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Tuscany, Italy


Sthitch
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My wife and I went to Florence in October for what was originally meant to be a long weekend. Alitalia had different ideas. They cancelled our return flight, so what was supposed to be a weekend turned into a week. Of that we spent four days in Florence. I found the city to be much like the Duomo, beautiful on the outside, empty on the inside. However, food and wine were a much different story. Some of the best food I have ever eaten took place over those four days. So here it is:

Sosstanza � JoeH recommended this fine hole-in-the-wall restaurant to us. It specializes in Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (made from just the best Chiana beef). We went on our first night, and it was actually the first kibble that we had in Italy. Neither of us really wanted to eat after a long flight uncomfortable Alitalia flight (I really expected to see someone bring chickens on board). But we had reservations, so we went.
We were the first people to show-up and had to kill some time before they opened for dinner. We wandered down to a neighboring street and found a butcher shop. I didn�t want to leave. The beef, the pork, the chickens, I just wanted to rub them all over my body, they were so gorgeous. My wife dragged me out so that we could go to dinner. We ventured back to the restaurant. As we approached the restaurant the metal screen was lifted and we went in for what we hoped would be a good meal. What we were met with was more than we could have imagined.
We started with a plate of Prosciutto, and Finocchiona. The Prosciutto was unlike any version of the beautiful ham I had ever tried. This was almost as delicate as the finest Serrano. The velveteen texture of the heart was heavenly. The Finocchiona (a course dried sausage made with pork, pork fat, and fennel seeds) was loosely packed and the best we would find in the city. Because neither of us had much of an appetite we split a single T-Bone Bistecca. This steak was huge, it must have been a pound in a half of meat, and cost a whooping 19 euros. It was cooked rare, with a heavy amount of salt. The first bite I had was from the tenderloin portion of the T-Bone. It was actually flavorful. I can�t remember the last time I had a flavorful filet. It did not give-up any of its delicate texture to get that flavor. The next bite was a juicy piece of strip. There was so much juice it almost seemed that I was drinking beef stock. This was the single best steak I have ever eaten (even better than Peter Lugar�s). My wife followed it up with a radicchio salad. The greens were more sweet than bitter, and were simply dressed with olive oil.
We finished our dinner with a wild strawberry, chocolate, and meringue desert. This was a simple desert with a baked meringue with chunks of milk chocolate, an ample amount of juicy and flavorful wild strawberries covered with whipped cream. Taking all of the ingredients together tastes almost as good as the steak.
If you decide to go to the restaurant, do like the regulars and order the house red. The only people we saw ordering by the bottle were the table with Americans, and another filled with Australians. I can�t imagine that what these tables had was any better than the house wine.

Neri � We went to many Gelaterias while we were in Florence, this was the only one that really struck me as something special. The others were good, and better than anything we have around here, but nothing that made me want to go out of my way to get some gelato. Neri was different. It was raining outside when we happened upon this little Gelateria, not exactly gelato weather. I ordered a Nutella and my wife a peanut butter. Both tasted better than their name stakes. We loved it so much we both ordered a second gelato. I ordered a raspberry and my wife a chocolate. These were just as good as our first selections. This gelataria is near Santa Croce, and a little out of the way, but worth the walk.

Procacci � This is a small gourmet store/wine bar owned by the Antinori family. It is located on the tony Via Tornabuoni. We had several glasses of Prosecco and finger sandwiches. It was a nice little respite from our long walks on the uneven streets of Florence. The smoked salmon sandwiches were especially good.

Il Pizzaiulo � This was another JoeH recommendation. We almost did not pay it a visit. On our last day in town we found ourselves with a number of hours to spare, and wandered outside of the Italian Disneyland also known as touristy Florence. We ventured into the outlying neighborhoods in search of markets and fun stores. We happened upon Il Pizzaiulo by happenstance, and we were quite glad that we did. Once we found it, we had 45 minutes to kill before they opened, and so we found a great wine store where we could buy wine from large casks. We bought their most expensive Niebbola for 5 euros (we drank it the next night in Milan, and must tell you that it was worth five times what we paid for it). We wondered back to the pizza place and still had ten minute to stalk the front entrance.
It was well worth the wait. This restaurant is run by a family from Naples, and does their home city proud. We ordered two pizzas. One was a simple Margarita; the other was dotted with Prosciutto. These were the best pizzas I have ever eaten. It was not just the perfect crust, and the simple sauce, or the savory cheese, but all of it together. I am still having dreams about these pizzas, and I curse JoeH for introducing me to something that would put almost all other pizzas to shame. I was recently talking to someone else who always makes this a stop on trips to Florence. He told me that last year he took another American family to Il Pizzaiulo, when the teenager that was with them took her first bite she dropped her utensils and threw her hands in the air almost as if she had just scored a touchdown. That really summed-up my feeling about this pizza.

Enoteca Pinchiorri � I have heard mixed opinions about this restaurant. Some find it to be a bit overdone; others claim it to be one of the best restaurants in the world. I have been disappointed by other �best restaurant in the world� in the past, so I went in hoping it would be good, but not banking on it. This is Italy�s only 3 star restaurant, and is known for its extremely large wine cellar (from what they told us, they now have 220,000 bottles).
When you arrive at this unmarked but stunningly beautiful former palace you are met by doormen who escort you to a sitting room. You are then taken to your table in one of five dinning rooms. Since my wife made the reservation in her impeccable Italian we were not relegated to the �English only� room where most Italians are seated. Lucky for me, the waiter was quite fluent in English and could tell me what we were eating.
We ordered the Grand Degustazione Menu. The wine can be purchased by the bottle, or as a tasting menu. The wine tasting menu allows the diner to order wine based on how much he or she wishes to spend. It can range from around 120 euros per person, to over 3500 euros per person. When it comes to these tasting choices, you get what you pay for. We went for a mid level choice with all Italian wines.
The Degustazione Menu says this is a 9 course meal, reality is that we had about 15. I cannot remember all of them, but I will describe what I can. We started with a glass of vintage Champagne (a boutique house I had never seen before, and wish I had written down the name), we also received a sweet and savory tuile. It was dotted with sunflower seeds and a sprinkled of sea salt. Next they served a study of tomatoes. One of the components of this dish that sticks in my mind is the tomato water. It was a clear liquid that is drained from chopped tomatoes. It tasted like the most perfectly ripe tomato in a glass.
One of the next dishes was what looked like a simple foie gras and apple dish. It was much more. The foie was delicately cooked and served along with an apple jelly, apple puree, and prune bread. The tartness of the apple, the sweetness of the bread, and the fattiness of the liver was a match made in heaven. Next arrived a crab salad topped with onion foam. I am not sure how to describe this dish. The crab was impeccably fresh and was joined with small bits of cucumbers, and topped with a cloud like caramelized onion foam. This was a dish with so many layers that it defies explanation. At the point that I ate this, I felt that it was the best dish I had ever eaten.
The crab salad was followed by a dish that did not challenge us with contrasting flavors, but contrasting temperatures and textures. This dish was a bowl of hot porcini soup, with a scoop of porcini ice cream and topped with a thick slice of porcini tempura. Who would have thought that mushroom ice cream would be appealing, but it was. The hot, and cold, along with the creamy and crunchy made us quickly forget about the crab salad. I never wanted this dish to end.
But lucky for us it did end. The next dish was saffron pasta stuffed with an perfectly fresh ricotta, with a shrimp ragu, and topped with strips of licorice root. The flavors matched perfectly, the saffron and shrimp met with the exotic licorice root. This became the best dish that I have ever eaten. This was followed by red wine braised short ribs that have been braised for three days. There was so much gelatin in this dish that my lips were almost sealed together. The flavor was intense, the texture was delicate.
Amongst other things we also enjoyed a squab dish, a cheese fondue, plus a cheese cart, and a heavenly strawberry dessert. The wines from that night were:
2001 Borgo del Tiglio Ronco Della Chiesa
2000 Antinori Solaia
1999 Paleo
1998 Carbonaione
1997 Barolo Le Vigne Sandrone
1997 Brunello Pian Delle Vigne
1986 Castello di Ama L�apparita
We were also treated to a dessert wine, plus a bottle of wine as a gift when we left.

