On my last trip to London, someone asked me: is there something like “New Italian” happening in Florence? An extremely interesting question, as in the states we have “New American” and of course in the UK you have similar concepts, and this “New” term is something that suggests modern visits on traditional classics.
I thought a bit and the answer was “not really.” There are some modern eateries in Florence, but whatever is “New” or “Innovative” is mostly reserved to Michelin star and fine dining establishments as this is really something exotic to Italian palates (and wallets). The dining scene in Florence is extremely traditional and unornamented. I’m probably repeating myself to those who are regular followers of my blog, but there are some modern moves happening in Florence, they are just baby steps.
In the states or in my experience in England, new and modern is quite common place. Granted, food culture in the states is quite new in general. In Seattle especially, modern never quite equated with Michelin star or fine dining as it seems to here in Florence. In fact, Modern/New eateries seemed to have replaced the trend for fine dining in Seattle. Modern/New in Seattle has been a way to eat interesting, high quality seasonal food which focuses on the ingredient sourcing and plate presentation but not pay the fine dining prices or feel stuffy in a fine dining atmosphere. Especially considering that a (disappointingly) casual city like Seattle albeit metropolitan, the Northface jacket or thrift store hipster fashion dress attire is acceptable in just about any eatery.
Recently, (okay a few months ago), I stumbled upon Ara E’ Sud, a new Sicilian restaurant. It is where Sud restaurant was and is next to Caffe Italiano, a place over-hyped for its mediocre pizza.
Ara on Via Degli Alfani originally started out as gourmet Sicilian street food and gelato near the Accademia in Florence. I personally love their plump, hearty fried arancini rice and ragu balls. Especially the black squid and calamari arancini. Their sheep’s milk ricotta gelato is to me, “da urlo”, worth an ice cream scream. So when I saw that they opened a sort of bistro/restaurant- I was psyched to go. And oh my, did they meet every expectation.
Perfectly crispy, oily fried panelle. Luscious pasta and fish that is actually cooked properly. Perfect is the only word I can use to describe the experience here. Crisp, fresh yet bodied wines from the volcanic soils of Etna. The chef, Carmelo Pannocchietti, came to our table to warmly greet us and to explain their passion for sourcing “materie prime”, a term I find hard to describe which means something like the “raw materials.” Carmelo explains that the flour they use is a coarsely milled heritage, rare variety of Durum wheat which grows in the western regions of Sicily.
I was thoroughly impressed that the chef took the time to educate us on such important details, which to most go overlooked. The atmosphere has a sort of colorful yet polished vibe and every detail of the food is well thought out, down to the bread which they make in house and lightly drizzle with powerful, fruity Sicilian olive oil.
The best part is you can indeed indulge in their delectable desserts like gelato, cannoli and bright marzipan goods. We had this sort of deconstructed cannoli, that honestly I wasn’t too crazy about. The presentation and effort was charming, but I think cannoli are one of those sweets you don’t need to mess with.
If you’ve ever eaten in Sicily, you’d know that this is more of a fancy presentation on the regions most popular foods. Which is why I term it “New Sicilian.” While Gurdulu’ is probably the closest thing to “New Tuscan”, I still wouldn’t call it that since they do revive traditional recipes from other regions, too. What I like about Ara E’ Sud is that these high quality presentations of Sicilian classics are also affordable, average 10-15eu a plate. I felt coddled by the amount of rocking, balanced flavors. Even though several months have passed, I still remember the tastes and experience this eatery left on my palate. And that is what you should be looking for in a dining experience- the ability to imprint memory.
Details: Arà è Sud, via della Vigna Vecchia, 4/r Florence. Phone: 3286117029 Facebook Hours: 12pm-11pm (lunch and dinner, closed Tuesdays)
In your curiosity for new,
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