In the last posts, I’ve been harping on “Florence is so traditional, get with the times bla bla bla.” I’m one that firmly believes, if you have a problem, find a solution. Not that eating extremely traditional food in Florence is a problem, but let’s be honest…eating at a traditional trattoria every night (or every occasion you have to eat out) is and will get boring very quickly. Unless, you are one of those people that like monotony, consistency and predictability. One of my favorite quotes, and probably one of my life’s mottos (besides the only real mantras you need in life: yuck and yum) is:
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative” by Oscar Wilde.
Again, I’m not shunning tradition- part of my ethos is strongly rooted in mom & pop trattorias, peasant food, simple eating as those granular experiences I consider still left in this modern world are those which connects us to the foundations of the human experience. I firmly believe that the humble components which define Italian food culture should serve as inspiration in other parts of the world where food culture is lacking and unhealthy relationships with food are prevalent.
Manifesto blabber aside, I think people who come to Florence or who live here should experience some unique sides to the dining scene here. My recommendation is to of course do the trattoria thing, but also break it up with what you’d not normally find or expect.
Ideas for Unique Dining Experiences in Florence
1. Teatro del Sale
I went somewhat recently and think it’s a really unique dining experience in Florence. It’s no secret as many locals and other sites mention it, but this is another reminder of its existence. Basically, this is a cultural association which hosts nightly buffet dinners and a performance show. This association is especially awesome because they also employ adults with down’s syndrome. Usually, buffet is synonymous with cafeteria mush in my book, but the food at Teatro del Sale is overseen by one of the city’s most celebrated chefs, Fabio Picchi. The buffet when I went had bean salads, beet salads, roasted chicken and sausages, Mediterranean hummus and homemade bread, baked pastas and more. It’s a sort of free-for-all/first-come-first-serve as dishes come out piecemeal and the staff hollers out when there is something new off the grill or fresh out of the over. Teatro del Sale’s dinner offers unlimited, well all you can drink local red wine, and the meal grab lasts for about an hour, dessert comprised. Then there is a performance show which concludes which varies daily- you might find a string quartet, an orchestra, gypsy jazz, singing performance by Fabio’s wife and actress Maria Cassi, and more. I love that Teatro del Sale has a progressive, inclusive employment practices and enlists local bands and performers in their entertainment program. Despite Florence (and Italy) being a cultural mecca, there is little investment/support/venues for performance artists and associations like Teatro del Sale are doing a great service to supporting the artistic community. Address: Via dei Macci, 111 Phone:055 200 1492 (reservations suggested) Closed Mondays Website: http://www.edizioniteatrodelsalecibreofirenze.it/
What I like about Florian is not only their dining space is decked out with contemporary art, but the food is quite funky but at reasonable prices. Plus, they deliver fine dining service from the waitstaff to the sommelier who knows her stuff. They have themed dinners, which I highly suggest you keep track of via their blog. For example, recently I attended a dinner themed at pairing grappa with various courses. I must admit, that I’ve never been a huge fan of grappa (aka brandy made from wine making leftovers). I love alcohol, don’t get me wrong. But I had some experiences with grappa that don’t belong on this blog but in the Sardegnian villages where they occured. Moving on, I was surprised that not only that I liked these grappe, but that they could indeed be paired with food as usually a grappa is meant as a sort of digestif aka spirits so strong they burn through whatever you have in your stomach. The producer they had was Nannoni, which is a craft distillery based in Tuscany (Grosseto) and run by a woman- uncommon to the Italian grappa world. The producer Priscilla Occhipinti was present and explained each grappa and plate play by play. It was only 45eu for the whole evening and a total steal in my book. Even if Florian doesn’t have a themed dinner happening, I think it’s one of the coolest spots for dinner- it’s like dining in a contemporary art museum. Address: Via del Parione, 32/red, 50123 Firenze Phone:055 284291 Website: http://www.caffeflorian.com/en/florence
