My husband and I ate stopped here twice on our first trip to Florence. We were introduced to the restaurant and its owner through a friend and each time had a wonderful experience. Our first stop was in the afternoon and we stopped in for some wine. The hospitality was superior. We were given a tour of their wine cellar – which is part of the Roman excavations of the amphitheatre - it was impressive! And the wine was wonderful too.
We went there a second time for dinner. It was a beautiful day so we ate outside. We allowed the owner to select our meals – starter, main course and dessert – and everything was Italian, fresh and delicious. It was a pleasant evening as we got to know the couple that sat at the table beside us who were from Wales. They were on their third visit to this restaurant and agreed that they hadn’t had a bad meal yet.
The service was top notch – anything we requested we received. At the end, we decided to buy one of the bottles of the wine from their selection that we enjoyed so much – and my husband requested the bottle with the upside down label (it was on display with the rest of them). So we have a unique memento from a wonderful experience!
Francesco, the owner, stood watch over the evening and was quick to notice if anything was askew with any of his guests. It was fascinating to watch his sense of hospitality and fast response.
I had hoped to return on my second trip, but during a discussion with our server (the owner’s son), I learned that he would be celebrating his honeymoon that same week and they would be closed. Sure enough, they were closed (I went by there just in case!). Maybe on my third visit to Florence…
Francesco Vini is located on one of the main pedestrian walks between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Church of Santa Croce. Very easy to find.
Our class headed over towards the Church of Santa Trinita to look at the Renaissance frescoes in the chapels, especially the works of Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel that feature the Medici family. Join me as we visit the Church of Santa Trinita.
This restaurant came highly recommended from a friend. It is probably the only American style diner in Florence and that is why it started – the owners realized that sometimes people visiting in a foreign land get homesick for food from home. Thus, The Diner was born…
At The Diner you can get breakfast all day long, burgers and fries, shakes – all that traditional diner fare – for a price that won’t bust your wallet. Classic hamburger and fries will run you about €9. And the food is really, really good. Just a fun place to go for a change of pace!
The Diner is on a back street – you would really miss it if you didn’t know it was there – just around from the Bargello. Their website has a map (but not much more). The bright orange seats outside will tell you when you are there! They are open daily from 9:00 am to 10:30 pm.
It was a long day and we covered a lot of ground. In my university course, the next day we boarded a chartered bus for a visit to Siena and San Gimignano, which I have separate pages for if you are interested in a side trip to these Tuscan towns. But for now, let’s continue on in Florence. On the way back to the hotel from The Diner, I stopped at the local convenience store to pick up a couple needed items.
I would stop at this pizzeria on my way back to the hotel for the afternoon lecture. It was quick and easy, which meant I could spend the rest of my lunchtime taking photos or enjoying the city. It is nicely located in the Piazza di San Giovanni – which is the piazza the Baptistry is located in. It is in the row of shops behind the north doors (and entrance to the Baptistry).
They have a variety of pizzas – my preference was the sausage. You pay per 100g – they weigh it for you after cutting off your piece, then pop it into the oven for a quick heating while you pay. Then you are on your way quickly. The price is €1.30 per 100g and my pieces (approximately 6 inches by 9 inches – rectangular shaped) typically were around €5. You can purchase drinks there and even eat in their downstairs area if you like. But on nice days, grab it to go and enjoy the scenery!
For meat lovers – remember that pepperoni will get you peppers so if you want pepperoni (meat) you need to ask for salami.
While we are still near the Baptistry, let’s head over and have a closer look at the outside of the cathedral and the bell tower. Look closely at the statues and reliefs that decorate these structures – these are all copies of the original pieces. Our next stop is located behind the cathedral where we’ll get a look at the originals in the Cathedral Museum.
Florence has been known for its artistic treasures, not its culinary talents.
With Alessandro Gargani's return to his hometown Firenze to make magic in the kitchen of his La Cucina Del Garga restaurant, all that could change.
Trip Advisor's members ranked Garga as the 17th best restaurant out of nearly 1,200 rated in Florence.
The reviews are even better than the top 20 rating, with countless diners saying La Cucina Del Garga was their best dining experience in all of Florence.
That is an amazing tribute, when many consider the cafes in rural Tuscany and Umbria to be superior to the restaurants of tourist-choked Florence.
And many prefer Southern Italian cooking to the less revered Central Italy cuisine of Florence.
