Ciao readers, I won’t bore you with another apology of why I haven’t updated the blog in ooooooo weeeee 6 months! Well, I gave a couple excuses in the last post, like giving more attention to my weekly newsletters (subscribe here!). But also, let’s be honest: we’re living during a soul crushing pandemic so I simply haven’t had the motivation.
Now I’m kinda back (? don’t hold me to this) and wanted to share a restaurant review I never shared: the last “normal” meal before the pandemic hit and ravaged the land, at 3 star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, which felt like it brought my Florence restaurant quest to full circle.
If you were curious what life has been like in Italy- it’s a mess. Every region is like its own state in terms of what they decide on lockdowns which were determined by color, warning of a new color coded restriction and scramble until the new shade (or lockdown) comes to tower over like the boogie man. It’s been a strange rollercoaster reality. It’s a heavy reality knowing 100,000 people have passed from COVID-19. And how many businesses gutted.
Forgive me for not being a bippity bopping blogger!
Allow me to paint context into this dining throwback, indulge my excessiveness in advance. This is one of my most precious memories. Thank you for giving me the space to relive it.
Let’s set the stage of my mindset Before Times. Me with brushed hair. Bear in mind this is a personal blog so I am sharing my personal experiences
View this post on Instagram
I’ve started to get a foothold of my dream to branch out into San Francisco and live between 2 of my favorite food epicenters of the world, I head to Florence in early February of 2020 to perform a check-up/oil change on my (then!) food tour biz.
I felt like cool- my life/career is starting to make sense! (Ha! sucker!) Little did I know this beloved country of mine (and my home one) would BOTH become the ‘rona plague’s epicenter!!
When I arrived in Florence, there were some rumblings about this coronavirus, but thought it would never reach Italy. Or at least, I shrugged it off falsely assuming world leaders had things under control. (Ha! Idiot.)
I went about my life, traipsing around Bologna and Florence. Eventually making a booking for Enoteca Pinchiorri, helmed by Annie Féolde one of the few female chefs in Italy let alone female chefs with THREE WHOLE Michelin stars!
I managed to snag a rezzo while delightfully stuffed outside Trattoria di Via Serra in Bologna, plump from a fast and furious meal filled with seasonal porcini as I was working on updating a dining guide for one of the publications I freelance for.
I was uber excited to go to Pinchiorri, but held plenty reservation (no pun intended) as Michelin restaurants aren’t usually my culinary kryptonite.
I was nervous about spending that much money on one said meal. But I chalked it up to work research and you know, I might’ve died from this new plague. Carpe diem!
And even this many months later, all the while being mere days before my livelihood was fated to become indefinitely precarious, I am so glad I went and blew what felt like money I had on the most memorable 4 hour dining experience to date.
It was one of the highlights of my career as a professional eater, and devotee of Italy.
You’re probably wondering- get to the point lady!! But what was the food like?!
My impressions were this: I’d hope anyone reading doesn’t go to Pinchiorri with the mindset of expectations solely around the food- but rather the experience. Ironically, You aren’t there for the food- you are essentially paying to be pampered culinarily speaking.
The food is great, but if you are focused on the dishes without factoring in the bigger picture, you will be sorely disappointed.
You walk in and the service is that old school white glove high touch reception waiting room kinda situation before being escorted to your ungodly large table with a welcome glass of fine Champagne and a water menu. It’s so f***ing cliche’, stuffy and uncomfortable- but you love it.
The decor and table setting is wildly outdated, you are sat way too far away from your dining companion in an atmosphere that predictably makes you feel like a slob in your dress with a secret snag you hope no one notices, nor discovers you’re an imposter and there is a piano player who will key Happy Birthday at least 12 times, with Queen covers peppered in, throughout your 4 hour excessive dining marathon.
You will love how much of a time warp this place is. You will embrace it and tell a harmless fib that it’s your 10 year anniversary so they play yet ANOTHER Queen cover and bring a flaming cake, as if you needed to foie gras yourself EVEN more!
After dining at Pinchiorri, I realized any dining establishment in Florence (if not around Italy) looks up to it in some way. Some details I noticed around restaurants in Florence prior, were in the original form while at Pinchiorri. How they opened wine bottles, details in the cutlery quality, etc.