The restaurant did a fabulous job at treating us like we were the only dinners that they were going to have that day, but yet we were in a restaurant with every table full. This was simply the greatest meal I have ever eaten anywhere.

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Steve, thanks for sharing your experiences. Carol and I will visit Enoteca next year. I'm glad you liked Sostanza and Il Pizzaiola-I think the latter is as good as anything in Naples and Sostanza, well, there is just nothing like it in the States. Also, for all of the places in Tuscany that the guide books claim have great bisteca this and Vescovino in Panzano are the only two (out of maybe 10 or more) that we have been to which really lived up to my expectations. A number of years ago a place called di Vinus on the "other" side of the Arno had the best steak I've ever had but it was sold a year later and changed. It's former owner opened Parione behind the Excelsior but, on two visits, was not the same. In truth I prefer Sostanza's ambience (and meringue cake) and the overall experience is better. We'll also try Neri.

Florence really is like Disney World. or New York. Restaurants like Il Latini which are written about in every guidebook and English is the common language. I much prefer going somewhere where locals outnumber tourists and English is rarely heard.

Thanks again.

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Off to Firenze tonight. We will be dining at Ricchi (incredible seafood), Trattoria Cibreo and are looking for a gret Bistecca restaurant. Perseus gets high marks but I have heard on bad recent report. Any suggestions?

By the end of the trip, I will have a detailed report on the tripe seller carts of Firenze! Gee, I wish I had managed to get my blood drawn for my cholesterol test Before I went on a tripe orgy! :)

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The best bisteca fiorentina in Firenze is Sostanza which is also the oldest trattoria. There are reports about it on here in another thread. I wrote about this at length on CH and Shitch visited it recently, agreeing with me that it may be the equal of Luger's. He has a lengthy post also about it and several others. You also want to order their meringue cake which is off the menu. The place is something of a white tile dump (a LOT of personality!) so don't expect much. If you go into the hills go to Vescovino in Panzano. Fantastic bisteca! The owner, Memmo, also owns Enoteca Baldi which is an excellent and fairly priced shop in the heart of Panzano. Make sure you go into his basement!

I've eaten bisteca at prboably ten or more places which are suppose to be good in Firenze. di Vinus five or six years ago was the best but is now closed. Sostanza may be its equal. Omero, Sabatini's, Branzano and a host of others are several levels below either.

Also consider Il Pizzaiola which is diagonally across from Cibreo. I believe it is the equal of Brandi, da Michele, etc. in Napoli. If this seems like an exaggration take a few steps inside their door and look at the oven...

Alessi is the most expensive wine shop in Italy but they have everything-for a price. '90 Avignonesi Vin Santo (E250), 2001 Masseto (E350), '97 Dal Forno Recioto (E165)-they should have them all, at prices comparable to what you would pay here. I mention this since if you haven't been it is an interesting shop to wander around and look at their inventory ledgers.

Edited by Joe H
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For what it's worth: Le Calandre is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in Italy. Dal Pescatore is superb also (John Mariani in Esquire called this "the best restaurant in the world.") Both have three Michelin stars. I like Alle Testiere in Venice a lot, also da Fiore but it's prices have appreciated a lot over the past ten years. On the Ligurian coast there is a restaurant called La Fornace di Barbiblu which is a Michelin starred 2000 year old Roman furnace. Literally. This is a post of mine from three years ago on CH about it:

http://www.chowhound.com/boards/intl4/messages/17143.html

Il Postale in Umbria has a star and 53 points from Gambero Rosso for food. Superb. Aimo y Nadia in Milano is outstanding. La Pergola is arguably the best restaurant in Rome. I posted freqently about Italian restaurants for over four years on CH with lengthy posts about each of these and many, many others. There are also a number of excellent restaurants in the Tuscan countryside, both starred and non starred that are well worth going out of your way to visit.

Also, Shitch believes that the three star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Firenze may be the best he's experienced in Italy. I have not been there but I trust his well travelled opinion. He has a lengthy post about it on here that is worth a look. Totally different from Cibreo. If I have a criticism of Cibreo it is that there are too many Americans who go there; same with Il Latini which I actually think is overrated. Cibreo is excellent, but several times I've felt that I was in Boston's North End or lower Manhattan. Having said this there are MUCH better restaurants than Cibreo in Italy. Le Calandre will match anything in Paris or San Sebastian.

Having said all this, Roberto's duck stew is as unique and delicious as anything I've had in Italy. As "challenging" as anything at Cibreo!

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Well the below freezing weather before wind chill put a damper on our eating trip on the streets. We did have a wonderful Trippa at Mario where we ate 3 meals. One of those was for Bistecca, a 1.95 KG behemoth for 3 which was the best Bistecca we have had. It was like a combination of the best steak, crusty and beefy on the outside with an almost toro like soft, buttery inside. Almost no gristle or membranes. It was a cut off the t bone and both halves were equally good.

Had wonderful calf's foot with salsa verde along with cotecchino, lengua, manzo and a leg of chicken on a bollito misto plate there.

Pepposa was best at Mario. Mario was in general a wonder. Just down a small side street from the market, most of the folk there are regulars. It was about 80% locals despite its write ups in all the food press. Our non bistecca meals there were under €40 for 2 even with Nonino grappa and a couple of glasses of Brunello or Chianti Classico. It was under €30 when we just had the house wine. Our Bistecca meal was €40 per person with pasta, contorni and house wine.

Our other favorite was Casalinga in Oltr'Arno. It is on Via Micholozo off Santo Spirito. Good basic food under €40 a couple. Best food there was roast Faraona, bollito Misto, tortellini in a rabbit liver sauce, homemade guanciale. Great hot chocolate too!

Our only fancy meal was none too fancy at all... Sunday pre-opera we dined at Osteria Di Giovanni on Via del Moro. Its the kids of the Il Lantini family in a white tablecloth setting. Kay had the most amazing bavette con nero di seppie con vongole veraci- hand made tagliatelle with loads of finely minced garlic and small clams. My Tagliata di bue di Chianina was a chunk of Chianina beef with green sauce on a bed of arugula, just like Dino makes.... but we cannot get Chianina beef! We drank Bronzone, Morellino di Scansano from Fonterutoli by the glass. Too bad we had to run to the opera and could not enjoy a cheese plate which sounded wonderful.

At the Mercato Centrale we found Firenze's answer to Volpetti (nowhere as good as Volpetti, but wonderful nonetheless): Baroni! We got some incredible raw milk sheep's milk cheeses- a 1 year aged and a soft ripening with green mold on the skin called "Frog's Skin". Incredible. We also had a vinacce, a pecorino barrel aged in wine pressings from one of the Sasetti from Montalcino. Toma di Moncenisio was also wonderful. Bu the highlights were the cured meats. One night we had Prosciutto di Cinta Sinese and finocchiona di Cinta Sinese. The next was home made sopressata (in Toscana that’s head cheese) and Iberico di pata negra belotta. We actually had the sopressata 3 times! I think we have paid for Baroni's kid's schooling for the year!

Perhaps our best dish was the milk fed lamb- 6 chops with breast attached that together weighed less than a pound. I pan fried them in a little olio with salt and pepper. Sweet as sugar and buttery soft. We paid all of €5 for the lamb.

Worst meal was with the cast of the opera and Maestro Zubin Mehta after the Sunday matinee performance of Turandot. After the meal Maestro Mehta pulled me aside and asked if my restaurant "served Italian like that?" I said not exactly explaining that we served simple country style food. He said "Good! That was crap!".

Best museum is the Museo de l'Opera del Duomo. It is where the treasures of the Duomo are kept. SInce my last visit in 99 it has been remodeled into a first class Museo and much restoration of the original art has been completed: You see the original Ghiberti panels of the doors of paradise, the original statuary from the facade and the campanile, about 70% of it restored. Plus they have Michaengelo's second Pieta (my favorite actually) beautifully displayed.