La Cucina Del Garga isn't even on the River Arno, or next to the Duomo or adjacent to the Uffizi or in the heart of the foodie Santa Croce area.
It's a beat off the beaten track, a bit north of the Basilica San Lorenzo Church and Mercato Centrale.
It even has to compete with a similarly-named restaurant that does everything it can to poach diners away from La Cucina Del Garga (more on that later).
Even the dining rooms at Garga are far from traditional.
Wildly eclectic, some would say mismatched, paintings and other objects de arte bring color, if not formality to the dining areas.
So with all against so many odds -- doing amazing things with seafood while not being in a coastal area, not having the advantage of tourist foot traffic and being based in a city more know for Michelangelo than Michelin stars -- how does La Cucina Del Garga do it?
We'll let the kitchen creations do the talking.
It should be noted that we arrived unfashionably early for lunch on a mid-week day -- a time when kitchens might not be at their peak.
We also arrived angered and disheveled -- because an idiot taxi driver ignored our pleas and deposited at the similarly-named rogue restaurant that steal customers away from Garga.
We had to fight with the second cabbie to get to the real La Cucina Del Garga by insisting we be deposited at its Via San Zanobi, 33 address -- even if there wasn't a trattoria within 2 kilometers (as the moronic driver insisted).
So again, against all odds, Chef Alessandro Gargani calmed us, entertained us and pleased or palates with his stellar cuisine.
We were not starving -- so rather than doing formal primi, secondi, antipasti and contorni -- we settled on a secondi patti each plus one starter and one side to share.
Though Florence is about 90 kilometers from the Mediterranean, we put our trust in Chef Alessandro and both ordered secondi piatti from the sea.
I opted for composta tiepida di mare -- a mix of sautéed boneless seafood salad served warm with cherry tomatoes and celery.
My bountiful warm seafood salad had octopus, squid, mussels, clams and more.
I thought I had scored the most delightful Italian seafood in all the nation....until my wife Heidi shared a bit of her main dish.
Her polpo piccante alla piastra con fagioli saltati --
Seared marinated spicy octopus served over sautéed beans -- was to die for.
If my meal deserved a letter grade of A, hers was A+++.
Never have I had octopus so spicy and so crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
Living in Miami, we eat a lot of octopus (pulpo in Little Havana's espanol, polpo in the Italiano of Firenze), so we know the good stuff from a meal that would better serve as live bait.
La Cucina Del Garga's spicy creation was the freshest-sourced, most delicately-prepared octopus we'd ever tasted.
The bed of beans was no throwaway either.
You can't get anymore Tuscan than beans in olive oil and Garga's are as perfect as you'll find in the whole region.
Our contorni (side dish) patate al forno con rosmarino al profumo di limoni -- roasted lemon and rosemary infused potatoes.
We wanted to put Alessandro Gargani to the test with something simple.
Roasted potatoes are about as simple as it gets.
They also happen to be one of the most butchered side dishes on the planet.
We have gone to countless 5-star restaurants that have turned simple roast potatoes into something bland as sawdust.
Not so with La Cucina Del Garga.
Heidi, not nearly so big a starch eater as I am (and with the girlish figure to prove it), was fighting me for the last roasted potato on the plate.
Crispy on the inside and perfectly delicate on the inside, the lemon and rosemary was the perfect touch to transcend the taters into something succulent but not overpowered with too much infused flavoring.
The primi we ordered as a starter actually batted cleanup in our culinary lineup, after we'd finished the seafood.
While we scored points for ordering the eclectic seafood, we touched the chef's heart when we asked to share a small plate of pasta.
Garga's Ravioli al sugo di carne -- Spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli with meat sauce -- really is from Alessandro's father's father secret red meat sauce recipe.
We don't want to give away the secret, but we're almost certain that the rich red sauce is made without tomatoes.
We'd venture to say the savory gravy is about equal parts beef, red wine and onion.
That I liked it is a testament to La Cucina Del Garga's wizardry.
I'm not big on meat sauce for pasta and onions usually give me fits in larger quantities.
But this sauce was divine and the ravioli was homemade.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that we eased into our lavish lunch with a perfectly sparkling dry prosecco to wash down a fabulous fresh bread with outstanding olive oil.
A chef-suggested (we're idiots for not jotting down the label, but we were too relaxed to pay attention to fine details) red wine fueled us through the primi and secondi.
We were too sated to be tempted by dessert, but we couldn't pass up on a couple strong Italian espressos.
