two of us had an excellent bistecca alla fiorentina and the other had cannelloni firoentina and we shared a really excellent side of spinach with olive oil and garlic. Service was excellent despite how busy it was. With a lovely vino nobile di montepulciano, large water and 2 espressos, 130 euros (43 pp). On the way out we were mesmerized watching dinners being prepared through the glass walls of the kitchen: sort of a choreographed chaos, very impressive.

Trattoria al Mangia, Piazza del Campo (directly behind the fountain), Sienna. Unlike most places with a spectacular view, this one had really good food! One roasted rabbit with simply divine artichoke stuffing and a tiny carrot soufflé. One wonderful veal steak blanketed with creamy cheese and accompanied by delicious fat asparagus and souffleed potatoes. One fabulous tagliata di manzo (sliced, grilled steak) drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs and green peppercorns, with a timballo of radicchio. Lovely vino nobile di montepulciano, 2 bottles of mineral water, 2 espressos. 120 euros (40 pp).

3. Random Thoughts

As noted above, we rented an apartment, something I highly recommend. I’ve done it a number of times in both Italy and France and it has always worked out well. You are then able to shop in the gorgeous local markets and cook that beautiful food, to say nothing of how relaxing it is to kick your shoes off at the end of the day and eat and drink at your own pace and without formality. Also, eating lunch out means you can always get a table even at the best places (although it’s a good idea to reserve for Sunday lunch).

Although we went to the Central Market (Mercato Centrale) the first morning and one other time to do our shopping, we actually found that less than 50% of what we got there was really satisfactory and were happier shopping other places (the one exception being the one fresh pasta stand in the mercato, which had very good pasta). We really lucked out in that we were there the right weekend to go to the organic farmers market in Piazza Santo Spirito, which is held the 3rd Sunday each month. There we stocked up on really fabulous produce and gorgeous artisanal cheeses, as well as buying lots of presents (hand-made olive wood bowls and cutting boards, beautiful wooden toys, homemade pasta sauces, and so on.) Also, each neighborhood has a small corner store called a pizzecheria – ours on via della Spada had really great prosciutto di parma and some yummy prepared antipasti such as grilled zucchini and eggplant, marinated artichoke hearts and so on, as well as milk, coffee, olive oil, bread, juice and a few other staples. I ducked into a couple of similar stores as I walked around and they seemed to have much the same things – don’t know if the quality of prosciutto and antipasti in ours was the norm or above average. What I do know is that the second time I went into our pizzecheria they knew me and the third time they greeted me warmly. I also found that the cured meats (different prosciuttos, salamis and bacons) at Pegna on via dello Studio near the Duomo were superior to those we got from the Mercato Centrale. After shopping around I decided that the best produce (other than the farmers market) came from a small produce store on via Cerchi in the block south of via del Corso, next to the big FORNO sign (that place, by the way, had bad, fluffy bread).

There is a trick to buying produce, I discovered. The shops in the central area seem to cater to tourists by having some really “pretty” stuff, as well as the local, often organic stuff which is not necessarily cosmetically appealing but has loads of flavor. I found that I did best by asking what’s the best (“il migliore”) or what’s local (“nostrale”) – they’d hold it up to see if I really wanted it – one tine the tiniest baby lettuces I’d ever seen, with mud clinging to their roots – and seemed happy when I took it. They never steered me wrong when I went this route. And that muddy baby lettuce, washed and spun, was the best lettuce we ever tasted! The other thing about buying produce is that you’re not allowed to pick it out yourself, you just have to tell them what you want and they pick it out – but they do so carefully and I was never given anything bruised or bad.

Non-food random thoughts:

Tipping. Our very nice waiter at Taverna del Bronzino told us that service is included every single time you eat out in Italy. He warned us that we might be told on occasion that is not, but that would only be by someone who wanted to rip us off for an additional tip. He said that at times people will leave a little extra even though service is included but that it is not necessary. We usually left a little extra but noticed that Italians often did not.

Florence has brutal tiger mosquitoes that do not seem to be discouraged by North American deet-containing spray-on mosquito repellent. They do respond well to a little contraption you can buy at casalinghi or hardware store, called a Vape portatile, which is sort of a battery-operated diffuser of tiger mosquito-specific repellant. Very efficacious, as the packaging boasts.

Sienna is a wonderful day trip out of Florence and actually merits a few days of its own.

Buying tickets ahead of time for the Uffizzi and the Galleria dell’Accademia is essential. Go to www.tickitaly.com.

The Rough Guide map was a wonderful investment, much better than the other two maps we had along.

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