Drank some surprisingly good vino sfuzo da Montalcino from a wine shop on Via Seralgio (?) the continuation of the Ponte Santa Trinita in Oltr'Arno. €3.3 and good. We also had a couple of bottles of Cantina di Trinoro Le Cup[ole for €25, and a Radikon Ribolla Giala 2000, baby Gravner for €13.

Best caffe was at Bar Sant'Agostino on Via San't Agostino in Oltr'Arno. Fiery strong caffe along with homemade pastries still warm from the oven.

Our total expenditure in Firenze for a week- 8 meals out, loads of museums, a little shopping and 6 meals in was under €1000.

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If I have a criticism of Cibreo it is that there are too many Americans who go there;

When we do eat at cibreo we eat at the Trattoria around back. About 1/2 Italian but the rest tend to be mostly Europeans. Same food, just a shorter selection adn shorter wine list but if youy ask they will bring you anything for 2/3 the price at teh restorante. Truth be told is that in our first 6 nights in Firenze, we dined at Cibreo 4 times. Since then, we have spent 11 nights adn not dined at Cibreo and not felt the least bit of loss. This trip we didn't do any fancy food at all and had a whale of a good time and spent less on food for the week what one meal at Pinchorri would have cost.

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I just bought and read the Saveur article about Florence. Hmmm................I totally agree about Sostanza but I think they failed to point out just how really good their bisteca fiorentina really is. They also did not mention the "off the menu" meringue cake which is awesome nor did they talk about the absolutely tiny kitchen that all of this is prepared in for the 40 people at a time that have their dinner served to them. The kitchen is staffed by two people and cannot total more than eight by ten feet, perhaps eight by twelve, tops!

Omero? My wife and I did not like Omero at all. Not at all. This is a Euro 15 cab ride from the center of Florence into a quiet suburb; you stop at a really inviting neighborhood restaurant which on our visit had elements of Il Latini (i.e. hanging hams from the ceiling) and Sostanza (i.e. bisteca fiorentina is the featured entree). Bread soup was pedestrian at best in the brightly lit dining room; in fact there is really nothing remarkable about the meal we had which left a very unsatisfied taste in both of our mouths. We expected this to be a serious "find" and left feeling that we could have had the same experience without the cab ride much closer to our hotel in the center of Florence.

I am not a fan of Omero.

A really interesting but-for me-incomplete article about Florentine restaurants.

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Not having been to Sostanza, the best Bistecca we have had is at lunch at Mario by the mercato centrale. We had a 2 kilo behemoth for three people and it cost €40 per person including primi and a liter of pretty crappy but appropiate house wine.

Andrea Costanti of Constanti Brunello fame loves Coco Lezzone in Firenze for bistecca and pappa al pomodoro. We have been meaning to try Sostanza and will try harder to do so our next stay in Firenze.

Also wonderful bistecca can be had at Il Pozzo in Sant'Angelo in Colle south of Montalcino.

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Vescovino in Panzano has a superb bisteca. While not related there's also a superb butcher shop in Panzano along with a wonderful enoteca owned by Memmo, Vescovino's chef/owner. If you go there ask to go into their cellar: it is extraordinary. His stock rivals Alessi in Florence at 2/3 the price.

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Vescovino in Panzano has a superb bisteca.  While not related there's also a superb butcher shop in Panzano along with a wonderful enoteca owned by Memmo, Vescovino's chef/owner.  If you go there ask to go into their cellar:  it is extraordinary.  His stock rivals Alessi in Florence at 2/3 the price.

When we ate at Vescovino, they were out o=f the bottle we wanted. Our waiter ran down to the wine shop to get it! Since the run back is up a steep hill, he returned rather flustered and red faced! We did not have the Bistecca which is from Dario Cecchini's shop in town but have had Dario's bistecca at Gallopappa in Castellina.

The enotecca is wonderful, you can have a great cheese plate to go along with your wines. I have a few bottles in my cellar from our visit there!

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Firstly, might I suggest the thread go by its proper name, Firenze? :)

My favorite meal in Firenze was at Il Ritrovo (via de Pucci, 4A, Firenze, 055/281688). Very small and located in a basement, it's hard to find, but Marco and Rosetta treat you extremely well there. And the food is simple, but incredibly delicious!

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A couple of weeks ago my wife had to attend a conference in Florence. She insisted that I go with her, and being a good husband I acquiesced. While she suffered through boring presentation after mind-numbing presentation, I was out eating and shopping for food related items. We arrived in Florence in the early afternoon, but too late for me to catch a pizza at Il Pizzaiulo so my wife insisted on shopping. We headed over to Tornabuoni so that she could spend way too much money at Gucci. While she was shopping, I was enjoying a cheese and white truffle sandwich at Procacci. This former apothecary is now owned by the Antinori family. They sell most of the family’s wines, and wonderful small bites.

After my wife was done spending more than our duty-free allowance we took an out of the way back to our hotel. I wanted to pay a visit to Geletaria Neri. This is a very small, often overlooked gem. They have two cases of Gelato that they make in the back room. Here is a picture of one of the cases:

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We each ordered the smallest portion and because of its richness we found it difficult to finish even this small amount. I cannot remember everything that our group ordered, but I enjoyed a pistachio gelato. Joe H makes a mean ice cream that is filled with lovely milk fat and pecans and other goodness, but I can eat far more of that than this rich delicacy.

We wandered back to the hotel for a few pre-dinner drinks, and then headed to dinner at Sostanza. The restaurant has undergone a change of ownership since my last visit. I was a bit weary about this. I should not have been. The restaurant is as good as ever. We started with a plate of Prosciutto and Finocchiona. Both were as good as I remembered them to be. Our traveling companion insisted on having some pasta for her first real meal back in Italy (she has lived in Florence for a total of 10 years, and visits several times a year, but had never been to Sostanza). To placate her pasta need, we split an order of “Tortellini al Sago”. The tortellini was stuffed with veal, and dressed in a wonderful red meat sauce. The meat was not ground, but chopped into very small cubes. Wow was this good, but even split three ways, I knew it was taking-up precious stomach space from the main event.

So we ordered two “Bistecca alla Florentina”

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“Fagioli all’ Olio” (the picture is only of a partial portion)

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And one order of “Radicchio Verde”.

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This visit only confirmed to me that this is one of the best if not the best steak I have ever eaten. The meaty flavor is unsurpassed. The steak is not tender by any means, but the extra chew is well worth it once the meat lets loose of its exquisite flavor. I ordered the beans based on the recommendation of someone else I know who had recently been to Sostanza. They claimed that they were the best beans that they had ever eaten. And they were right. I am not sure if these were fresh or dried, but they were stunning. The oil that they use to drizzle the beans brought the legumes to another level. I am not even a big bean fan, but if I could get these ever time I ordered beans, I would quickly grow into a fan. The larger Radicchio leaves presented a little bitterness, and the smaller leaves were almost sweet. For an adamant salad hater this was a great surprise.

If you are interested in the menu, you can see it here:

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For dessert we had a meringue with whipped cream, wild strawberries and chocolate (it is described here).

The following morning while my wife was listening to a professor from NYU drone on and on about what he did in response to the 1966 flood, I was off in search of a good cup of coffee. So I was off to find Patrizio Cosi. This local favorite has been in the same location a hell of a lot longer than the crappy chain that shares part of the same name. If I were the owner of this fabulous café, I would find the founder of the chain and beat them with one of their own horrific pastries for sullying the name Cosi. When I arrived at 7:30 I was the only non-Italian in the café. It my horrible broken Italian I managed to order my espresso and pastry. The coffee was perfectly made, and was just the right amount to quench my thirst brought on by the flaky brioche that had hints of apricot throughout it. An Italian Brioche is similar to a Croissant, but a little more bready.

