We had a wonderful vacation.
Not a drop of rain came down in two weeks. There were a few clouds here and there to protect us from the blazing Mediterranean sun and that was quite refreshing.
I have been to Italy once before, as a backpacking student, hitchhiking my way through Europe on a very restricted budget. This time around, I was hoping it to be a foodie experience all around and it was. You can eat so well in Italy for not a lot of money at all. As many Italians do, we grabbed a quick savory or sweet pastry for breakfast (no eggs and bacon over there), ate a slice of pizza for lunch, had an apperitivo around 5 PM and had a nice restaurant dinner around 9 or 10 PM. Most of our restaurant choices were suggestions from the owner of the apartment we rented, from Biba’s Italy or from Frommer’s travel guide. We were never disappointed.
We visited Rome, Florence, Venice and drove around Tuscany for a bit. Florence was definitely our favorite city and we both thought we could live there. We might at one point, who knows? The people of Florence are very friendly, courteous and polite, and the food in Florence was the best we have had over there. I must admit that I fell in love with Tuscan food in general.
So disarmingly simple, Tuscan dishes are only made with the freshest ingredients and they surely leave you with a smile on your face.
Our best meal in Florence was at Osteria de’ Benci, a small, unpretentious restaurant just outside of the touristic center and suggested by the apartment owner. Below, I had the Eliche Piccanti al Parmigiano e Guancia di Maiale (spiral pasta with bacon, parmesan and fresh hot pepper…very hot!!!) and it was extraordinary. So simple, yet so delicious. Notice how the guanciale is very thinly sliced and not too crispy: its flavor is greatly enhanced by cooking it this way.
We finished our meal by sharing the beef carpaccio, simply assembled with the best peppery arugula we have ever had, parmesan cheese shavings, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil. Again, a spectacular dish.
In Italy, it is quite easy to prepare beef carpaccio. You simply buy it at the supermarket where it is already prepared for you, the beef thinly sliced, the parmesan shaved to perfection, the arugula just fresh and gorgeous, all this packaged and ready to bring home. Open the package, drizzle lemon juice and olive oil and you are set.
If you go to Florence, don’t miss this spot. My only regret is that I did not have a taste of the strawberry risotto. But I will.
Osteria de’ Benci
Via dei Benci 13/r
Our other ”coup de coeur” in Florence was Aroma, a non traditional Italian restaurant that is very popular among locals but not known by tourists.Exactly my kind of spot. We actually went there a bit by accident (we were looking for a restaurant that no longer exists) and we were very pleased with our discovery. It is a fish and seafood restaurant, only cooking the freshest possible ingredients they can find.
My meal started with a millefoglie (millefeuille) with red snapper and fresh salsa, simply sumptuous.
JB had stuffed squash flowers filled with a fillet of sole and a shrimp over a simple pesto. Delightful. It certainly gave me an idea on what to do with zucchini flowers besides deep-frying them in batter.
I finished my meal with a seafood carbonara and JB had pasta with rabbit ragù (the picture turned out blurry). I asked the server how my carbonara was made and she very happily gave me the recipe: you take the best, freshest seafood you can get your hands on, boil it slightly in salted water along with the pasta, then toss everything with an egg or two, a bit of cooked pancetta and a bit of pasta cooking water et voilà! Your dish is ready. Unlike a traditional carbonara, no cheese is used with seafood or fish.
Again, for a great dining experience in Firenze, stop at Aroma, you will not regret it.
via Ghibellina, 67/r
Before dinner, towards the end of the afternoon or early evening, if you feel peckish but you don’t really want to have dinner already, it is a great Italian tradition to have aperitivo, a few drinks with various snacks that you share with friends. Sometimes, it can be your dinner as well. The tradition of the aperitivo or apéritif in France is not very popular at all in North America and it is a shame. After a hard day of window shopping or just visiting, you could find us at Volume, Piazza Santo Spirito, literally one block from our apartment, drinking a Spritz and snacking on a bruschetta with various toppings, fresh mozzarella balls with various pestos and lots of other little goodies. You just buy your drink and food just keeps showing up on your table until you say it is enough. We may have seen Johnny Depp there, though it is more probable it was just another hipster.
You will eat very well in Florence and it can be very affordable. Just stay away from very touristic spots like the Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge). In general, it is also wise to avoid ristorante where the food is not generally better, just more expensive. Stick with the good old trattorie or osterie, smaller places with more affordable food are usually your best bet. It is always wise to make a reservation, but we never had a problem getting a table anywhere even in high season. Also, I highly recommend avoiding places who have waiters outside harassing you for your business. If they were that good, they would not have to do that. Finally, run away from pizza places that sell pizzas with hot dog sausages and french fries as toppings.
Do not leave Florence without trying out this pizza place: Gusta Pizzeria, via Maggio 46/r. They have six or seven different pizzas to choose from and it is by far, the best pizza we have ever had. Ever. So simple, yet so good. We had a simple pie with tomato sauce, salumi, fresh mozzarella and basil. Just writing about this, I had tears in my eyes and a funny feeling in the chest.
I will miss you dearly, Florence, and I will see you soon.
Categories: Restaurant reviews