Curious Appetite

Month: November 2013

The Diner in Florence- a pseudo American fix

I have never been so aware of being American in my life. I am defined as “The American.” In Italy, of course. Which is funny, because at home, I don’t actually think about my cultural identity as an American. If anything, I feel more rebellious and self righteous towards America’s culture and want to cling to my Sicilian/Persian heritage for dear life. But when I am in Italy, I sing America’s praises. I am completely insatiable. Always looking at life through an anthro-analytical glass, trying to identify the inconsistencies and paradoxes.

So the point is that I went to The Diner in Florence craving a weekend brunch fix of eggs benedict with some fellow anglo pals who decided to be guest Americans for the day for the sake of bagels and pancakes. The irony of it all is that in America, I turn my nose up at most “diner-y” places and anything that isn’t local, gourmet, foodie and has marketing which pleases my west-coast profile as a liberal “foodie” Seattlelite who read “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” in college. Or! If it isn’t a cutesy “bistro”, it has gotta be a complete dive run by scary (or cute) men with tattoos and piercing who are probably more hungover than me.

But I went to The Diner with hopes to have an American fix- not just greasy spoon brunch but to order in English and for someone to not glare at me as if I just slapped their mother every time I order a café americano. And what did I get instead? Awkward service, burnt eggs and some stupid side salad that didn’t come with the advertised ranch dressing. I got two words: Faux. Paux. I have a question: HOW DO YOU SCREW UP EGGS? College kids straight off their mamma’s milk and undocumented nanny’s 3 square meals could have made a better scramble than this.

1st offense: “Can we order coffee?” Oh, we only bring drinks with food. <— how can you call yourself an American Diner??? Not only is that a huge no-no in the American code of service, but that’s just not what a diner is like!

2nd offense: “May I have the eggs benedict?” (mind you, there are 4 different kinds which made up at least 20 percent of the breakfast menù) Um, we don’t have any bread. 

??? You ran out of BREAD on a Saturday brunch? Are you guys idiots?

3rd offense: “Okay, I’ll have the western omelette.”

DO YOU NOTICE BREAD, HERE? Yes. They MEANT to say that they did not have English muffins. AND even so- PROBLEM SOLVE IT! Use your people skills and ask me if I mind TOAST as a sub for English Muffins since your kitchen manager is too much of a knob to keep english muffins in stock on a Saturday which make up the essential base of at least 5 menù items!

The omelette was terrible. All the filling slid to the ends and was completely tasteless. I felt like it was like smashing a piñata and having to dig through all the crap candy to find the one piece of (tasteless) cheddar cheese. Almost inedible. But I ate it. Why? Well, I obviously moved to Italy because I wanted to torture myself so what’s a little burnt egg going to do to any remaining dignity I have left? And what the hell was up with this salad and side of hamburger lettuce??? What am I supposed to do with that?

They were busy with other pseudo Americans desiring similar pseudo experiences, I get that. It is not easy to run a business in Italy. But c’mon- you guys really really need to step it up when you’re in a city practically colonized by Americans. It took a lot of akward glances and hand waves to ask for the bill and even longer to get it. I was tempted to leave a penny as a tip for this whole s**** show. So ridiculous. I will probably never return.

Yours in irony, honesty and sassy sarcasm,

Curious Appetite

p.s. I’m going home for a visit. I may or may not be posting for a while:) Too busy with oysters, bubbly and REAL brunches to bother glueing myself to a computer. Kissesxoxoxo

Finding ethnic food in Florence- Valle dei Cedri

The availability of ethnic food in even the most international cities like Florence can prove to be a challenge.

Don’t give me that “oh there’s everything in Florence” bit…there is ONE of everything! ONE good Indian restaurant ONE decent Japanese noodle joint..ONE!!!! And, where is the good Mexican food?! With all of the Americans in Florence, Tijuana is as much of a disgrace to Mexican food as Tijuana is to Mexico.

The fact is, the restaurant scene in Florence is very Italian (Tuscan, moreover) centric. Salami boards…the trusty pecorino cheeses, crostini, rustic vegetable and bean soups, roast meats and potatoes, fancy tagliatelle pastas…wild game stews…As amazing as all this is, it starts to become routine after having it every single day. What’s the menu  usually like, you ask? Starter of cold cuts, fried bread, cheese…maybe some “edgy” veggie starter like fried eggplant polpette then a pasta and if you’re lucky, a braised or grilled meat. but it’s basically all Italian and all pretty predictable. 

Not to mention, most of the stuff you can get at the markets and re-create quite simply (i.e. charcuterie boards, pasta and crostini- no effort). Okay, I get it- it is the best food in the world bla bla bla…but Italian food is a result of several other cultures and sometimes it’s nice to pay gastronomic homage to someone else once in a while.

To prove the local apprehension towards anything not Tuscan, I asked a group of Pratesi for eating advice- they must be able to find great Chinese food since Prato has a giant Chinese population and they were like  “noooo noi non mangeremmo mai cinese!!!”

I think this defensiveness towards culinary integration (and immigrant integration for that matter) is slowly changing. I see a lot of Italians showing curiosity for Asian food, international cuisine including Lebanese food as I recently experienced on a lunch visit to Valle dei Cedri in the Santa Croce district.  

I picked Valle dei Cedri out of a need for something different and simply because I had passed this place so many times and always said I’d go and never had. General life tip: Try something new, do something you’ve been saying you’ve been wanting to do. Even if it’s as simple as trying a new restaurant.

Suggestion: Order the mixed plate. The sandwich option is decent as well, but not as fun. Reason: The mixed plate has like 8 things on it and feels like a mini-amusement park of flavors. I don’t remember them all (I know, slacker) but it involved the following:

Fatayer- a super crispy phyllo-dough wrapped pastry stuffed with spinach and brimming with traditional Lebanese spices like cardamom, cumin and paprika. Drool….

Rikakat- a sort of savory pastry (like a mini-calzone) filled with lebanese cheese and spiced with parsley, mint and Lebanese spices.

Kebbeh- A very delicious meatball of beef and bulgur (very hearty, wheat groats) that almost seems a little dry but in a good way. Meaning, meatballs are usually fatty and juicy, whereas these meatballs seem like they are made with very fine ground meat and rolled around in fresh spices, bulgur and formed very tightly and then baked. So you bite into a world of exotic spices, textures smells and savory delight.

Then of course, there was a bit of falafel, baba ganoush (a garlic and herbs roasted eggplant dip- amazing!) and hummus.  I really really was a huge fan of their eggplant baba ganoush. Ironically, it was probably because they are using Italian grown produce which makes a huge difference from the Lebanese food I’ve had back in Seattle. You indeed, cannot beat Italian agriculture and it’s amazing produce as it comes from some of the best soil (and weather) on earth.

Then the desserts! Honey and butter drenched Baklava, Nammura (a coconut and semolina sweet delight soaked in a honey, rose and citrus syrup called Kater) and Shaibieh which is a sort of noodle dessert laced with a thick custardy pastry cream and dressed in Kater syrup.

I’ve realized something about myself during this small little trip. I rarely go back to the same restaurant twice UNLESS it really really rocks. Bars, yes.  If I find a good barman to make a mean Negroni, you’re damn right I’ll be back. 

But after looking at the menù again, I think I will have to come back to Valle dei Cedri in Florence and next time it should be for dinner on a weekend. Apparently they have live belly dancing on Fridays and Saturdays. Amazing.

Yours in exotic foodlust,

Curious Appetite

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