Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up?
We arrived in Florence after the beautiful train trip from Venice. The scenery was to die for. We dined that night at Trattoria Pallottino, which was within walking distance of our hotel, kind of in the backstreets of the area. I didn’t really care for the feel of this area: sort of dirty, cramped, and just
nothing nice to look at. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get back to the hotel afterwards because there was a big concert and many streets were blocked off unless you an entry ticket. Getting back was a bit tricky! I had the ribollita here and it just confirmed for me that I don’t like ribollita! It was tasty, but I just don’t like mushy bread in my soup. Other items on the table included lasagna, beef entrecote (which came with those magic potatoes I told you about in my Venice food
piece), gnocchi, and fusilloni with ricotta, basil and tomato. Everything was pretty good here.
Our first full day in Florence was a busy one, with our tour and visit to the David. We ended up in Republicca Piazza for lunch at Gilli, an historic cafe right on the plaza. There are three restaurants right on the plaza, all over-priced. It was one of those moments where the entire family was in a meltdown over hunger, so we had to act fast. We sat inside in the blissful air
conditioning. There are many, many table outside on the piazza, but it was far too hot to even consider sitting outside. This felt a lot like the Caffe Florian in Venice – historic building, ancient restaurant, and serious, professional waiters. We shared a fusion salad (salumo, brie, apple, walnut) and French fries (it was one of those moments). My son also had spaghetti Bolognese.
For dinner that night we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and hit the jackpot. We went to Club Culinaria Toscana da Osvaldo (Piza dei Peruzzi 3r). This is a teeny, tiny little
place run by a very talented chef. It was comparable to our last meal in Venice, where we dined at an old family-owned restaurant. I think the owner was our waiter. He was so friendly and kind to us and made us laugh and feel at home. It is one of those unforgettable meals. I began with a plate of salumi, cheeses, and marmalade (an amazing selection of local
flavors) which was to die for, and then had pici (like spaghetti but it is more tubular) with basil and pine nuts, tomato and garlic (this was simple and elegant). Our daughter had melon, ham, and dark chocolate to start. This was our first experience with the melon/proscuitto trend and we all loved it – and the dark chocolate was amazing with it. She then had tagliatelle with honey, almonds, basil and clams (this was a delightful mix of flavors). My husband had a carpaccio of sea bass (he loved it but I am just not a fan of raw seafood) then
fried sea bass with strawberry mashed potato and spinach (the strawberry mashed potatoes sound weird, but were really good).. Our son had sliced beef with rosemary, mushrooms, and you guessed it, those potatoes I still haven’t figured out how to make.
Don’t worry, there was dessert of course. I had the torta di nonna (grandmother’s cake, which was moist and had nuts in it). Husband had zuppa inglese
(trifle), daughter had almond biscotti (which came in a wooden bucket) and vin santo to dip in. Son had chocolate mille-feuille with saffron cream. Every bite was amazing. We could have stayed all night had there been room in our overstuffed
stomachs for more. It was a magnificent experience – personal, warm service in a homey, very Italian setting. This is the best of Italy.
On our third day, we took the train to Pisa (where, if you’ve
been reading along, you know my husband sprained his ankle). So that was a bit of a disaster. We ended up grabbing lunch at a pizza place in an out of the way back alley on the way to the train station. It was a bit off the
beaten path and our server spoke no English, so communication was difficult! Our pizza was just ok, I would say. This was our first pizza in Italy and it was thinner and smaller than pizzas at home, but there are so many places in the US to get thin crust pizza
that it honestly was not any kind of revelation for us.
We took the train back to Florence and enjoyed our final meal in Florence that evening. Again, we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and again they were spot-on. This time they sent us to Buca San Giovanni, directly on the Duomo piazza. They had tables outside on the square, but they also had tables inside, down a flight of stairs in the basement
where it was cool and comfortable, even though those stairs were treacherous. Again, this was another family-owned restaurant that had been open for years. Dining in that basement felt so ancient and truly European, as if we should have been surrounded by casks of wine and catacombs. Instead, there were signed photos on the walls of Italian politicians and celebrities. My husband still thinks there was a
photo of an NHL player, but we voted him down on that one!
We knew we were in for a lovely meal and were not disappointed! I had risotto with artichoke and ewe’s cheese
then sliced filet with parmesan and rocket. The risotto was magnificent. The filet was tender and wonderful. My husband had Tuscan bread with fondue of rosemary and mushrooms on it, then filet rossini with foie gras and truffle in a Madeira sauce.
Our son had macaroni with meat sauce and porcini mushrooms then filet with the magic potatoes. The daughter had tagliono with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream sauce, then chicken turnover with fontina and raw ham. There wasn’t a thing on
the table we didn’t thoroughly enjoy. We were stuffed, but managed to share two desserts, a bittersweet chocolate basket with cream and strawberries (beautiful to look at and to taste: simple and sweet) and a soft chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.
After dinner we emerged onto the piazza in the dark but the
outside of the Duomo and Baptistery were lit and there were vendors selling little toys that you could shoot up in the air and they would light up and make a noise. We stood around for a while and just soaked up the atmosphere there. It would have been lovely to dine on the piazza that night had it not been so very, very hot when we arrived!
Throughout our trip, we ate gelato almost every single day in the afternoon. Since dinner is later in Italy (no one serves before 7), we always needed a little something to get us from lunch to dinner without dying of hunger. I didn’t deviate from what worked – I had chocolate or dark chocolate almost every time but everyone else enjoyed other flavors. Gelato is displayed in shop windows in giant mounds. It is scooped from the back of the mound so as not to destroy the beautiful
display. In all the cities in Italy, the streets are filled with these shops with their tantalizing mountains of gelato (which is less creamy than ice cream but more deeply flavorful). When we came home, ice cream just didn’t taste good
to me anymore!
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This post has made me so hungry! I love all the varied dishes and flavours you experienced.
It was stunning. Truly overwhelming. Nothing tasted right when we got home. More to come — Rome next week then the Amalfi Coast the week after. Venice was the week as well.
What a feast. The gelato looks amazing. And the best. And I want some.
Those are great meals. Our hotel directed us to a restaurant where diners shared big wooden tables in a very old-looking building . We thoroughly enjoyed the beef-heavy menu. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name and don’t know where my notes are, but I later read disparaging comments saying it was too touristy. Maybe, but sometimes tourists pack a place because its Good!
P.S. You have no gelato places in Buffalo? Come to Tucson!!
I’m enjoying reading about flavor combinations I’d not thought of — and about your family’s fun in sharing these meals. thanks!
My food memories of Florence: gelato and ribolllita – loved them both! ALL the food you describe sounds amazing.
No one asked….but I vote for the risotto with artichoke!
I would have never thought of strawberry mashed potatoes. I’m intrigued.
I thought it sounded awful, but it was really interesting.
Ha ha! I should take a poll on what looks the best!