[Florence: Part 2 of a Trip Report on our 25th Anniversary trip to Italy.] We left Venice by train mid-morning and arrived in Florence at about 12:30pm. The Eurostar trains were excellent (we also travelled by train from Florence to Rome later in our trip): the first class cars were comfortable, with plenty of luggage space, and the journeys were smooth, rapid, and on time – fortunately, no strikes on the days we travelled by rail! We’d planned on eating our first lunch in Florence at Osteria delle Belle Donne (on Via delle Belle Donne), just up the road from our hotel. We were, however, eager to walk around Florence to get our bearings and to get a feel for the historic center. After an hour or so of strolling, we directed ourselves to ‘ino Bottega di Alimentari e Vini (Via dei Georgofili 3-7r). It’s in a far from scenic, out-of-the way spot behind the Uffizi but absolutely worth a visit. We each selected one of the many panini listed on a chalkboard – Salame Rosa e Crema di Parmigiano for my wife and Bresaola, Parmigiano, e Pomodoro for me. I’ve never eaten a better panino – very fresh crusty bread and excellent salumi. Each sandwich cost 8 Euros and came with a glass of house wine. It’s a perfect spot following a visit to the Uffizi, especially as the outstanding Gelateria Carapina (Via Lambertesca 18r) is just around the corner!
I discovered this happy coincidence when I opened my Eat Florence app while at ‘ino. We benefited from Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eat Florence and Eat Rome apps while in Italy as much as we did on Ms. Minchilli’s Chowhound postings before departing. If you love food and are planning a visit to Florence and/or Rome, download these apps ASAP. Now back to Carapina . . . and I wish I could go back this very moment! We went for the medium serving at 3 Euros each. My wife chose the hazelnut and pistacchio. They were both excellent but the pistacchio was certainly a standout, with an intense, fresh nut flavor. (Best pistacchio gelato we had in Italy.) I went the fruit route, with pear and plum, and was rewarded with super fresh flavors and bits of real fruit. We had intended to go back the next day after our tour of the Uffizi but our guide convinced us that we should try Perche’ No! (Via dei Tavolini 19r). Though their gelato was certainly good (artisanal production and all natural ingredients), Carapini was absolutely, in our opinion, a notch or two above. (I forgot to note down the flavors we chose at Perche’ No! but do know that one of mine was pistacchio, and it didn’t come close to that of Carapini the day before). To round out our gelato experience in Florence, we visited Vestri on our last full day in Florence. It lived up to its reputation of being a chocolate lovers paradise. In addition to a box of mixed homemade chocolates that we are still slowly nibbling away at to preserve a bit of our delicious Italian adventure, we each ordered a 2 Euro cup of gelato. My wife, a real chocoholic, chose two different very dark chocolates. I went with hazelnut and a chocolate with Sicilian orange. All excellent.
For our first dinner in Florence, we had reserved for 8:30pm at Il Santo Bevitore (Via Santo Spirito 64-66r) in the Oltrarno district. As noted by Ms. Minchilli, it has a laid back and casual atmosphere, and seemed to cater best to a younger professional crowd. Nothing casual about the kitchen’s approach to food: top quality fresh ingredients, with a nod to Tuscan traditional foods, prepared perfectly. The restaurant started us with a complimentary antipasto of Pappa al Pomodoro – the hearty tomato and bread soup. For primi, my wife followed with an eggplant gnocchetti over burratta with anchovies, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil; I chose the risotto with red beets, tete de moine cheese, and a dusting of licorice powder. Both were very enjoyable. The risotto dish had seemed to be an unusual mix of ingredients but, as I happen to love beets, I ordered it nonetheless and found the ingredients to come together very nicely indeed. Instead of a secondo, my wife followed a lighter path with a salad of mixed greens with pecorino cheese and walnuts. I enjoyed a very flavorful roasted leg of lamb with fennel flowers and roasted onions, wiping my plate clean with a crusty piece of unsalted Tuscan bread. With four glasses of white wine and two of red (and the obligatory bottle of mineral water), the meal came to 85 Euros. (Il Santo Bevitore has a quite large and interesting wine list, with a good number offered by the glass.)
Sunday morning we visited the Accademia and the Uffizi, after which we were too footsore and tired to spend much time exploring for an outstanding lunch spot. (I’d planned on ‘ino for this lunch but had gone, instead, the day before.) Accordingly, we went with the recommendation of our guide to stop at the nearby Trattoria Gabriello (Via Condotta 54r), just off the Piazza della Signoria. It was a fairly small, quaint, quiet and unassuming place. Rather incongruously, they piped in classic 70s rock over the sound system; fortunately, I happen to like Foreigner! The food was reasonable. We shared an Insalata Caprese to start. My wife followed with a mixed salad (finocchiona, various greens, wedges of hard-boiled egg, pine nuts, etc.) with the imposing name of Insaladone de Medici. I tried the Ribollita alla Toscana – a hearty, country-style soup of fagioli, seasonal vegetables, olive oil, garlic, and day-old bread. Again, not a foodie destination but certainly a satisfying meal. With a half liter of mineral water and three glasses of the house white, the bill came to 50 Euros. (Seemed to be priced according to its proximity to the main tourist venues, but there were at least as many Italians in the place as tourists.)