The shots were as rich and powerful as our hometown Cuban Coffee but without the tons of sugar that automatically comes in the cafe favored by our Cubano brethren.
The verdict -- we are as likely to return to Florence for the artistry of La Cucina Del Garga and Chef Alessandro Gargani as we are for the master works of Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Giotto.
Favorite Dish: polpo piccante alla piastra con fagioli saltati --
Seared marinated spicy octopus served over sautéed beans
We stayed in Florence for 4 days and we dined in that restaurant twice, so you can imagine how much we loved it. Food is cooked in the traditional ovens on the wood, all ingredients are fresh, even peppers are hanging there in front of you and you can see the cooks that use them right there on the spot. The decoration is what you would expect from a typical Italian trattoria, but again, there is something special. Maybe it's the fact that the place is at the beginning of a lovely, narrow, pedestrian street, maybe it's the music or the smell of the food!
Favorite Dish: As I said, we dined there twice. We tasted the Fiorentina pizza (salami, peppers, olives) 8 euros and the Maialona (ham, spicy salami tuscan, salami wurstel) 8 euros. We also had some Peroni Nostro Azzurro beer 5 euros and some sparkling water 2.50 euros. But the best dish, by far, is the penne Arrabiata. My God! Never in our lives had we tasted a better dish than that! It was really mouthwatering. You should definitely try it.
Italy’s reputation as a civilization through the millennia is unparalleled: standard-setting architecture, ingenious feats of engineering, art as awe-inspiring as gazing into the face of God.
All of those things should be part and parcel of a trip to Florence. But let’s not forget two of the best things about contemporary Italian culture: tasty things to put in one’s mouth and gorgeous things to wear.
That’s why Caffe Giacosa was a must-see on my list. Nestled in Florence’s famed fashion district centered around Via Tornabuoni (the boutiques! the bags! the Pucci prints!), Giacosa is part coffee house, part salon, and 100 percent famed Italian designer Roberto Cavalli.
Cavalli, a Florentine by birth, saved and re-imagined the spot that was the former location of an antique shop turned cafe. The designer synonymous with bold animal prints has created a space -- once known as Florence’s drawing room – that gives a nod to both the past and the present. Think Old World luxe crossed with contemporary chic: a gorgeous wooden bar and padded banquets; walls covered with black and white photos of fashion models, working the all-important contrast of light and shadow, like the chiaroscuro in Renaissance paintings.
Giacosa is open throughout the day. To get the full flavor of it, first come for breakfast, then return for afternoon highballs. Our morning visit included aromatic, perfectly foamed cappuccino and an assortment of scrumptious pastries, including some dark, near bitter chocolate delights and a blueberry-filled croissant.
The people-watching was as irresistible as the food. Businessmen in bespoke suits and expensive looking briefcases rushed in for coffee and pastry, then on to the office. A decidedly hip young mom spent some quality time with her little shaver in tow. A slender, androgynous woman with impossibly thin hips encased in leather pants stopped to make the scene.
Giacosa is inviting for late afternoon cocktails, and the drink of choice is the Negroni. The mystical union of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin was invented on this very site at the start of the 1920s, back when it was Bar Casoni. I approached the handsome barkeep in vest and tie and ordered the drink old fashioned-style, one of several variations on the menu. He presented it smartly with a garnish of fresh orange slice, the sweetness complementing my mini baguette with prosciutto di Parma.
One can also get other delights to go or have them shipped home, such as wickedly good chocolates by weight, Roberto Cavalli Vodka, or Cavalli Tenuta Degli Dei Wine. Whatever your pleasure, Giacosa is a heady mix of old Euro charm and of-the-moment glamour, a perfect oasis of calm from the buzzing streets of Florence.
Favorite Dish: Negroni...it was invented here
It is a very central place, close to the Duomo so it is, inevitably, very touristy. Another consequence of that is that prices are higher than normal. It was right on our way while we were walking, feeling tired, hot and thirsty. We had some ice-cream, of course. The one with Nutella, Cheesecake and Yoghurt and the other one with Pistachio, Nutella and Crema. And some sparkling water. And that cost us 26euros! Quite a lot, ha?
Favorite Dish: The ice-cream was delicious.