Gurdulu deserves an entire write up but I hope this note plus them being the focus of an article I did for Eater will be suffice. While this may seem like just a new modern eatery, but the food chef Entiana Osmenzeza is developing here is an experience worth every penny. If I may be so bold to say, eating at Gurdulu is the current benchmark for innovative dining in Florence. Which up until now, has been rather disappointing and dominated by somewhat underwhelming and unoriginal expressions. Granted, I haven’t been here for that long (4 years) but that has been my experience thus far. To me, the idealism of revisited innovative cuisine is something that retains the core of tradition but heightens it with memorable taste. And Gurdulu does this without needing to be “fine dining” or michelin-level. Although I do have an observation to share and that is during this gesture to procure a modern experience, they’ve left behind a bit of Italian soul in the little details. Something I don’t like about dining scene outside of Italy is that the tables are bare whereas in Italy you have the iconic tovaglia tablecloth. It’s the table cover, which catches all the crumbs and feels homely. In between diners, the tablecloths are changed out, not wiped down with a bacteria infested sponge on a sterile, naked dining surface. Obviously, I’m being dramatic but these are little details about setting we don’t realize. Like in China, they often eat at round tables to ease communal dining. Whereas in the West, tables are usually square/rectangular indicating our individualization in dining. The tovaglia is a strong symbol in Italian eating lifestyle and present at virtually every meal. By taking away the tovaglia at these more modern places, seems like a form of rejection. I think there are some details in traditional Italian dining which deserve to be retained even as the cuisine evolves. Back to the food at Gurdulu’, they got me with a suckling pig cappelletti in a daikon-dashi broth. I could write a whole piece on why that was one of the smartest revisitations I’d ever seen: fusing two strong old world cultures, using one of Italy’s most iconic comfort food dishes as the protagonist. Not to mention the layers of umami which seemed like a roller coaster ride of flavor. The prices are reasonable although I must say I’ve never been quite impressed with the wine selection even though the same management group is involved with Il Santo Bevitore who has a fantastic wine program. I did quite enjoy their French selections which is hard to find in Florence. I’m sure the list is actually not as terrible as I’m making to be, I suppose I had higher expectations considering their background.
Where they lack in wine, they make up in craft cocktails. The head barlady (yes a lady) by the name of Sabrina Galloni is extremely talented behind the counter. She keeps an interesting bar stock of vogue vermouths, small batch bitters and creates unique libations on a rotating basis. I think it’s best to come here for an aperitivo of one of Sabrina’s creations and “street-food” snacks like Sicilian panelle sliders or tiny toasts with Tuscan fegatino (chicken liver pate) and black truffle. Then head over the the dining room, ideally the table with a view of the kitchen, to partake in what I like to call a tasting experience. Address: 14R, Via delle Caldaie, 12 Phone:055 282223 Website: http://www.gurdulu.com/ Closed Mondays
4. Le Fate
Okay- so this might seem extremely confusing to you as I’ve just listed the heavy hitters in the culinary scene of Florence…did she just suggest a vegan/vegetarian restaurant?! Hear me out! The place is really charming yet simple and the menu is organized according to astrological signs. They have “piatti unici” (full plate, not just a first but a few courses combined on one plate) which go for 20-25eu, which I find somewhat pricey considering the offering is basically vegetables such as a fennel & purple cabbage salad with hummus and olive tapenade and chickpea flour crackers. Personally, I’d stick to the elements “Acqua, Fuoco, etc” where you find more decently priced primi like fresh guitar strand pasta and sun-dried tomato sauce with olives, capers and a touch of cayenne. The venue is filled with Florentines, because inho Florentines love a good trendy place, and the owner comes around to tell your astrological forecast. I found her theories on astrology quite amusing, especially because my mother is an astrologer so by proxy I’ve learned a thing or two. Don’t worry, after a somewhat comical childhood I much prefer science over woo woo. I still think it was an interesting experience and the food is nothing spectacular (it is mostly vegan, afterall), but Le Fate is a really nice break from heavy Tuscan food and rich food you find around town in general. Talk about a travel story from Florence: dining at a vegan restaurant with your fortune told in the same evening! Address: Via San Zanobi, 126/r Phone:055 384 1998 website: http://www.ristoranteveganolefate.com
I know there are only 4 restaurants on this list- but I have a couple more up my sleeve that I want to personally try first before writing about it. The criteria for unique dining options in Florence is somewhat specific so apologies for it being scarse at the moment- but I promise I’ll add more with time. So keep checking back! Also! Did you know that I have a facebook and instagram pages? I am pretty active on social media and post live eating finds there in case you’re “hungry” for more.
In search for the unique,
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