If you’re a 1%er- this may be typical experience for you, but I grew up in the suburbs of Memphis Tennessee whose most exciting family outing was a Friday night at the Cece’s Pizza buffet- fancy dining moments like these never cease to amaze even if my tastes (and priorities in investing in them) eventually evolved.
I’m sure to anyone reading who has been to more than one 3 star restaurant or who is a real food writer or “wine person”- this is normal and you’re probably judging my amateur marvel. But this was my first which sort of brought my dining understanding of Florence full circle.
Overall, there wasn’t any crazy foams and powders, or much in the way of cool mind-blowing experimental s**t. Though there was a starter of a dehydrated popcorn amuse bouche as a sort of metaphorical welcome-to-the-show snack.
But otherwise- the food overall was plentiful, made with precision to interpret how the local repertoire could best be expressed with the best “materie prime” with plays on textures and regions. I know this probably doesn’t give you a whole lot of information, but I also am not well-versed in reviewing 3 star-level meals.
To the assumptive palate without making deep reseasrch- it seems as if they took something humble like meat and potatoes and said- “I’m going to make the most perfect version of this” and apply techniques which fit into the local cultural identity, such spit roasting, onions cooked under ashes and nodding to our French context (as its helmed by French female chef Annie Féolde) with salmi’ and potatoes millefoglie– and predictably this will be a divine meal in all senses.
The dish which stood out to me as a pure gluttonous revisitation on a poor/cucina povera dish was the pasta course which riffed on pasta con le sarde (a humble pasta typically dressed with pesce povero sardines and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs) and roasted the sardines and made a crumble from pork belly to resemble the breadcrumbs and the pasta was fresh egg tagliatelle (more of a pasta for the rich vs flour/water dried noodles) and melded with arugula butter.
I now feel like I could never really fully appreciate a 3 star experience unless I understood the repertoire of the establishment’s location. Every dish, at least at Pinchiorri, is an ode to a tradition.
There are hidden metaphors and intention. And what a let down it could be if you didn’t understand the various inside jokes told through the stories of these dishes, so to speak.
For me, it was marvelous as an Italian food geek. But otherwise, it could be- to some- a waste of money (or maybe a way to show off?), if the lasting impression was having been luxuriously doted after.
There are plenty of ways to be waited on and provided exceptional service. But again, if you are a culinary geek or feel like you want to celebrate a big birthday 12 times- you will derive great pleasure from what felt like a spectacle Enoteca Pinchiorri
Of course the main law of attraction here is the wine list and the cellar, boasted as being possibly the best in the Michelin world. They did of course have a poetic selection, and options to drink some of the best wines of your life.
But I felt content ordering a couple bottles passionately suggested by the most affable, tri-lingual somm/server vs the all-you-can-drink formulas from iconic wineries.
The real problem with writing restaurant reviews is the lack of objectivity in the end. Your lasting impression has a great deal to do with the food itself sure, and service, but also the company and context.
One thing I cannot complain about is quantity- I tapped out at a certain point, and there are few skills I have in this world and eating is the only one, really.
I can’t say I would go back for the food, but I’d surely go back for the experience. I think though, I’d pay anything to be back in a normal dining setting and would literally go anywhere at this point of my lockdown fatique/desperation.
But also what painted my current amarcord nostalgia is knowing it was the last meal before what felt like the world ended. I’ll always hold that experience dear and recommend it to anyone I can.
Although know the conditions I was under in this culinary trance may not be the same for you. All I can say is I am glad I experienced Enoteca Pinchiorri when I did. And when dining does return, it will be quite the place to celebrate a return to normality.
But after all the purge that was 2020- what is normalcy? Was what we lived truly normal? Grass is always greener on the other side they say, and maybe we are glorifying what life was like Before Covid19.
There have been centuries of inequality, especially in the US, which led for the groundwork for pandemic devastation. Perhaps we were living on a thin thread, and all it took was a tiny needle to dissolve the castle of sand we were living in.
I promise to not be so radio silent in the future. I’m slowly recharging my will to blog, but do know I am the most active on my weekly newsletters and on instagram
In your trust for a normal return,