That Sunday evening, we ate dinner at a place I would say should certainly be on traveling foodies’ lists: Osteria Cipolla Rossa (Via dei Conti 53r). Although in the midst of the tourist bustle (near the Church of San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapels), the restaurant itself provided a fairly quiet and casual respite. When you book, make sure to ask for a table in the front room. We hadn’t and when we arrived at 8:00pm, were led to the almost empty back room, to a table by the bathrooms and next to fellow tourists, and with music playing too loudly from the sound system. Not an auspicious start. When, however, I asked if we could be moved to the much more pleasant and atmospheric front room, the waiter very courteously informed me that he would be happy to do so but we’d have to wait 15 minutes or so for a table to open up. We sipped on a glass of Prosecco while we waited and, a few minutes before the allotted 15, our waiter showed us to a lovely table up front. Service all evening was top class. The food exceeded the quality of the service. We looked over the menu and made our choices. At that point, I remembered reading about Ms. Minchilli’s visit to the restaurant and her having particularly enjoyed a dish of pasta cooked in red wine. I hadn’t seen it on the regular menu so asked our waiter if there was a list of daily specials. There was, of course, and the Spaghetti alla Ubbriacella (it was spelled something close to that) was on that list. I started with that and it was as tasty as Ms. Minchiili had noted. (After this meal, I asked for the list of daily special wherever we went – don’t know why I hadn’t done so earlier – and certainly benefited by doing so.) My wife had an equally delicious pasta dish. We then split a 1 kg Bistecca alla Fiorentina as our secondo. We had planned on having our bistecca experience at Trattoria I Due G two nights later but couldn’t resist, and am very happy with our lack of will power. The steak was seasoned and cooked perfectly – we didn’t ask, they brought it to us between rare and medium rare. It was presented very nicely: cut from the bone and sliced, but left in place. We enjoyed it thoroughly, with a contorno of sautéed spinach. The steak paired well with a bottle of Bolgheri (an interesting red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah at 30 Euros). When the 71 Euro bill (including wine) arrived, uncharacteristically for me, I didn’t pay much attention to it (probably the soporific effect of ½ kg of beef in my belly) and simply handed them my credit card. After I’d signed the credit card receipt, the waiter came back and apologetically explained that he’d forgotten to include the bistecca, at 48 Euros, on our check. When I looked, he was absolutely correct. The waiter asked us to allow him to cancel the previous charge and to put in a new charge of 100 Euros, discounting the cost of the meal by 19 Euros because of his error. I insisted on paying the full 119 Euros; it was the right thing to do for service and food of that quality. After Antiche Carampane in Venice, it was our second or third favorite meal of the trip (vying with L’Arcangelo in Rome).
A quick note on breakfasts. Although most days of the trip we started our day with the breakfast buffets at our hotels, on a few days we ventured out to a Cafe/Bar to try the traditional Italian breakfast of a caffe and cornetto. The one truly memorable such spot, and the only one we went to twice, was Gilli in the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. Their cappuccino was delicious and their pastries divine. On our first visit, we made the mistake, though with a delightful setting, of enjoying our coffee and pastry at one of their tables. Two cappuccinos and two pastries: 21 Euros! When we returned two mornings later, we ordered the same but “al bar” (standing at the lovely bar counter) inside at a cost of 5.60 Euros! Lesson learned.
We spent Monday touring part of the Chianti wine region. (We particularly enjoyed the Chianti Classicos at the small Monte Bernardi winery in Panzano.) The tour included lunch at Osteria La Scuderia in Badia a Passignano. The food was very good – a sorpressata with onions antipasto, two small servings of pasta (spaghetti with a simple but very fresh tomato sauce and ricotta-filled ravioli with a creamy sausage sauce) as primi, and then quail cooked (a little overcooked, actually) with grapes and accompanied by a contorno of grilled zucchini, eggplant and red peppers. The beautiful outside setting and view, however, stole the show: a long slope covered with grape vines from one of the Antinori vineyards in the foreground and the rolling hills of Tuscany in the background. No idea what the meal cost as it was included in the cost of the tour.