My desire for Italian pastries had not been quenched so I decided to journey even further a field in search of the legendary Dolce & Dolcezze. What I found was a pastry shop that could have been right out of the 19th century. The pastries were simple, but exquisite. I had a Cappuccino, and a lemon tart. The problem with most lemon tarts is that they rely more on the tartness of lemons and not so much on the lemon flavor. This was not a problem at Dolce & Dolcezze. The lemon flavor shone through a not too sweet curd and a wonderfully savory crust.

I knew I had to walk off these wonderful pastries, so I decided to take in the Central Market. What greeted me when I walked into the entry way was a wonderful array of offal. Tripe, liver, brains, kidneys, tripe, and other unmentionable yet delicious stuff right there in the case in front of me, and no way for me to cook them. So I had to settle for a picture:

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I ended-up at a great Charcuterie where I was able to sample everything before buying it. I bought five different types of Prosciutto, two types of lardo and pecorino, along with some assorted sausages, and an assortment of fruit accouchements that went beautifully with the cheese.

At this point, it was about 11:00 and I was in need of a rest. After a quick nap, I ventured off to get my pizza fix at Il Pizzaiulo. The more I walked the hungrier I got, and of course this meant that I took a wrong turn and ended-up walked three times as far as I needed to. Finally I arrived at the restaurant at 1:00. The surly owner of the restaurant sat me in some tucked away corner. But I could have cared less where he sat me, I was going to have a Il Pizzaiulo pie. The waitress came over to take my drink order, and I ordered a draft beer. I asked for the “Grande”.

She asked “grande?”

“Si, Grande”

“Grande?” She motioned with her hands a tall glass.

“Si, Grande!” I motioned back with my hands the same height. What I was expecting was a large pilsner glass of beer, I mean it was only 7e, it couldn’t be that big. Well, when it arrived the Austrian guy next to me leaned over and patted me on the back. This was the biggest schooner I have ever seen in front of me. This was one large ass beer. But after my morning of walking, I really needed a large beer.

I ordered a sausage, mushroom, and onion pizza to go with this fabulous beer. There was more to the order, but since the waitress could not (or would not) speak English, I just nodded when she asked me about extras. Sitting in front of me were two Japanese guys and I swear they must have been cousins of Takeru Kobayashi. They both ordered a seafood platter that was large enough for a family of four, and polished it off in a matter of minutes.

My pizza arrived, and before I dug in, I snapped this picture:

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Wow, the first bite was as good as I remembered the pizza being. This is a knife and fork type of pizza, it is rather moist, but damn is it fine. About a quarter of my way through my pizza I noticed that the Kobayashis had not only finished their pizza’s but ordered two more. Before I gave up, after downing 3/4 of the pie, they had finished their second pies. Bastards, I only wish I could have ordered a second pizza. I did finish my “Grande” beer.

I walked out of the restaurant and noticed a large crowd standing in front of Cibero. I wandered over to figure out what it was, and then the smell hit me. Hmm, tripe. I got in line and the person behind me convinced me to order a fatty intestine sandwich with green sauce. I could barely muster enough energy to eat half of this wonderful sandwich. This is the type of thing that only an offal lover could enjoy. Not that the taste is bad, it is not, it is wonderful, but most people would cringe at the idea of eating fatty intestine.

Offal Cart:

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After these meals, I had to head back to the hotel for another nap. But first I went back to Neri and ordered a wild strawberry gelato, that was even better than the pistachio. I was up in time to have some of the goods from the market and enjoyed a bottle of Nebbiolo, that I had picked-up from a local wine store that sells most of their wine in unlabeled bottles. This was a fun and delicious wine that I doubt would last more than a month in the bottle. After this prelude to our coming meal, we wondered off to dinner.

We arrived early at Cibero and were promptly seated. Right after you order the meal a multitude of small plates arrive at the table. I cannot remember everything that was served, but amongst them were tomato aspic, tripe, and beans. I have bad childhood memories of tomato aspic, but that was not this tomato aspic. This tasted like a slightly spicy tomato sauce and was absolutely delicious. The tripe was a bit rubbery, but was very flavorful. The beans were good, but not as good as Sostanza.

The first course that I ordered was Polenta. This was the Italian version of Jean George’s mashed potatoes. I swear that there was butter than there was polenta. It also had a delectable parmesan crust on top of it. My second course was lamb brains. This arrived in an aluminum foil pouch that was opened by the waiter, and then he proceeded to cut the two small brains in half. He made sure to keep the foil upright to hide the brains so that their appearance would not offend diners seated around me who might have a weaker stomach.

I have eaten brains a number of times in the past, but they have always been fried, and frankly they did not look like brains. This was the hardest first bite of food I have taken in many years. But once I did, I quickly finished the dish. The brains reminded me of a mealy foie gras. Accompanying the brains was a large bone shaped piece of bread. This was perfect to mop-up the garlic butter sauce that bathed the brains.

We finished dinner with a fabulous array of desserts. The flourless chocolate cake was similar to the examples that you find stateside, but the quality of the chocolate was better than I have had here. We also had a cheesecake that was completely unlike the New York style. This tasted like it was made with Masarpone. The final dessert was a meringue wild strawberry and chocolate gelato dish. I am not sure that I have words to describe this, but damn was it good.

The next day I went off to meet the partner of our traveling companion, and I wish I could share more about that portion of the trip, but for personal reasons I have to end the story here, but it only got better…

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My meal - a glass of Brunello, just perfect crostone with melted gorgonzola, honey, and celery as an appetizer, and, ravioli in a light cream sauce, filled with pecorino cheese and pear. The ravioli was delicate and different in appearance - it looked like a tiny package, tied up at the neck, rather than a square blob as you usually see here.

The food just melted in my mouth. This was simple and utterly perfect. I went back again because I knew I wasn't going to find it here very easily!

The enoteca was in the TimeOut guide to Florence.

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In the past year my father retired after having two angioplasties (the second took care of issues with the first), so my wife and I took the opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do and take my parent’s on vacation. So we headed to Italy planning on a couple of days in Rome followed by a week at an apartment in Florence, and then back for a couple more days in Rome. I have already written about the Rome experience under that topic, but we had more opportunities to eat and drink in Florence.

One of the things I wanted to do was cook some of the great things that I have seen at the central market. It was well into porcini’s season so I took the opportunity to make a risotto with them. A kilo of nice quality fresh porcini’s went for 15 euros so I jumped at the opportunity. I also grabbed a beautiful piece of locally raised pork loin and braised it in milk with some fresh herbs. Even though the kitchen was horrible the food turned out beautifully. Now if only United would return my suitcase with my knife roll the memory will be worth it.

We ate at a lot of places, so this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but just some of the highlights and lowlights. We enjoyed four meals at Il Pizzaiuolo, and like all my other visits I tried nothing but the pizza. It was as good as ever, the one slight miss would be the pizza marinara which was crust with scattered pieces of fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, it was a bit bland. But this cannot be said about any of the other pies that we tried. The Margarita was my favorite followed closely by the sausage that is listed on the “our other pizza” section. The four cheese pizza was also quite good as was the pepperoni. If you find yourself in Florence you need to make a trip to Il Pizzaiuolo (afterwards you will ignore the on-going pizza debate in the Restaurants and Dining section since it will no longer really matter).

We also made two special trips to eat Chiana meat. One trip was for a dinner at Sostanza and another was to Mario’s. As for the steak it is a draw, both provide a sizeable hunk of equally delicious meat and both were perfectly cooked, and both only cost 22 Euros for a kilo of porterhouse. This same steak would have cost more than my first car if you could find it in New York. Both restaurants also tie when it comes to other meats. Mario’s would win based on the quantity of meats available, and the pork chop and veal chops at Mario’s are the equal of any I have ever eaten, but the butter roasted chicken at Sostanza was like no other chicken I have ever had. The first indication of something special was the smell as the waiter approaches the table, then you see the nutty brown butter all around the chicken that the waiter soon spoons over the chicken breast several times, then slices it and then bastes the slices with a couple more spoonfuls of browned butter. The chicken is tender, moist, and just a joy to eat. The sides at each restaurant are rather limited, but the ones that we had at Sostanza was superior to those sampled at Mario’s. The soup at Mario was better than what was offered at Sostanza (my father is a soup nut so he ate it at every opportunity). The one soup offered at Sostanza was called a minestrone but was more like a thick pasta fagioli while the vegetable soup at Mario’s was more akin to a Minestrone. The Sostanza soup was very good, but not what my father was expecting so it lost the contest. If I had to choose one over the other I would choose Sostanza but only because a) it is open for both lunch and dinner, and :blink: it is a little less hectic. But I would recommend anyone who visits Florence to make the comparison for themselves.