The concept of the restaurant is the same wherever you go. Hard Rock Cafe is always a pleasant experience because you know what to expect. You won't experience any surprises, that's for sure. The decoration is fantastic, as always, with a lot of memorabilia on the walls, clothes, personal items of the superstars, records etc. There is also a big video wall with video clips of popular artists and a big bar where you can enjoy your drink and meet people. The only drawback is that prices are a bit higher than normal but this is not something new, that's what usually happens in this chain restaurant. Still, it was a pleasant experience.
Favorite Dish: We had the classic Legendary cheeseburger with seasoned bacon, two slices of Cheddar cheese, fried onion ring lettuce, tomato and pickles with fries of course!Yummy! It was very-well cooked and tasty.
There are really no words to describe our worst experience in Florence. One might think that we're making this up or that we exaggerate, believe me. All of what you're going to read is true. Where shall I start?
1) It seemed like a family business because the young waiter argued with the elderly couple quite loud, without considering the fact that the customers could hear or that it was rude to do that in front of the customers.
2) They brought my husband's pizza but mine was a bit late. 20 minutes late! So he ate alone and when he finished, my pizza arrived. Never before had this happened to us in a restaurant wherever we traveled to.
3) The service was terrible. The young waiter served us while chewing his own food. He wouldn't smile at all and he would not look at us in the face when we tried to ask a question about the food. He was bored to death and even had his hands in his pocket.
4) The worst of all, the food was not fresh at all. Our pizzas were frozen. Oh, the ravioli with butter and herbs with ordered come at the very end (after we pretended to enjoy the pizzas) and it was also cold and frozen.
We would not recommend going to this restaurant under any circumstances. Really, prefer to eat a sandwich or a toast. Do not go.
People had already recommended this restaurant before we went to Florence so we thought we should give it a try. It is a beautiful restaurant, very-well decorated and the atmosphere makes you feel very special. The waiters are very polite and ready to serve you without keeping you waiting. You have the choice of sitting outside on the small porch or inside which is obviously more fascinating. Moreover, there are various antiques that make the interior very grandeur. If you are on a budget holiday, don't go there because there are cheaper meal options in Florence. But do go if you want to treat yourself.
Favorite Dish: We had "I Taglierini Paoli style" (spaghetti with peas, bacon, mushrooms and a white sauce) which was 15euros and some handmade gnocchetti with gorgonzola cheese which was 12 euros. The first one was very nice and light but the latter was a bit heavy for our stomach because apart from the filled gorgonzolla cheese, it had some extra creamy cheese on top which made it a bit heavy. My husband ordered a glass of Scabrezza wine as well.
David Gardner's Baldovino Trattoria & Pizzeria is located on a narrow street about 100 meters from the front of the art- and history-filled Basilica Santa Croce.
You can still sit outside at a lovely sidewalk cafe setting (the interior of Baldovino is even more beautiful), you just won't have a full view of Piazza Santa Croce.
For that small trade, you will pay unbelievably low prices for amazingly authentic an straightforward Italian bistro cuisine.
Monolingual English speakers will also be rewarded by Baldovino's attentive and well-trained servers, who speak flawless English.
That should come as no surprise as their boss, chef David Gardner, is a longtime expat from Scotland.
Gardner first molded Baldovino into a pizza and wine joint and the pizzas are still spectacular.
But over the years, he has expanded the menu to include Tuscan treats throughout -- whether it is a fresh salad made with ingredients from the countryside, pasta with local wild boar or a unique hummus made of Tuscan beans.
Said Hoummus Toscana -- cannellini, sesame and garlic dip served with Arab bread from Baldovino's wood oven -- started ear evening out perfectly.
Heidi, wanting to sample Tuscany's famed game meat, went for Papardelle with homemade wild boar ragout, scented with juniper.
Certainly, boar tastes a bit wilder than beef, but the dish was an outstanding main course for a hungry traveler.
While Baldovino's menu has expanded far beyond pizza, I couldn't resist choosing from the dozens of fresh and inventive creations on the menu.
I settled on the Siciliana -- with mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, olives and melted parmesan.
The pizza was big enough to share, but I gorged on the whole thing down to the last bit of crust.
The moz was brilliant and fresh.
The sundrieds were sweet, fruity, zesty.
The black olives earthy, briny taste were a perfect contrast to the sundried tomatoes.
Fearing too much of a good thing, I almost asked our outstanding and attentive server to hold off on the crispy melted parmesan on top of the pizza.
Too much cheese can sink an otherwise perfect pizza.
The parm was perfect -- divinely crispy and salty to play off the mild mozzarella.
