We discovered cocktails that were less sweet and stronger. Two of our favorites were an Aperol Spritz and a Negroni. I also had an Italian version of a Manhattan where I had trouble alighting from a barstool afterwards. After dinner we had our choice of digestifs called amari. The Italians have numerous ones and we had a hard time figuring out that Amari was a collective term. An Amaro is an after dinner drink that is herbal and potentially minty in nature. Some have some sweetness, others are bitter. The one that most of us are familiar with is Jagermeister. But it is sipped at room temperature. Others that we encountered were Lucano and Averna. We are now avidly seeking Amari here. The other beverage that we quickly adopted was cafe corretto (espresso corrected). This is espresso that is corrected with a bit of liqueur. My alcohol of choice was Sambucca. Oh so good!!
|Aperol Spritz and Negroni|
A note about the espresso. I am not a plain espresso fan. Give me some steamed milk at least and preferably with turbinado sugar stirred in. But, I got my Italian on for this trip and ordered the bitter, tar and tobacco brew. At least in Italy I received only a thimble full. Once it cooled a bit I could down it like a shot and scrunch up my face only once. My hubby fell out of his chair laughing every time. Once a thimble full of Sambucca was added, I had no problems with the espresso. To give the restaurants credit, they did provide sugar with every espresso (tourist or not), but I was determined to tough it out.
|Gettin' our Italian on - Down to the bitter end|
Most restaurants had a cover charge - anywhere from 1-3 euros. Hard to tell what it covered, sometimes bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Other times the house wine or espresso. At a couple of the upscale places, a glass of prosecco and an amuse bouche. Even though bread was always included, bread plates were not. One had to use a plate that arrived with the food order or ask for a separate plate. Most of the bread was very dry and needed the oil/vinegar.
|Bag of Bread|
Tipping turned out to be a conundrum. Sometimes the menu said service was included, sometimes not. At one place when we asked, they said it was included even though the menu did not indicate it. I know that some of the restaurants received more than an adequate tip and others we left lacking (never intentional).
We had our share of house wine, chiantis, vino de nobile, and even a couple of brunellos. All were good (except for the house wine in Siena). If you are on a budget, stick to the house wine. Much cheaper. Regular bottles were not bargains. The best wine we had was Santedame Chianti Classico Riserva. If any of the local wine shops carry this, let me know. Hopefully, I can afford a case.
Italy is a locavore paradise and Florence was no exception. But the old city also caters to tradition and tourism. So while the food was wonderful and tasty, most menus featured the same things. We had to really search for restaurants that treated the local ingredients with a contemporary flare. It made me appreciate the local Richmond scene even more. You chefs who attend to quality, innovative fare utilizing local offerings rock!
We had our share of gelato and it was all good.
|Gelati near Ponte Vecchio|
We perused the Centro Mercato and picked up meat and cheese for lunch. I never knew there were so many varieties of proscuitto. The roasted and sliced pork was also decadent.
|Just look at that cured meat!|
|Rooster heads anyone?|
Pizzas were of the thin-crust variety. We chose places that had wood-fired ovens. We even shared a calzone for lunch one day that had the thinnest crust I had ever seen and stuffed with cheese, ham, and artichokes.
|Spicy salami and roasted peppers at i'Lorenzzacio|
|Spicy salami, roasted peppers, and capers at I Ghibellini|
|Wood-fired oven at Osteria dell'Agnolo|
|Fabulous calzone from Osteria dell'Agnolo|
Tuscan cooking is all about simplicity and good ingredients. This goes double for the meats. Steaks, veal chops, pork chops were grilled, sprinkled with salt, and drizzled with olive oil. The quality of the meat was exceptional. Wild boar and rabbit were slow cooked and fell off the bone. We encountered a wider variety of pasta shapes and depending on the sauce could be fresh or dried.
Here is a rundown of some of the restaurants:
Our favorite restaurant: Oliviero
This establishment offered a traditional and contemporary menu with white tablecloth service. We enjoyed housemade grissini and an amuse bouche of pumpkin cappuchino. We split a pasta dish with an onion sauce (incredible!) and enjoyed artichoke wrapped sea bass and duck breast with a tangerine sauce. What a great meal on the last evening of our trip.
|Pasta with a smothered onion sauce|
|Artichoke wrapped sea bass|
|Duck in tangerine sauce|
The hip upscale restaurant: Golden View Open Bar
Right on the Arno with a view of Ponte Vecchio. Most evenings a jazz band played. Modern feel with the nightly offering of seafood in the display window. We enjoyed grilled langoustines and oysters on the half shell. For entrees grilled veal chop and tuna steak with a balsamic glaze. Later in the week we returned for an afternoon cocktail.
|Seafood offerings for the evening (the display changed daily)|
|View of the Arno|
|Grilled veal chop|
|View of Ponte Vecchio|
The casual hip restaurant: Obika
This is a mozzarella bar with establishments in London, LA, Tokyo, etc. Maybe a chain, but they served up different types of mozzarella including the smoked variety.
|Smoked mozzarella with grilled veggies|
The all you can drink place: Il Latini
We went here for lunch. A 2 liter bottle of straw basket chianti graced every table. As lunch started a waiter opened every bottle on every table. We could pour as much or as little as we liked. To eat we had roasted chicken and potatoes with rosemary (note: all of the roasted potatoes that we had were flavored with rosemary)
|All you can drink house wine|
|Potatoes and rosemary roasted in a wood-fired oven|
The most unusual ravioli: Giostra
This restaurant was located near our hotel and featured a silver-bracelet bespangled son of a prince owner. (okay, until now, I had no idea that the strange dude assisting the waitstaff was a prince's son LOL!) We had a couple of womderful dishes. One was a salad with pecorino cheese and blood oranges. The other was a pear and cheese ravioli that was simply to die for. A fantastic combination.
|Wonderful salad with pecorino and blood oranges|
|Pear and pecorino ravioli - Heaven!|
Where we had the most incredible burrata: Gilli
Located on the Piazza Repubblica with lots of outdoor seating. A tourist place if ever there was one, but we were tired after our arrival and plopped ourselves down. We ordered burrata and proscuitto and thought we had arrived at the pearly gates. We had enjoyed burrata in the states, but this was so much better, creamier, and fresher that we have been spoiled for life.
|Outside dining at Gilli|
|The remnants of burrata and proscuitto|
A Mom and Pop place: La Norcineria
La Norcineria combined a meat market and restarurant. We had excellent fresh tagliatelle with wild boar and grilled pork chops. Unfortunately, the service was uneven at best.
|Wild boar and fresh pasta|