One night we stopped into Ristorante del Fagioli for dinner with no hopes for a good meal. I am not sure why we had such low expectations, especially since every night we walked by around 9:00pm all we heard was Italian being spoken by the people waiting for a table. All of the food was good, but the real standout was the meatballs. These were the best that I have ever had, they were light, moist, perfectly seasoned and quite meaty. There was nothing visible other than the meat, but there was so much more flavor there. I gave my mother a bite of the meatballs, and she told me that she woke-up in the middle of the night pining for another bite of it.

If you find yourself near the central market (Mercato Centrale) looking for somewhere to eat and do not want steak (Mario’s would be the choice for steak), I would recommend heading over to Via Guelfa to pay a visit to Cafaggi. The diner is greeted by the fresh catch of the day when they pass the front window. When we arrived some of the most beautiful squid and shrimp were on display, so I ordered the fried seafood platter. The calamari was fresh, tender, and crispy. The shrimp were not of the Asian farmed variety and were filled with plenty of shrimp flavor. The one drawback was that the shrimp did not stay as crispy as the calamari. Last week they also offered a delightful plate of fried baby artichokes that were the equal of the fried whole artichoke at Piperno in Rome.

Every night after dinner we walked to Via dei Neri to visit Gelateria dei Neri. I have mentioned this place before, but I cannot overemphasize how good it really is. All of the flavors are made in house by the owner Mauricio. If I had to choose my favorite flavor I would have to say the Ricotta Fig was the best, but it would be a close call since the hazelnut, bacchi, white chocolate, wild strawberry, caffe, mint, nutella, coconut, and even the dark chocolate with hot pepper and pistachio were all incredible.

Now for the not so great. If you find yourself near San Niccolo stay clear of the Osteria Antica Mescita. The beef rolls were chewy and flavorless and was served with rice that my wife thought was under cooked, I disagreed, I thought that it was overcooked, cooled and reheated in a dry environment, it was just plain bad. But this was not the lowlight, they offered a special of veal curry, I am not sure why my wife ordered it, but it had a curry smell, but no curry flavor (and it was served with the same rice). I try to find something positive to say about places where I eat, and the one positive was that the food was so bad that we had extra room for a larger serving at Gelateria dei Neri.

The other disappointment was found at a Za Za. We found ourselves in this neighborhood on the Sunday of our visit looking for somewhere for lunch (being Sunday Mario’s was not open). A neighbor who was recently in Florence recommended it, so we decided to give it a shot. It sits right next door to Mario’s but might as well have been a world away. The pizza was insipid, the pasta was overcooked and served with an almost Chef Boyardee bad. The one good item that we tried was the soup sampler. It was a combination of three classic tuscan soups, and the ribollita was serviceable. The only reason I would recommend this tourist trap is if you are in need of a bathroom, otherwise stay away.

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Wow you guys are impressive eaters!

I've read this thread, but have a specific question: Where would you recommend I spend Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I'll be treating my mom in Florence that week. I know we're not getting turkey and stuffing, but I'd like to plan an excellent meal for that night. I'm not going for TOP dollar here--mid-range would be best--but I am willing to spend some pennies to make a happy holiday meal for the two of us that will work for this special occasion. Mom is a gal who doesn't think a meal's a meal if it lasts less than two hours, and we both just like good food well-served, if that helps you any...

What would you recommend for this special night? Can you give a price estimate? Appreciate any guidance you can give!!!

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In the past year my father retired after having two angioplasties (the second took care of issues with the first), so my wife and I took the opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do and take my parent’s on vacation. So we headed to Italy planning on a couple of days in Rome followed by a week at an apartment in Florence, and then back for a couple more days in Rome. I have already written about the Rome experience under that topic, but we had more opportunities to eat and drink in Florence.

One of the things I wanted to do was cook some of the great things that I have seen at the central market. It was well into porcini’s season so I took the opportunity to make a risotto with them. A kilo of nice quality fresh porcini’s went for 15 euros so I jumped at the opportunity. I also grabbed a beautiful piece of locally raised pork loin and braised it in milk with some fresh herbs. Even though the kitchen was horrible the food turned out beautifully. Now if only United would return my suitcase with my knife roll the memory will be worth it.

We ate at a lot of places, so this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but just some of the highlights and lowlights. We enjoyed four meals at Il Pizzaiuolo, and like all my other visits I tried nothing but the pizza. It was as good as ever, the one slight miss would be the pizza marinara which was crust with scattered pieces of fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, it was a bit bland. But this cannot be said about any of the other pies that we tried. The Margarita was my favorite followed closely by the sausage that is listed on the “our other pizza” section. The four cheese pizza was also quite good as was the pepperoni. If you find yourself in Florence you need to make a trip to Il Pizzaiuolo (afterwards you will ignore the on-going pizza debate in the Restaurants and Dining section since it will no longer really matter).

We also made two special trips to eat Chiana meat. One trip was for a dinner at Sostanza and another was to Mario’s. As for the steak it is a draw, both provide a sizeable hunk of equally delicious meat and both were perfectly cooked, and both only cost 22 Euros for a kilo of porterhouse. This same steak would have cost more than my first car if you could find it in New York. Both restaurants also tie when it comes to other meats. Mario’s would win based on the quantity of meats available, and the pork chop and veal chops at Mario’s are the equal of any I have ever eaten, but the butter roasted chicken at Sostanza was like no other chicken I have ever had. The first indication of something special was the smell as the waiter approaches the table, then you see the nutty brown butter all around the chicken that the waiter soon spoons over the chicken breast several times, then slices it and then bastes the slices with a couple more spoonfuls of browned butter. The chicken is tender, moist, and just a joy to eat. The sides at each restaurant are rather limited, but the ones that we had at Sostanza was superior to those sampled at Mario’s. The soup at Mario was better than what was offered at Sostanza (my father is a soup nut so he ate it at every opportunity). The one soup offered at Sostanza was called a minestrone but was more like a thick pasta fagioli while the vegetable soup at Mario’s was more akin to a Minestrone. The Sostanza soup was very good, but not what my father was expecting so it lost the contest. If I had to choose one over the other I would choose Sostanza but only because a) it is open for both lunch and dinner, and :blink: it is a little less hectic. But I would recommend anyone who visits Florence to make the comparison for themselves.

One night we stopped into Ristorante del Fagioli for dinner with no hopes for a good meal. I am not sure why we had such low expectations, especially since every night we walked by around 9:00pm all we heard was Italian being spoken by the people waiting for a table. All of the food was good, but the real standout was the meatballs. These were the best that I have ever had, they were light, moist, perfectly seasoned and quite meaty. There was nothing visible other than the meat, but there was so much more flavor there. I gave my mother a bite of the meatballs, and she told me that she woke-up in the middle of the night pining for another bite of it.

If you find yourself near the central market (Mercato Centrale) looking for somewhere to eat and do not want steak (Mario’s would be the choice for steak), I would recommend heading over to Via Guelfa to pay a visit to Cafaggi. The diner is greeted by the fresh catch of the day when they pass the front window. When we arrived some of the most beautiful squid and shrimp were on display, so I ordered the fried seafood platter. The calamari was fresh, tender, and crispy. The shrimp were not of the Asian farmed variety and were filled with plenty of shrimp flavor. The one drawback was that the shrimp did not stay as crispy as the calamari. Last week they also offered a delightful plate of fried baby artichokes that were the equal of the fried whole artichoke at Piperno in Rome.