The house red was the perfect accompaniment to both my meatless pizza and Heidi's hearty Papardelle with boar ragout.
Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get better, our flawless waiter asked if I would like to try some hot olive oil.
I like it hot and he delivered a succulent olive oil spiked with dried, crushed red peppers.
The fiery (but not damaging) oil was the perfect thing to dip my pizza crust in (whether that was breaking any Tuscan dining rules or not).
We didn't have room for more, but our brilliant server tempted us with word that Baldovino takes great pride in its baked goods.
Soon, we were sharing torta a ciccoloto con panna -- chocolate torte with panna cotta (cooked cream).
Since Baldovino has an extensive wine list, we let are sharp server suggest an excellent dessert wine to end our main courses and east our way into the delish chocolate.
Also worth noting is Baldovino has wheelchair-accessible seating outdoors and a barrier-free entrance to its lovely indoor dining.
The restroom is one of the most accessible in Florence.
We can report that on our last day in Firenze, we broke our own rule about patronizing the same place twice -- when there are so many fresh options to sample.
We went light.
Heidi noshed on a salad Toscana with mixed leaves, pecorino cheese, pear, celery, walnuts.
I went veg again with the fab Giardiniera pizza of fresh tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, bell peppers, olives in onions.
The red peppers really put it over the top, as I downed the whole pie, save for a small slice shared with my bridge.
I begged to disrupt the natural harmony of the Giardiniera pizza, asking them to hold the onions.
They did without complaining.
Favorite Dish: Pizza
Thanks to Trattoria Pallottino, the upscale Italian restaurants seem average, the dependable red table cloth joints have become barely mediocre and my homemade pasta just plain lousy.
Maybe it comes off as backhanded, but that's about the highest compliment I could pay to a family-run trattoria in the heart of historic Florence.
Family is key, as the owner cradles a sleeping infant against his shoulder as he hands you the menu.
He returns, little one in stroller this time, to tell you the day's specials and to help steer you toward the menu items that are most representative of Tuscan cuisine.
Tuscans are proud of the olive oil, white beans, wild boar, beef, tomatoes, mushrooms and other items that come from their region.
They want patrons to know that no matter what the 100-plus item Italian restaurant back on Mainstreet USA tells you, there IS NOT ONE ITALY.
The nation has barely been unified for a century and a half and unlike the globalization that kills individuality in the states, Italy takes pride in its unique regional flavors.
In Florence, local flavor means an Pallottino appetizer of crostini di polenta fritta ai funghi porcini -- ie, little toasts made of lightly fired polenta and topped with porcini mushrooms to die for.
Because lunch is often the biggest meal of the day, next comes ribollita alla contadina, the famed bread and tomato-based Tuscan soup thick as stew.
Starving, we also ordered Pallottino's signature cannellini beans in tomato sauce, though it might have been wiser to go with the more traditional olive oil base since the hearty ribollita also was tomato-based.
No matter how good the primi was, the best -- by far -- was yet to come in the secondi.
My bride of a quarter century Heidi went for the blackboard special of porchetta with outstanding roasted potatoes.
Porchetta is Italian for suckling pig that is heavily salted on the outside, deboned, stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds, and other herbs, then rolled up and slowly roasted.
The result is a stunning piece of pork with the perfect amount of buttery fat and crispy skin on the plate to add to the flavor..
Porchetta usually is served room temperature or cold.
Pallottino serves it chilly.
Here's a little hint for those of you who perhaps are children of the Great Lakes who grew up thinking everything out of mom's kitchen should be nice and warm -- put the hot out of the oven taters on top of the porchetta and you've got warmed pork without offending the kitchen.
We certainly didn't stoop to such devices, we're just saying...
Speaking of roast potatoes, what is it about the Tuscan roast spud?
Why is it so superior to the American version?
I can't tell you how many times I've ordered "redskin" or "new" potatoes -- even at a top drawer seafood or steak house -- only to be sorely disappointed in the bland little cubes of flavorless starch sitting next to an otherwise top-drawer entree prepared by a skilled chef?
Is it the source tater itself? Is it the generous use of olive oil? Do they know to toss a little garlic on the spuds to give 'em some life?
I've gotta ask somebody who knows, because Tuscan roast potatoes -- especially those prepared by the owner's wife at the helm in Pallottino's kitchen, are as savory as the best hash brown from a greasy spoon diner.
