Coming from a city like Seattle where eateries rotate in & out quicker than it takes to cook a hot pocket (evenly), I was charmed by Florence’s steady restaurant scene. Or so I thought.
While the turnover is not as promiscuous as some other major cities, where I don’t seem to understand how and where they get the capital to play with, I’m starting to notice this rotating door policy in Florence restaurant sector. Friends who are born/bred Florentines have noted that there was a golden period where restaurateurs took enterprise seriously and with caution, especially after the economic crisis of 2008 whose waves hit Italy in 2009. Combined with the advent of social media, the ease of air travel allowing tourists to have a returning love affair with the Renaissance city, in combination with bloggers and online rating sites like Tripadvisor, foodpreneurs started kick up their game. Now? I’m not convinced that’s entirely still the case.
In my opinion, a lot of new openings are frustrating attempts at imitating small plate farm-to-table gimmicky bistros found similarly in savage dining hubs like London & New York. It is rare to find a venue which is challenging the traditional osteria/trattoria mold without being a lame carbon copy of something hipstery someone saw on a trip abroad or on instagram. And more often than not, the food is terrible.
There were 3 places in Florence I really loved- because they were one of the few outside the traditional mold doing something different and doing it with dignified character. I regret to know I’ll never taste them again.
First, I would like to mourn the loss of Florian. I’ll admit, perhaps there was something amiss in the dining room’s feng shui because unless there was an event on, the dining room remained eerily quiet. Florence is a tough city- people want ambiance and will rarely bank on their dining time at a space that is usually empty.
Perhaps not an ideal spot for dinner, they had well-thought out special dining events, an unbeatable brunch (this coming from someone who hates brunch) and did succeed at procuring creative cuisine at decent prices with exceptional service and fabulous wines. Not to mention the real gem that Florian gave Florence was its cocktail lounge. Florian was great and not enough of us locals appreciated it enough, except for mostly international clientele and a few loyal locals.
As much as I respect the chef who manned the kitchen, I personally think that the restaurant was doomed for failure simply because the cuisine wasn’t extraordinary enough to make up for the awkward location. Indeed, the cocktail lounge was one of those places you’d make the trek to under any circumstance. I don’t understand why they didn’t keep the lounge and make their peace with the restaurant, but Florian you will be sorely missed.
Speaking of locales who are unable to keep their might by anchoring onto great cocktails and wine lists, in my eyes Gurdulu has lived a fast and furious death. Gurdulu has not closed, but the talented chef they opened with has now moved on. I too, am mourning this loss. In 2015 Gurdulu opened behind the premise of Entiana Osmenzeza, a chef who seems to be misconstrued by some as having Michelin-stars. She has worked under chefs and at restaurants who have this arbitrary token in the culinary lottery- but that does not translate as a “Michelin-star chef.”
A note on the whole Michelin-craze: I have mixed opinions. Admittedly, I’m not 100% versed on how the whole machine works but a part of me thinks: this is just another guidebook with a panel of experts. Who decides what expert is better than another? Palates are subjective.
Arguably some are more considerate, experienced and sensitive than others, but how can we truly assess if someone is a better food critic over another? I’m starting to see in this food writing world- it really comes down to who toots their horn the loudest and from the most popular platform.
Back to Gurdulu, through the grapevine I heard Entiana had left. Now that the show pony behind the glossy PR spin-off of Il Santo Bevitore had left the building, I went to go check them out. The scene is this: massive small-batch driven barstock with fierce barlady making surgeon-skill libations, vintage modern decor, waiters in cute little bowties and classy service standards. Open kitchen and elevated culinary magic within, at least the skeleton of what culinary magic was before. In the past when I visited, I was thoroughly charmed. I tip tapped praises across my blog and for dining pieces on Eater.
Visiting now with a new chef in the kitchen, I felt a skeleton of a soul food’s past. It wasn’t horrible, despite a incredibly gross bowl of grainy gummy pasta with an unappetizing choice of murky pastel sauces to match an equally unappetizing description “button ravioli with snail and bitter herbs.” The culinary mirage continued to blur with a pleasant plate of bunny rabbit but overcast by dry jerky-like grilled amberjack and a suspicious plate of sliced Venison that mimicked beef. The rest of the amberjack was surrounded by culinary grace: smoked yogurt, perfectly tender artichokes but fatefully ruined by a few moments too many on the grill.
Regarding the red meat, the staff responded that the chef intended to “de-game” the Venison- and seemed proud of it. To which I’d say: why offer Venison if you’ll have it taste like beef? And the last insult to injury was the deconstructed gelato + crumble plates, a presentation I find majorly played out. Meaning, an oval scoop of pistachio gelato (with bleak resemblance of pistachio’s usual depth & luster) albeit tasty crumbles of shortbread cookie and again trampled by gelled cubes of mango that visually brought me back to memories of orange Velveeta processed cheese product.
Even if Gurdulu’ remains open, I’d like to bid them a sweet adieu, as you will never see me wield a fork in said locale again.
And lastly a restaurant I am perplexed to have seen go, was the Lebanese Valle dei Cedri near Santa Croce. I’d been over the years and found it to be a soulful nook serving a slice of the Middle East. The owners were active in culinary events during the annual Middle East film & culture festival and now the restaurant is closed with a seemingly mediocre Tuscan restaurant to have replaced it. I do admit to hearing rumors that service at Valle dei Cedri began to earn a certain reputation as hit or miss, but whenever I went it was flavorful magic. I am more upset that the space was replaced with yet another generic Tuscan themed restaurant- of which do we really need more of? Upon discovering their closure, I was left wishing it had been replaced with something a little more notable. And due to the location, I suspect that it will be one of those mediocre Tuscan places catering to transient tourists. I’d much more be in hip hip hooray if the replacement was doing something notable or doing Tuscan food right.
In your dining regret,