I was going through my photos from Italy today and it was just so plainly obvious that I had taken a lot more photos of food than of anything else; I barely have any photos of human beings! Another really obvious fact is that by the end of the week, I was constantly wearing my stretchy pants and stopped counting how many different types of pasta I had eaten during a meal. The amount of food I consumed is slightly overwhelming when I think about it.. but I will happily re-live it all and will attempt to note the highlights from Florence and Rome.
After our first night with Dr. No (see “I show you!”), we had a fun, local lunch at Trattoria Mario near mercado central. This restaurant opened for business at noon and when we arrived there a few minutes before 12 the door was open so we walked right in. While we were allowed to sit down and claim a table, no one came by to speak to us or to even bring us any utensils. The menu was written on a piece of poster paper and taped on the wall so I got up to read and pick out what I wanted. At exactly 12 noon, our waitress came over with our utensils, plopped down some bread, and asked us what we wanted to eat. I had settled on ribollita (vegetable soup thickened with bread) as it was quite chilly out and upon hearing how our waitress recommended the tagliatelle with ragu, Rita and I decided to split the pasta (with each of us also getting our own soup, of course). What we realized is that everyone in the kitchen had been working all morning and the soup and the ragu, etc. had already been made. Within seconds our food arrived at the table. When the locals started showing up and all ordered the ribollita and the tagliatelle, we knew we made the right decisions here.
The soup was thick with white beans and unrecognizably melted and blended pieces of bread. What other vegetables were in the soup, it was hard to tell. The soup spoon was too big for my mouth but that just meant that I was going to get more for each mouthful. As for the tagliatelle, I have to say that it was the BEST tagliatelle I have ever had. At first sight, the dish appeared to be severely under-dressed with the ragu sauce but as soon as I took my first bite, I knew this was something special. Without having the pasta swim in the meat sauce, the noodles were perfectly coated with the delicious ragu and also perfectly al dente. The well seasoned ragu was out of this world. It had to have been simmering away for hours and hours, because it was so… mellow. You knew that there must have been carrots and tomatoes and onions and celery, but you couldn’t tell where one started and where the others ended. It was amazing. Both dishes had a bit more oil than I’m used to but I think that was part of their signature and charm. So we all looked at each other, nodded, smiled, and sat silently to eat.
Our dinner that night was special because of the service we received. Paula, who had spent several weeks combing through foodie blogs and websites, had narrowed down the places we should visit and Trattoria Sostanza was one of the select few that made the list. This trattoria has been in existence since 1869 and they say not much has changed over the years. Our reservation was for 9PM but we still had to wait a good 15 minutes before we could be seated. This tiny place was absolutely jam packed and remained that way for the duration of our meal. While we were waiting, we located a framed photos of Rob Lowe at the restaurant on the wall and had a good chuckle. Heck, if it was good enough for Rob… Anyway. We got off to a great start when our smiling waiter immediately put us in a good mood and help us navigate their menu. We knew that they were famous for their “butter chicken” so we had to have that. But we also ordered another bistec Florentino to compare it to the one we had at Il Francescano and a ton of vegetables since we were sadly denied any green things at all the night before. We were thrilled to try their thinly sliced prosciutto (much better than Il Francescano), crostini di fegato (this chicken liver pate was too liver-y for our liking), meat stuffed tortellini in chicken broth, and tortellini in ragu.
The fun really began when we saw that our bistec was getting prepared. We saw the chef take a large chunk of meat and put it over an open flame. When the waiter caught me staring into the kitchen, he had me bring my camera and escort me into the kitchen to take photos! All he said was “mind the chef” and then with a big smile, he gave me a slight shove into the direction of the kitchen. So I walked right up to the grill and watched our steak cook away. The whole crew was staring at me (the kitchen crew and my group of friends) and I couldn’t stop laughing but I got a few good photos. Back to the food now- the steak was hacked, literally hacked with a giant knife, and served bloody. We loved it. And the “butter chicken” was so tender and delicious that with a piece of chicken on her plate and more still in the pan, Anna looked at us and ask whether we should order another. This chicken was cooked in so much butter that you couldn’t call it anything but “butter chicken.” The cinder block size butter I saw in the kitchen definitely had something to do with making of this dish. One other thing I have to mention here is their dessert. They had this amazing meringue cake with dark chocolate and raspberries (which Andy insisted we order at least two pieces) that just spelled pure joy and happiness. For me, it was the best dessert of the trip. I don’t eat a lot of sweets but this cake, I wouldn’t share with anyone. Before the night was over, Rita was in the kitchen getting her picture taken with the handsome chef, I had my picture taken with the owner and our waiter, and we promised that we’d have to return one day and do it all over again.
On our last day in Florence, we had lunch at Tratorria Cibreo near Santa Croce. We were starving after having visited both the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Uffizi in the morning. They are open for lunch only for a short period of time (1PM to 2:30PM) and we arrived just a few minutes before so we had to wait outside until we were allowed in at exactly 1PM. We were greeted by a smiling waiter who pulled up a chair between me and Rita to explain the entire lunch menu. A very kind gesture since most of the items on the menu were new to us. We decided to order as much as we could and share. We had been trying the chicken liver spread at every restaurant in town so we again order the crostini di pate. We also got a simple plate of polenta all’olio, fish soup, minestrone soup, sformato of ricotta and potato with meat sauce, an eggplant dish, a baked cod tart, chicken meatballs, veal meatloaf, and some vegetable side dishes. Most of the dishes were delicious but the standout items for me were the chicken liver spread (a close second to those from Il Francescano), the ricotta and potato souffle (sformato), and their panna cotta. I wouldn’t recommend the veal meatloaf dish as it was somewhat spongy and had the appearance of a beige rubber hockey puck. It turned out to be a long and leisurely lunch for us, and we shouldn’t have eaten so much since our dinner reservation was at 8 but none of us had any self control…
Acquacotta is where we had our last meal in Florence. It had rained for a few days before we arrived in Florence and unfortunately, a lot of mosquitoes were swirling around our table. That didn’t dampen our spirits, but rather catching these pesky little buggers became a bit of a competition amongst us (except for Andy who tried his best to just duck for cover). Even though we had a big lunch, I think we practically ordered everything on the menu at this little trattoria. We started with the antipasto plate, followed by wild boar ham with truffle polenta, grilled octopus salad with white beans, pumpkin ravioli, tagliatelle with ragu, acquacotta (the restaurant’s namesake dish which is a hearty peasant soup), pheasant stuffed pasta with butter sauce, risotto with grilled shrimp, roasted pork loin, grilled vegetables and sauteed greens, roasted lamb, and a whole grilled fish. whew! and that didn’t include the side dishes or the dessert or the wine. I know. Please refer to the title of this blog post; the stretchy pants were necessary. I liked the variety we had at this restaurant but we weren’t overly impressed with our meal here and I don’t know that I would make a return visit.
Having had such interesting and delicious meals in Florence, we weren’t sure whether we could top it in Rome. But we did! More on that soon…
Trattoria Mario: Via Rosina 2r, Florence
Trattoria Sostanza: Via Porcellana 25r, Florence
Trattoria Cibreo: Via de’ Macci 122r, Florence
Trattoria Acquacotta: Via dei Pilastri, 51r, Florence