Somehow, in his limited English, Pallottino's owner convinced me to order lasagna with spinach.
Here comes another tirade.
Though I listened to Popeye and ate plenty of spinach growing up in the Rust Belt, I came to dread all pastas allegedly done Florentine style.
Even in big city restaurants in the Midwest, Manhattan and Miami, the Florentine stuff had an overpowering bitter spinach taste.
Often, it also included unappetizing green pasta -- allegedly infused with spinach, but most likely food dyed in the de-flavorizing machine.
Not so with Pallatino's lasagne fatte in casa alla vecchia maniera (homemade lasagna done the old way.)
Very mild spinach noodles caressed the finest ricotta in these meatless baked dish.
Crispy on top, dense and creamy inside, it was the best lasagna I have ever tasted.
Favorite Dish: Pallatino has outstanding wheelchair access at its outside seating area.
Inside, things are a little tight, but the owner treated us like family -- bringing three different kinds of chairs until Heidi felt comfortable sitting in one to get a break from her manual wheelchair.
The restroom is not standard American ADA accessible, but as we have mentioned before in this blog, constraints on construction make it nearly impossible perform renovations that create large, accessible restrooms.
Access is a casualty of the very historic preservation movement that makes Florence one of the most-visited non-capital cities in Europe.
A foodie paradise, Cibreo doesn't even crack the top 400 of more than 1,000 Florence restaurants ranked by the esteemed members of one of the world's most popular on-line rating sites.
Perhaps the fine dining establishment of star chef Fabio Picchi isn't for everyone -- the Olive Garden, it ain't.
But for anyone who appreciates slow food, outstanding service, premium ingredients and local sourcing, Cibreo easily deserves to be ranked among top dozen dining spots in fabled Florence.
It seems like the philistines who rail against Cibreo have a quartet of common complaints:
Long waits for food (do you want fast service from a microwave or proper service from a kitchen that cares?)
Small portions (they aren't small -- they are just appropriate size. Notice how Europeans aren't as obese as Americans? There's a reason -- normal-sized portions.)
They don't serve pasta (Tuscan cuisine involves a wide area of cheeses, game meat, beans, farm to table vegetables and other items that are not based on the noodle and slathered in red sauce.
High prices (Florence is an expensive city and for the record, you could easily spend more than half of what it costs to eat at Cibreo drinking horrible wine, eating crappy food and being upsold on lousy appetizers and desserts at any number of tourist traps with pretty piazza views but cruddy kitchens. In other words, you get what you pay for.)
Cibreo has no printed menu. Waiters -- versed in several languages -- sit down with you and go over the fresh items the purveyors have delivered that day and how they might make an excellent primi and secondi for your palette.
Though Cibreo is for foodies -- not the Cracker Barrel crowd -- our server was very conscious of not allowing us to embarrass ourselves with an order we would be unhappy with.
She very subtly pointed out that a game meat would be served cold to room temperature (when an American might expect it warm and be disappointed if it didn't come out red hot.) She also subtly stressed that the roast pigeon does have lots of small bones and is to be eaten with fingers.
The attention to detail is staggering -- and not just with the memorized menu with dozens of dazzling preparations.
Our server noticed a wobbly-legged chair at the table next to ours. She shot a glance at an underling (apparently responsible for such things) that basically said "the next time you let this happen, that faulty piece of furniture will be smashed over your head."
Again -- if you want endless soup, salad and bread sticks, this ain't your place.
If you love starting off your meal with a perfectly-crafted array of Tuscan tidbits -- created by Chef Picchi, he of the mad man genius in the kitchen self-cultivated persona -- you have come to the right place.
Out comes Giulio Picchi, Fabio's son, to tell you about the heavenly items spread out in tiny tasting portions for you.
Our grazing included: white beans in fabulous olive oil, ricotta unlike any you've ever savored, smoked cold muscles good enough to seduce a non bi-valve eater, the best zucchini you've ever tasted, warm potato rolls, chicken liver pate spread on crostini, herbed goat cheese, tomato aspic (cold gelatin) and cold veal tripe salad.
Full disclosure time. We really tried hard not to be stomach-squeamish, but could not rise above our Midwestern roots. Alas, we did not finish even the tiny taste o' trippa.
Trusting the sommelier , we went with a fine Super Tuscan Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend that, well, blended perfectly with the wide range of delicacies brought to our table. Light on the tongue, it must of packed a bit of a punch, for we confess we forgot to note the label (sorry).