After out larger than usual lunch, we’d planned to eat a lighter meal near our hotel. Obika Mozzarella Bar (Via dei Tornabuoni 16) seemed to fit the bill. We started with a glass each of a bright and refreshing Tuscan rosato (50% Sangiovese and 50% Syrah). We then shared their tasting of three Mozzarella di Buffala (especially enjoyed the smoked version) and selection of salumi, while enjoying a decent bottle of Greco di Tufo (at 23 Euros). A different salad for each of us rounded out the meal, for a total cost of 85 Euros. A very enjoyable, lighter meal in a beautiful space with a bit more of a modern feel to it (we sat in their lovely courtyard).
On Tuesday, after exploring the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and climbing to the top of the Duomo itself (both highly recommended), we wandered through the Mercato Centrale. For anyone interested in food, the Mercato is a mandatory destination. We got a fascinating tour of and education in Tuscan food by carefully observing the meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, cheese, salumi and many other stalls that line this interior, covered market. Now I know what tripe looks like before it’s turned into Trippa alla Fiorentina. I also now know what trippa tastes like as my wife and I decided to eat lunch at Nerbone inside the market. My wife found two spaces for us at the crowded communal tables next to Nerbone’s counter. I lined up and waited patiently for my turn to place an order – it’s obviously a spot very popular with locals and tourists alike. I ordered a mixed salad and a carafe of the “house” red for us to share. I also ordered a plate of arista (traditional Tuscan roast pork loin) for me and a plate of the trippa for my wife (at her request!). I noticed that quite a few people ordered both these items as sandwiches. The arista proved to be rich and succulent; I can see how it would make an outrageously tasty sandwich with the pan juices ladled on top. The trippa, never having tried it before, was an interesting experience. It was without doubt very tasty and flavorful . . . but we just couldn’t take to the unusual texture (obviously our problem, not the food’s). All in all a fun food experience and a very enjoyable lunch at 22.50 Euros.
Tuesday night’s dinner plan was Trattoria I Due G (Via Bernardo Cennini 6r). This was one of the spots I’d looked forward to visiting most for their traditional Tuscan fare, including Bistecca alla Fiorentina, of course. We ordered two glasses of the house white with our antipasto of Crostini ai Fegatini (small toasted bread rounds with liver pate). For primi, we ordered the Pappardelle al Cinghiale and the Taglierini ai Funghi Porcini. All very good thus far, though one of the pasta dishes was a bit over salted for our taste. We ordered a bistecca to split – and a contorno of fagioli – and a bottle of Nobile di Montepulciano (25 Euros) to enjoy with it. We certainly did enjoy the wine . . . but the bistecca, not so much. The heavy hand with the salt on the pasta dish was even heavier on the bistecca. The bistecca we had also wasn’t particularly tender and was cooked unevenly, with some pieces veering on medium. The bistecca we shared at Cipolla Rosa two nights earlier was far more enjoyable – a better piece of meat, seasoned better, and cooked perfectly and uniformly. (Although we did walk out to Due G, located just off the train station, Cipolla Rosa is also located closer to the central historic district of Florence.) This steak was one of very few disappointments we experienced during our entire trip, for which I count my blessings and thank all of the Chowhound Florence posters. It wasn’t inedible, merely far less quality of a dish than we’d expected. We’ll chalk it up to one poor night. My wife and I ended the evening with a glass of Vin Santo and biscuit to dip, with the meal coming to a total of 111.50 Euros.
Wednesday morning we left by train for Rome. Though our first meal that day was on the rooftop terrace of our hotel there, looking out over the Piazza del Popolo and up at the Borghese Gardens, the meal was entirely Florentine. Early that morning, we had returned to the Mercato Centrale to pick up items for a picnic, originally planned for the train ride. For about 35 Euros, we noshed on salumi and cheese pannini made fresh for us, a selection of olives, nuts, dried fruit, fresh pears and apricots, and a slice of a seasonal grape cake – actually, it was more of a sweetish, thick flatbread with the grapes cooked into it. Delicious! All washed down with two bottles of mineral water and a half bottle of Chianti Classico. (11 of the 35 Euros were for the wine, and five were for the corkscrew I had to purchase to open it!)
The last part of our Trip Report, on Rome, will follow shortly.
Calle de la Carampane, 1911,San Polo, Venice, Veneto 30125, IT
Il Santo Bevitore
Via Santa Spirito 64r, Florence, Tuscany 50125, IT
Borgo degli Albizi, 11, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Via dell'Ariento, 87r, Florence, Tuscany 50100, IT
Obika Mozzarella Bar
Via dei Prefetti, 26, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT
Via Lambertesca, 18, 50122, Florence, Toscana 50122, IT
Via de' Conti,53, Florence, Toscana 50123, IT