Every night after dinner we walked to Via dei Neri to visit Gelateria dei Neri. I have mentioned this place before, but I cannot overemphasize how good it really is. All of the flavors are made in house by the owner Mauricio. If I had to choose my favorite flavor I would have to say the Ricotta Fig was the best, but it would be a close call since the hazelnut, bacchi, white chocolate, wild strawberry, caffe, mint, nutella, coconut, and even the dark chocolate with hot pepper and pistachio were all incredible.

Now for the not so great. If you find yourself near San Niccolo stay clear of the Osteria Antica Mescita. The beef rolls were chewy and flavorless and was served with rice that my wife thought was under cooked, I disagreed, I thought that it was overcooked, cooled and reheated in a dry environment, it was just plain bad. But this was not the lowlight, they offered a special of veal curry, I am not sure why my wife ordered it, but it had a curry smell, but no curry flavor (and it was served with the same rice). I try to find something positive to say about places where I eat, and the one positive was that the food was so bad that we had extra room for a larger serving at Gelateria dei Neri.

The other disappointment was found at a Za Za. We found ourselves in this neighborhood on the Sunday of our visit looking for somewhere for lunch (being Sunday Mario’s was not open). A neighbor who was recently in Florence recommended it, so we decided to give it a shot. It sits right next door to Mario’s but might as well have been a world away. The pizza was insipid, the pasta was overcooked and served with an almost Chef Boyardee bad. The one good item that we tried was the soup sampler. It was a combination of three classic tuscan soups, and the ribollita was serviceable. The only reason I would recommend this tourist trap is if you are in need of a bathroom, otherwise stay away.

Steve, I just read this post-it is fantastic! Thanks for sharing. I hve already printed it out and will use it when Carol and I go back in December. Thanks again.

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Wow you guys are impressive eaters!

I've read this thread, but have a specific question: Where would you recommend I spend Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I'll be treating my mom in Florence that week. I know we're not getting turkey and stuffing, but I'd like to plan an excellent meal for that night. I'm not going for TOP dollar here--mid-range would be best--but I am willing to spend some pennies to make a happy holiday meal for the two of us that will work for this special occasion. Mom is a gal who doesn't think a meal's a meal if it lasts less than two hours, and we both just like good food well-served, if that helps you any...

What would you recommend for this special night? Can you give a price estimate? Appreciate any guidance you can give!!!

It really depends on what you like. If you like steak I would say go with Sostanza, the steaks are quite large so if there are only two of you can get away with ordering one. It is the priciest thing on the menu at 22 euros. For two with the house red (it is very drinkable and you will notice that no Italians order bottles), you can easily get out of there for 50 euros. Note that it is cash only. This is not a restaurant you visit for a memorable room, it is stark, but you are there to eat. If you would rather have a room to remember and are open to an adventure go for Cibero . The menu is not all offal related (but those are the best parts of it), but it is not cheap. I have never picked-up a tab there so I could not tell you what it costs.
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Wow you guys are impressive eaters!

I've read this thread, but have a specific question: Where would you recommend I spend Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I'll be treating my mom in Florence that week. I know we're not getting turkey and stuffing, but I'd like to plan an excellent meal for that night. I'm not going for TOP dollar here--mid-range would be best--but I am willing to spend some pennies to make a happy holiday meal for the two of us that will work for this special occasion. Mom is a gal who doesn't think a meal's a meal if it lasts less than two hours, and we both just like good food well-served, if that helps you any...

What would you recommend for this special night? Can you give a price estimate? Appreciate any guidance you can give!!!

If you want something a little more refined, try da Giovanni on Via del Moro. It is owned by a branch of the Lantini family. Very Traditional tuscan meat & pasta dishes with a deft modern touch and incredible ingredients. Very good seafood as well. I describe it as the perfect place for a hip young Fiorentino to take their parents, especially if the parents are paying (dinner for 2 modest wine from great if ultra modern leaning will be €100-150).

I love the trattoria at Cibreo around the back from the famous restaurant. The same food as Cibreo (from a more limited menu but you can actually ask for things off the Cibreo menu that are not on the trat menu) served at 4 large communal tables. No ressies so go early or late.

Older recs: Restorante Ricchi on Santo Spirito for seafood (only at Dinner, at lunch it is a typical trattoria menu) and Cavolo Nero (very dark, older men accompanying younger women not their daughters seem to be a large part of their clientele) for innovative food. Beccofino for innovative preparations of very traditional dishes. These last three are all Oltr'Arno (across the river Arno from centro where the Duomo etc are).

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Thanks for the recs, guys! Da Giovanni sounds up our alley--that's definitely going in a top slot. So does Cibreo, but we're not really offal folks... Is it hard to navigate meat and offal if your Italian is, uh, not at all good?

A cousin sent a couple of other ideas: Mama Gina and Bucca Lapi. Any firsthand experience with either of these places?

I just picked up some stracchiatela from the Italian restaurant here to get me in the mood. The owner is from a town about 100k south of Florence, so I think I'll have to go back in some slow night and buy him a coffee... :blink:

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Thanks for the recs, guys! Da Giovanni sounds up our alley--that's definitely going in a top slot. So does Cibreo, but we're not really offal folks... Is it hard to navigate meat and offal if your Italian is, uh, not at all good?
Cibreo has waiters that are fluent in English, it is not very hard to navigate the menu. Actually they don't have a menu, they tell you what is available. There was another restaurant where I had a great meal on Via del Parione, but I do not have the name in front of me. The gnocchi was out of this world. When I find the name I will post it.
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I love the trattoria at Cibreo around the back from the famous restaurant. The same food as Cibreo (from a more limited menu but you can actually ask for things off the Cibreo menu that are not on the trat menu) served at 4 large communal tables. No ressies so go early or late.

Lots of good places around this area (S. Ambrogio)--including the open air market which closes early in the afternoon.

Near Cibreo is a smallish place, Gilda bistrot (Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 40-41r)*. Closed Sunday. Great simple dishes such as grilled porcini (served as if it were steak, as a main course). Excellent one-storey dark chocolate cake.

And on the other side of the Arno, one of my favorites is Cinghiale Bianco a few doors away from Camillo's which is also very good if a bit more "elegant" (but not schmanzy). Piazza Santo Spirito is ringed by good choices.

*The "r" in a street number means red to distinguish numbering system from the addresses written in black.

Browse through this web site of a culinary friend of Dean Gold who has lived in/near Florence for decades. Lots of good recommendations organized by neighborhood.

At this time of year, look for ribollita on menus.

You shouldn't have to worry about not speaking Italian in Florence which other Italians refer to as the City of Foreigners. You'll recognize the Footlocker and Disney Store on the main artery that runs from San Marco, past the cathedral and down to the wide piazza that fronts the Palazzo Vecchio (town hall) where you should definitely go for some hot chocolate at Rivoire.

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Cibreo has waiters that are fluent in English, it is not very hard to navigate the menu. Actually they don't have a menu, they tell you what is available. There was another restaurant where I had a great meal on Via del Parione, but I do not have the name in front of me. The gnocchi was out of this world. When I find the name I will post it.

Parione is the name-it's a block or so behind the Excelsior if we're thinking of the same restaurant. The owner used to have a place called di Vinus on the other side of the Arno that had incredible bisteca. Carol and I have been to Parione several times; if it's the fall we'll go almost exclusively for any pasta with white truffles. It's not that his are better than what you can find in Alba; rather it's that he's really generous with truffles.

Can you imagine how much truffles cost this year with the dollar now $1.45 to the Euro? That means when we get our AMEX or VISA bill it will be about $1.50.

