Sunday, March 28, 2010

Food in Florence Italy!

Reta, Abby & Sarah enjoying light refreshment at the cafe at the Uffizi!

Freshly back from Italy with my two little sisters Reta & Abby- terrorizing waiters from Florence to Volterra. I suspect we were a wee bit gauche showing up at restaurants at the Ungodly early hour of 7 PM and giggling while ordering, but the waiters soon warmed to our charms and large tips. We also appreciated their food and service in an undeniable if linguistically stilted manner.

The food offerings were a bit disappointing to us- compared to my trip to Rome a few years back. Where were the artichokes during their harvest season? Where was the artichoke and olive pizza? It also seemed to be a much more pasta based diet in Florence- a real non-starter for a celiac. We sated our artichoke lust at the small grocery across the street with hotel picnics of cheese, salmon mousse, wine and marinated artichokes.

We soon hit our stride. The three of us, plus an honorary sister, new Sarah, who insinuated her way on to the taxi from the airport and into our forays for food, made for a foursome hell bent on culinary pleasure. We struck out to find the out of the way restaurants to deliver what we demanded.

The Osteria di Porcellini, not too far from the Porcellini Bronze (little boar), was our first attempt. The risotto with salmon and broccoli was decent but nothing a half rate Italian restaurant in the states wouldn't offer. What it did offer was Rafael sitting next to us and explaining the Italian leather trade. It was worth the price of admission. We checked out his shop the next day where his cousin summoned him from the factory floor with the promise of 4 American women. Our honorary sister, New Sarah, came close to purchasing but evaded the siren call of Italian shearling.

The next night we made a reservation at Il Santo Bevitore, across the Arno on the more funky side of town. It is a beautiful restaurant, but dimly lit. New Sarah sealed our fate as gauche Americans by stealing the candle from the nearby table to be able to read the menu. Our wonderful waiter, Camariere 2, castigated her but returned with a replacement candle. The meal was good and the service impeccable. Camariere laughed and helped us through the menu. We found a hopping little bar with live music on the walk home but we had already polished off a bottle of wine and an after dinner Limoncello. We stayed for a few songs and stumbled to the hotel.

The next day we were off to see sights without the others on the tour. We shopped and we went to the Opera del Duomo- a museum of original tidbits removed from the cathedral due to their delicate state. Once again Abby was in need of sustenance- and no one is happy unless Abby is happy. Reta turned around to point to some purple doors- "How about there?" It was a fortuitous choice and one of our best meals. Mangiofoco looks like a small hole in the wall but it is deceiving. There are many levels of tables and very fresh food cooked on the premises. There were ricotta and spinach tagliatelle, truffle honey drizzled on fresh pecorino and white fish in a delicate tomato sauce. The owner Max was our waiter and made the lunch an event. He even consented to a photo.

On New Sarah's final night we went to a much revered establishment- Buca Mario. The service was to die for, but we had just come off a wonderful lunch at Mangiofoco, it was noisy and the place felt a little overpriced. It reminded me a bit of those Boston restaurants that slide by on reputation and presentation. Good, but not great.

New Sarah returned to the US and the three graces continued on to Volterra- a cult destination for American teens due to it being the setting for the most recent Twilight series- New Moon. Nevertheless we found a light repast around 1 in what looked liked a cheesy dinner. Faux lacquer chairs and nearly non-existent atmosphere. We amused ourselves watching a young couple and their small child who was nearly a duplicate of my sister Reta's youngest daughter. The food was amazingly competent and satisfying for what basically amounted to an Italian diner. I had a delicious seafood risotto loaded with mussels. Then a class trip of Italian preteens descended for their lunch. We were reduced to tears watching them fight about food and who had to sit with the girls. Teens are the same the world over.

That night we vowed to eat at a tony looking little restaurant around the corner from our hotel. It was called Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca. We stupidly tried to go to dinner at 7- as the staff was sitting down to theirs. We were sent away- how humiliating! We showed up again at 7:45 and we were seated right next to the wine cellar. We were deep enough into the countryside that the waiter could not speak English. My sisters put me in charge of ordering wine. I am still trying to get the distinction between red and rose in Italian- it caused me to send a bottle back. Humiliation number two! We finally dived into the wine and started enjoying ourselves. My first course was ricotta souffle- light and lovely. Abby had spinach & ricotta gnocchi with truffles and a rich cream sauce. Reta had a light salad with pecorino shavings. We all tried Abby's gnocchi- they were just about the best thing I ever tasted- until my main course arrived. Reta had pasta with a pesto sauce. Abby opted for a light plate of grilled vegetables - a wise choice after her rich gnocchi. I had THE most amazing bowl of lentil soup I will ever have in my life! It was pureed and lightly rimmed with olive oil. Browned, extruded mashed potatoes formed a flower design around a raw egg yolk in the middle. Shaved white truffles covered the top. I pierced the egg yolk which ran over the top of the thick soup adding a rich creamy texture. The truffles were earthy and delicious. I wonder if anyone else has ever rhapsodized about lentil soup? We all agreed that while this was the priciest meal we had in Italy, it was worth every cent.

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