Ora d’Aria, Florence’s one-star wonder near the Uffizi Gallery

Until this year, I never experienced a meal at a Michelin-star restaurant- in Florence, Italy or anywhere. Part of this is because Seattle’s fine dining scene is somewhat non-existent and my first years in Florence were spent “faccendo la gavetta“, putting in my dues so to speak. The Michelin-star restaurant title had been one with both allure and eyeball “give-me-a-break” rolling, but still nevertheless a curiosity…I wanted to know what it was all about.

And that might be juice for discounting me as a food writer for having taken this long to visit a Michelin-star restaurant, but indulge me as I explain. Firstly, going out to eat is a professional hobby, and I usually pay for my meals. When I don’t, I’ll do my best to make that known (i.e. invited for a press event, hosted, etc) Not to get on any high horse, but I wasn’t one of those well-to-do trust fund kids or loaded “ex-pats” (a term I really resent- we are immigrants just like everyone else who didn’t come from a “rich” country).

I came to Florence with nearly nothing. The job market is revolting and limited to low-paying jobs, because in Italy that is unfortunately the reality. My job prospects worsened having essentially screwed myself by choosing a path of passions like earning a degree in Italian (nearly useless), rather than something lucrative like say programming, slinging pharmaceuticals, engineering or investment banking which is what affords some others to save up, retire early and come/pull an eat-pray-love move to Italy. More power probably to those folk who were a little smarter than I, because I’ve had some pretty crappy stories, but I wanted to shed light on a little honesty- not all who come to live in Italy (or even natives) were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s a tough place to make it in if you weren’t born into privilege!

This socio-economic status that Michelin-star eateries stereotypically attract is probably one of the reasons why when I visited Ora d’Aria, the dining room was nearly empty at lunch time even if being wedged between the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi and despite having a relatively affordable 35eu, five course tasting menu at lunch (plus cover and drinks). Italians earn modest wages and the government, to put it politely, galvanizes its work force with taxes.

Not that I think it’s polite to speak about money, but people who work and live in Italy usually have to save for these kinds of special occasions. And since these precious savings are earnestly scrimped, Italians will generally want to a. make sure it’s absolutely worth it and b. go to places with hearty, trusty tasting familiar plates at a trattoria or osteria where they can probably spend more on wine or afford another outing.

Farinata (thin chickpea crepe) filled with succulent salicornia (similar to monk’s beard, “agretti”), tomato confit and ricotta. divine! Ora d’Aria, Florence

The other reason I reckon Ora d’Aria was nearly empty at lunch, despite being smack dab in the center is because tourists and travelers are in Florence for usually 3 days and are trying to cram everything in. A sit-down lunch, enjoying every morsel and reflecting on the culinary experience at hand takes time and cuts into time which they could be at the Uffizi or some other bucket list tick. So what happens, is that they get some tragic (crappy) panino instead and then end up at another tragic restaurant, unless they did their research and booked into a worthy place in advance.

I’m sharing my thoughts before I get into the matter at heart (the food) and one thought which I’ve been marinating on for a while is that people need to stop trying to do Florence, or any other major Italian city for that matter, for 3 days. Just stop! This isn’t a sport, Italy isn’t going anywhere and air travel is getting more affordable than ever. But that’s another post.

So the food…how was it? Fantastic, on point, flavorful, intelligent use of materie prime (whole ingredients), balanced, symphonic, except for the one thing they did with a fried lampredotto in carozza which I’ll explain later, swift. Ora d’Aria is kick you in the heart good.

The interior? The ambiance? A little sterile if I may be honest. I was shrouded by the dominance of gray inside and the cold plastic chairs and naked tables with simple placemats. I don’t understand how or why modern eateries have to equate contemporary with sterile and devoid of soul. But my dining partner pointed out our neighbors in suites and simple sleek, as to insinuate that this was the setting suited for them. I felt out of place with my funky earrings I probably bought at some farmer’s market even though my cutlery wielding hands never felt more at home. I did however enjoy their open kitchen set-up where you could watch the culinary magic happen.

So there you have it- if you can ignore the cold decor, the food here is exceptional at lunch. The service goldilocks ideal: not too hot not too cold.

The highlights:

Silky Rocky Balboa beaten tartare weaved with shaved truffle bits and topped with spherical truffle caviar-sized pearls and micro-basil.

crostini with layers of textured Tuscan white bean, anchovy and shaved truffle confit flavor bombs

pillowy smooth gnocchetti (little gnocchi) dressed subtly in sauced zucchini and mint and umami contrasted with herring caviar.

The voyage was impeccably arranged from surprise tasting dish to the next, a wonderful building of flavors in justly sized portions. We made the mistake of adding an extra tasting to the already abundant 5 courses and regretted it thoroughly. It was a fried lampredotto “in carozza.”

This was spin on mozzarella in carrozza, a poor but decadent sandwich from Southern Italy using wonder-bread like sliced bread pane carre filled with mozzarella covered in breadcrumbs and then fried.) It was just too much- the fried overpowered the lampredotto which is hard to do if you’ve ever had the cow abomasum gutsy stuff. It should have just been a gourmet version without the offal, but then I don’t see how it would belong (gourmet fried cheese sandwich at a fancy pants restuarant?). Great in theory but I found it unnecessary, although would love to see other plays on Florence’s lampredotto.

The dessert sealed the deal, a play on textures from smooth almond rich “biancomangiare”, to gazpacho-textured strawberry fruit to thin crunchy chocolate hazelnut brittle sheets.

Friends, I still have butterflies recounting this meal.

I have 2 suggestions: stop trying to do Florence in 3 days and visit Marco Stabile’s Ora d’Aria for lunch.

Details: Ora d’Aria Address: Via dei Georgofili, 11R, 50100 Firenze FI Phone: 055 200 1699 website: http://www.oradariaristorante.com/ Open lunch and dinner. Lunch 5 course tasting menu: 35eu per person.

In your star lust,

Curious Appetite

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