$1.50!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Same place with the dining room to the left after you walk in.
Yes, I was able to confirm that was the restaurant. We showed-up without reservations at the back door. They gave us a table as long as we could be out in a little more than an hour, the service was well paced, and delightful, and the food was very good (especially the aforementioned gnocchi).
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Steve, he used to have a place that was on the other side of the Arno, a block back from the river and two or three blocks up from the street which crosses it just north of the Grand hotel. We were directed to it on a Sunday night seven or eight years ago by the concierge at the Excelsior. There, we fell in love with the room: wood plank floors, bricks walls, exposed beam ceilings 25 to 30 feet above the floor. An open kitchen. Passionate waiters and waittresses who brought us numerous tastes of different dishes just so we could try them. We arrived at 7:30 just as they opened and were finishing their own meal. At 8:30 the place was full. When we left at 10:00 it was still full. That night we both had the best steak we have ever had in our lives. I say this with your knowing how much I love Sostanza and Vescovino in Panzano along with Luger, etc. But it WAS the best. Three inches thick, Chiannina, on the bone sliced two or three times across the grain with olive oil drizzled on it and laid on a bed of arugula on a wooden platter. Probably as close to an orgasm as I have ever experienced from a slab of meat on a plate!

We went back a year later and it was just as good. We sent friends there and one called me from Firenze on his cell phone and he and his wife toasted me for the incredible steak they had that night. Gary has eaten his way through Buenos Aires and also thought di Vinus was the best steak he had ever had.

Then di Vinus closed. And his chef left. Of course the loss was probably more about where he sourced the steak and less about who cooked it.

The ebullient owner moved to Parione behind the Excelsior and continued to offer what he said was the same bisteca along with a similar menu. But, honestly, we didn't like the room as much and the steak was a comparative disappointment. Still, the owner was stoked just as he was before and his pasta was as good as we remember. One pasta, I think, a linguini with Alba truffles in late November, was so good that I actually had a SECOND order after finishing the first!!! So good that I admitted to totally lacking pride and couth. Didn't matter. To this day it was a good decision since I can't find that here, certainly not at the price I paid that night which was at an exchange rate of .85 or .86. I would be hard pressed, given the choice, to choose between di Vinus' bisteca and Parione's white Alba truffled pasta.

Parioni is still really good today. But I really wish that he still served the bisteca fiorentina that he did for us twice just after the turn of the 21st Century. That was a memory that we still haven't been able to recapture. And a dinner that had his truffled pasta for the first course and the bisteca for the second would have to serve as my fantasy for my last meal on earth.

We never had dessert in either restaurant.

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Two more questions...

The normal one: Can you recommend a good market or area of town to buy cured meats and hard or semi-hard cheeses? A place with helpful English speakers would be a huge plus, but I'm planning to do some research before I go, so not utterly necessary. I just need to buy a load of long-life products (vacuum-packed would be ideal) to bring back with me. Customs aren't a problem for me in Africa, so some suggestions of some particularly wonderful, but maybe lesser known, foods not exported to the United States would be excellent.

The strange one: Do you have a recommendation on a good sushi place? I know this is just completely anathema for someone traveling to Italy, but I'm dying here. After a particularly atrocious sushi experience in Lisbon (which I forgot to post about... and will remedy), my craving is even worse than before that meal of sugary rice balls with dry, old tuna. I plan on eating wonderful Italian for every other meal there, but if I could just have ONE good sushi lunch or dinner, I'd be such a happy lady. If no recommendations come, I may strike out on my own to find one, so if you've found that Florence is a wasteland for sushi, I'd appreciate knowing that too. Then maybe I would just sublimate my need for another eight months... (Sigh)

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Two more questions...

The normal one: Can you recommend a good market or area of town to buy cured meats and hard or semi-hard cheeses? A place with helpful English speakers would be a huge plus, but I'm planning to do some research before I go, so not utterly necessary. I just need to buy a load of long-life products (vacuum-packed would be ideal) to bring back with me. Customs aren't a problem for me in Africa, so some suggestions of some particularly wonderful, but maybe lesser known, foods not exported to the United States would be excellent.

Any of the places in the Central Market can do this for you. There are a couple of very helpful ones in one of the corners, it is the corner that would point towards San Lorenzo. These places do a great job at catering to tourists without compromising their offerings.

As to your second question, I do not eat Asian food in Italy.

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Florence has food of the gods, bless em. We had something surprising or superb everywhere we ate, from the warm prosciutto and cheese sandwich picked up at the corner shop to the expansive Thanksgiving meal.

I concur with the general delight about Il Pizzaiulo. I ended up eating there twice, the first time, alone, I ordered what I thought was a mushroom, artichoke, ham, and olive pie, but which came out quartered, with one ingredient on each quarter. It turned out to be an excellent way to taste each ingredient on its own, and enjoy the extraordinary quality of the produce.

The next day, I dragged my mom there, and we shared a meat and cheese plate to start--again, pristine, lovely products--followed by a sausage and onion pie. I still think about this sausage, beautifully soft and pink, and just perfectly flavored. The onions were strong, and retained some bite, which gave a nice counterpoint to the crust, sauce, and cheese, which were top-notch.

My only complaint is that both of my pies were quite soupy. It didn't take away from the flavor, but the crust in the center got really flabby really fast.

We had two lovely starters at Vin Olio--a napoleon of eggplant and burrata, and flaked pork with arugula. My olive-crusted lamb entree was unremarkable, and though my mom really liked her gnocchi, I thought it was a bit sticky-chewy.

I had another lackluster entree at Branzino, but my ribollita starter was gorgeous. It had a beautiful texture and strong sage flavor, which transported me straight to my grandfather's stuffing recipe, which I've eaten on 30 of my 32 Thanksgivings. A nice, nostalgic treat.

Thanksgiving dinner was celebrated at Frescobaldi, the restaurant opened a year or two ago by the Chianti winemakers. A shared starter of tuna carpaccio was of excellent quality, though we both would have liked a bit of acid to cut the smoothness and more salt. My bacon and black pepper pasta was cool twist on carbonara, with only oil and bacon fat used as a sauce. I started out conservative on the pepper, but added more about halfway through, which just made the flavors explode. Mom adored her squash ravioli with sage and ginger, but it was a little sweet for my taste. Since we couldn't have turkey, we obviously needed to share a bistecca Fiorentina for an entree. Beautifully cooked, this was one gorgeous piece of meat, and we were the envy of all our neighboring tables.

But the star, the blue-ribbon winner of everything I ate in Italy, was Frescobaldi's cheese plate. Dear god. We had eight different cheeses, each better than the last. The ricotta was my favorite, but I'd have been happy if we were served even just one of these pristinely kept, delightful cheeses. They were served with a choice of spicy marmalades, which were a great surprise. We were both expecting sweet jams, but the spicy sugar mixed with the creamy cheeses was a revelation in flavor.

On our last morning, we spent several hours walking around the Central Market, giddily overwhelmed by all the place had to offer. I ended up with a couple hundred dollars' worth of cheeses, hams, porcinis, and salumi, all generously vacuum-sealed for me so they would make it until my Christmas Eve cocktail party. I spent over a half an hour with one cheesemonger, who couldn't have been more kind about helping me choose a good range of complimentary cheeses to serve. (I'm going to have some very, very happy friends and colleagues, seeing as our cheese choices are limited to feta, cheap and good quality; Cracker Barrel cheddar, $16 a half pound; and Edam, $18 a half pound.)

I wish I knew more about wine so I could say something more enlightening than "dude, every sip was excellent," but darnit I can't. We trusted our servers to hook us up, and hook us up they did, with reasonably priced bottles that paired beautifully with our food. I think you could do better than we did on this front, but I don't think you can go wrong.

And if you're interested, as my family is, in having a Guinness, Finnegan's pours them well and has a lovely selection of Irish whiskeys--a perfect place for post-Thanksgiving dinner degustation.

Incidentally, the dollar ain't even worth the paper it's printed on. If you're going to Europe any time soon, plan to use your ATM card. If you use the currency exchange places, including fees, it's almost a 2-to-1 rate. Thank goodness my next trips are in Tanzania and Ethiopia...

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Any updates here? I hope to be in Firenze later this year for a few days and would love to know if there are any other places worth considering aside from what has already been recommended.

Grazie!