Spouse Heidi's primi patti was polenta with light ricotta cheese -- light as a cloud. I opened with a brown fish stew that tasted like an upscale New Orleans gumbo.
Somewhere along the way, Team Picchi shows a little levity by bringing each table a giant bread stick shaped like a bone. Despite being a fine dining joint, at least half the diners, (aka all the American tourists in the house) couldn't resist mugging for camera phone shots with the bone gritted in their teeth, Fido the hound style.
For the record, the breadstick tastes great and no, we did not mug for any cameras.
Now onto the fab the secondi patti. Heidi's was an ethereal deconstructed veal stew served on a plate, not a bowl, with edges defined by small homemade bread sticks. The super tender veal was enhanced with carrot coins and pureed roasted potatoes.
Yours truly adopted for Cibreo's somewhat famous chicken and ricotta meat balls in tomato sauce with a side of asparagus. Yes, as some American over eaters whine, the meat balls are not huge by second course standards. But no, you don't have the right to complain (you did get more than a half dozen samples of Tuscan treats, multiple kinds of bread, an appetizer and you'll have dessert...so no, you do not need a Fred Flintstone-sized portion for the main course.
Before dessert, a gourmet cheese plate arrived and we washed it down with a lovely dessert wine with an apricot bouquet.
Speaking of dessert, I opted for another renown Cibreo item -- the flourless chocolate cake. We also grazed on a dessert selection of cheese cake, chocolate flan and something that -- at least to our hillbilly-rooted tongues -- tasted like gourmet ice cream cake. Flawless espresso capped off dessert.
The prices, per person are roughly: first course, 20 euro, second course 36 euro, cheeses 10 euro and dessert 15 euro . Obviously, when you add a large bottle of sparkling water, a bottle of fine wine, dessert wine and espresso, you can add another nearly 80-100-plus euro to the bill.
We can only afford such extravagance once a year, but in our opinion, Cibreo is worth every penny.
Favorite Dish: Get reservations or arrive at 7 p.m. and start pleading for a cherished table.
The restaurant is very near the famed Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio farmer's market.
Cibreo also has a casual trattoria, cafe and live theater nearby.
Dining at Trattoria da Benvenuto is like being invited over to an Italian chef's house for dinner -- with the seating right in his kitchen.
We opened with the world's best and simple crostini of cheese, tomato and a single black olive on some small pieces of wonderful Tuscan bread.
It was our first full day in Florence and we had been thoroughly warned about the tourist traps right on the lovely Piazza della Signoria, many of which serve over priced mediocre food to visitors exhausted from a visit to the art treasures in the Uffizi.
Benvenuto is very close to the Piazza, but just far enough away to feel like a friendly diner where the locals gather for straightforward Italian home cooking.
We opened with a primi of spaghetti with hot pepper flakes -- perfectly al dente and with just a little hint of fire to separate it from typical red sauce.
Secondi was a whole sea bass -- grilled and served with broth, potatoes, zucchini and onion. The no-nonsense server expertly pried skin and bone off the wonderful fish like and made sure the every drop of savory broth made it onto the plate.
Our other secondi was a soothing plate of rigatoni with eggplant. Like everything at Benvenuto, it was super unpretentious while being perfectly cooked, spiced and portioned.
The house red blended well with our self-selected mini-grazing menu. Everything on the menu, including the wine, is amazingly affordable considering the quality and love that goes into each dish.
The kindly owner, using his limited English, surprised us with a delightful mascarpone cheese cake with fresh berries. We really didn't have room to split one, let alone two generous slices.
But hey, it was vacation, so we sinned with the rich mascarpone, trying to convince ourselves that the healthy fresh berries would balance out our indulgence.
Favorite Dish: One side note of interest to people with disabilities. My wife uses a wheelchair and the kind folks at Benvenuto helped her through the accessible entrance and seated her with no problems. The restroom is not perfect, but that is often the case in centuries-old buildings in a city whose very well-intended preservation rules make it difficult to remodel even for wheelchair access.
This amazing lounge is less than one minute from the Duomo in Florence Italy and it's one of the nicest places I've seen in Florence. The Aperitivo is amazing as well as the drinks. I highly recommend stopping in for a drink or a bite to eat! 1 Min Video: http://youtu.be/a45adu_mdiI
Favorite Dish: Aperitivo is great because of the food and the people