A little over a year old now, but here are some places from a write up I did elsewhere that you may not hear about otherwise:

--...into the Oltrarno for dinner. We love this section for its restaurants & spent much time there last trip. Of course, all but one of our favorite places are now gone but we went to Il Guscio, Via dell'Orto, 49, a place written up and recommended by "erica" on CH and, given its location, pretty much a locals' place. A moderately priced place, the food was excellent. We split a mixed appetizer plate of cauliflower mousse, bean spread w/orange, sopressata cubes & ribolla cheese in filo dough. Ginny then had the maltagliati (hand-made, hand-torn pasta) w/shrimp and zucchini flowers; I had the spaghetti w/ "fish ragu". For mains, I had veal brain w/roasted potatoes and veggie tempura; Ginny had "padella", seafood in liquid (mussels, clams, languestinos, shrimp). All excellent. With a Chianti Reserva '01, some water con gas, a grappa & a limoncello, it all came to 100euros (including a 10 euro tip). Back to the hotel and out cold by 11pm.

-- ...Omero, a place south of our hotel in the middle of a close suburb of Florence (you need a car to get here or a really good sense of the bus system). Beutiful sunset views west (of course) and north to Florence. Written up in the Access guide, so some tourists were there, but not many, since you really need a car to get there if you're not staying at a place nearby. The food is a little overpriced but the views and setting make it worth it. It's a "traditional" Tuscan menu, and a lot of the roasting of freshly slaughtered animals is done on site. Not a must but, if one has the time, recommended.

We also went to Trattoria Cammillo, Borgo San Jacopo 57/R (also in the Oltrarno), where we had been several times before on previous trips. Again, a very nice dinner, with many French, German & other tourists, for 90euros. This is a "safe bet" type of place, very well known, where nothing is exceptional, but everything is nicely prepared & we left well satisfied. Many rooms and, although it never looks too crowded, there must be well over 70 tables all told. And, of course, Nerbone, in the Central Market. A Ribollita for Ginny and a Bollito w/the works for me. Not to be missed. If you're not already convinced, the bollito is a sliced boiled beef sandwich on panini, dipped in broth, salted, w/salsa verde & some hot pepper sauce (3euros). Would've eaten more there but we had to leave room for the many samples given out at the Perini stand: they ply you with cheese, meats, even wines & roasted garlic. Dessert was sweet aged balsemic from another stand w/samples (we have no conscience). Gotta go to this market... gotta have lunch at Nerbone.

Have fun.

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Hit up Dino (Dean, you need to hit this place next time!), Cammillo (meal of the trip, no kidding), and Quttro Leoni for dinners and Baldovino, the Mercato Centrale and some other places for lunches. There's a great chocolate place in Firenze now, too. mm. More later.

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Hello all,

We are going to be in Italy 2 weeks at the end of May/ beginning of June. Currently the plan is to spend 4 nights in Rome, 1 night at an agrotourismo "somewhere," a week in a cottage 1/2 km outside of Montepulciano and then the last 3 nights in Florence. LIFE IS GOOD.

Does anyone have a recommendation for an agrotourism farm/lodging in northern Umbria or Tuscany for one night? Since we are going to be spending a week day-tripping out of Montepulciano, I thought it would be nice to either go somewhere on the west coast, or in the east either in Umbria or over near Assisi/Cortona.

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the travel posting section. I have been going over all the great postings about places to eat in Rome, Florence and (in and around) Montalcino. I can't wait to get there.

Thanks,

Heather

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We are going to be in Italy 2 weeks at the end of May/ beginning of June. Currently the plan is to spend 4 nights in Rome, 1 night at an agrotourismo "somewhere," a week in a cottage 1/2 km outside of Montepulciano and then the last 3 nights in Florence. LIFE IS GOOD.

Does anyone have a recommendation for an agrotourism farm/lodging in northern Umbria or Tuscany for one night? Since we are going to be spending a week day-tripping out of Montepulciano, I thought it would be nice to either go somewhere on the west coast, or in the east either in Umbria or over near Assisi/Cortona.

A few years ago I spent most of a lovely week at the Rosa dei Venti in Creti di Cortona but frankly, Cortona is so close to Montepulciano that it doesn't really count as another base of exploration. Still, the lodgings in this agriturismo are pleasantly up-to-date, and your suite comes with a full kitchen. The family who own RdV also conduct cooking classes in the main kitchen of the central building, sometimes extending to bread baking in the outdoor brick oven. I found them to be charming and tremendously helpful...Stefano took a few hours out of one day to guide me to town and back when I needed a repair to a blown tire on my rental car.

In Montepulciano, you must take a table at the Osteria dell'Acquacheta. It's fun, rustic, brimming with character, and a great place to tackle a monster piece of Fiorentina while downing goblets of unlabeled local wine...you're in the homeland of Chianina cattle, after all. Ignore what the guidebooks say about Fiorentina being offered in increments of a few etti; the proprietor here only cuts his steak one way, and it'll be about a kilo of expensive and gorgeous beef.

Life IS good indeed.

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A few years ago I spent most of a lovely week at the Rosa dei Venti in Creti di Cortona but frankly, Cortona is so close to Montepulciano that it doesn't really count as another base of exploration. Still, the lodgings in this agriturismo are pleasantly up-to-date, and your suite comes with a full kitchen. The family who own RdV also conduct cooking classes in the main kitchen of the central building, sometimes extending to bread baking in the outdoor brick oven. I found them to be charming and tremendously helpful...Stefano took a few hours out of one day to guide me to town and back when I needed a repair to a blown tire on my rental car.

In Montepulciano, you must take a table at the Osteria dell'Acquacheta. It's fun, rustic, brimming with character, and a great place to tackle a monster piece of Fiorentina while downing goblets of unlabeled local wine...you're in the homeland of Chianina cattle, after all. Ignore what the guidebooks say about Fiorentina being offered in increments of a few etti; the proprietor here only cuts his steak one way, and it'll be about a kilo of expensive and gorgeous beef.

Life IS good indeed.

I know that the Pucci's, the owners of San Vincenti in Chianti had a great agrotourismo. It is on a hill outside of Gaiole. Hopefully it is still available.
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If you will be driving from Rome to Montepulciano, this could be a delightful place to stop for the night: http://www.lacannara.it/home_gb.htm. I have not stayed here but read about it in a recent issue of the Gambero Rosso magazine. It's just south of Lake Bolsena and famous for its gardens which should be lovely at the time you're traveling.

Another place (outside of San Gimignano) that also looks great: http://www.mormoraia.it/index.php. Again, I have not stayed here either and it may not be quite the location you are looking for. I'll let you know if I think of any other places!

Molly

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If you will be driving from Rome to Montepulciano, this could be a delightful place to stop for the night: http://www.lacannara.it/home_gb.htm. I have not stayed here but read about it in a recent issue of the Gambero Rosso magazine. It's just south of Lake Bolsena and famous for its gardens which should be lovely at the time you're traveling.

Another place (outside of San Gimignano) that also looks great: http://www.mormoraia.it/index.php. Again, I have not stayed here either and it may not be quite the location you are looking for. I'll let you know if I think of any other places!

Molly

I am looking up all of the suggestions. Decisions...decisions...I will let you all know what we decide. When we get back i will do a review so that other might learn from our hardships. LOL

Heather

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Some places that might be nice if you want to drive up the coast towards Grosseto before heading to Montepulciano : http://it.toprural.com/agriturismo-camere/...htm#comentarios, http://www.riparbella.com/engl./e-urlaub.html.

We are doing a similar trip in October staying a week outside Pienza and plan to spend one night in Orvieto en route from Rome. That makes an easy stopover, has many lodging options, good restaurants, beautiful duomo, etc. etc.

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Some places that might be nice if you want to drive up the coast towards Grosseto before heading to Montepulciano : http://it.toprural.com/agriturismo-camere/...htm#comentarios, http://www.riparbella.com/engl./e-urlaub.html.

We are doing a similar trip in October staying a week outside Pienza and plan to spend one night in Orvieto en route from Rome. That makes an easy stopover, has many lodging options, good restaurants, beautiful duomo, etc. etc.

I am jealous. :rolleyes: Orvieto is very nice.

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