Curious Appetite

florence

Where to eat in San Niccolò (Florence, Italy)

Walk and drink in San Niccolo’

San Niccolò is a sort of micro-neighborhood on the way to the trek to Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular square where you can get a stellar view of the city. Unfortunately, pop tourism has influenced Piazzale Michelangelo to be a sort of Disneyland attraction with bad food carts, painful cover music belting buskers and plastic souvenir vendors.

In all honesty, I despise how some businesses in major Italian cities like Florence have decided to cater to mass tourism and eroding its authentic character as a result. Tourists aren’t the problem, it is a type of mentality which hides behind the guise of “business as usual” in order to supposedly make establishments more “welcoming” (i.e. tourist menus, crap souvenirs, mushy pasta and frozen pizza for €10, terribly translated menus, crap cover bands, outdated American pop top 40 radio, etc).

I do love loads of things about Florence. I love how easy it is to get around by bike. I really love San Frediano and Santo Spirito (as long as it doesn’t turn into a touristic/cheap crap/corner shop wasteland) and I love how beautiful the city is, I love how there are little wine shops and the Tuscan food culture. I love the Florentine accent and I love (some) Florentines. Really. The point of my blog is to help readers find what authentic soul there is left in Florence.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

So despite Piazzale Michelangelo becoming a obnoxious tourist trap with a view (which you absolutely cannot miss in Florence),  I still have managed to salvage a couple places to eat and drink at the bottom- in a little area called San Niccolò.

Truffled Tagliere smorgasbord

La Beppa Fioraia-  Past the arches of San Niccolò, take a sharp turn into what seems like a dodgy alley and disappear into one of the few green nooks of Florence to La Beppa Fioraia. My favorites here are the tagliere (Tuscan smorgasbord of cheeses, dips, spreads, fried breads, cold cuts, veggies and cured olives) and wild boar pappardelle. The wine list is somewhat decent (good € range) from what I remember and the interior decor is alive with color.

I have heard that in recent years this resto has gone south from what it used to be (surprise , surprise…Florentine restaurants loosing quality after being discovered by the arbitrary rating world of tripadvisor?) However, I still don’t think you can beat the ambiance and abundant gourmet tagliere.

Address: Via dell’Erta Canina, 6r

Gecko Bar & Grill- This is a new burger, sandwich and cocktail spot which is very trendy, contemporary and I may go as far as saying “hipster”. I went recently with my pal Georgette of Girl in Florence who recommends it and I must say it was decent. The service was good, which says a lot. I enjoyed their BBQ pulled pork sandwich (pictured) but then again, if you are visiting Florence for the 1st time or visiting in general, why would you want something not Tuscan such as a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, similar to bar & grill food in the U.S.? In any case, Gecko would definitely be a great spot for craft beers and cocktails on a late night since the bars Zoe and Negroni next door are not exactly the greatest.

Address: Via Dei Renai 11/R

lardo crostoni. cured fat and cheese- that’s Tuscany!

Fuori Porta- One of my favorite wine bars, Fuoriporta is loved by wine enthusiasts all over the city. They have high quality wines by the glasses ranging from caliber to obscure, quarter liter carafes and gourmet wine friendly foods. Their patio is a trap- you can sit out there for hours slightly removed from the chaos of center Florence with a medieval gate as your backdrop which is lined with random greenery. I personally enjoy their gourmet crostini toasts with things like black truffle cream and soft, salty prosciutto to go with their excellent selection of mouth watering white wines.

Address: Via Monte Alle Croci, 10r

Cent’Ori- This is a gourmet trattoria I’ve decided. Burrata with shaved truffle, Savory, juicy sliced pork arista and baked to perfection potatoes, fresh ravioli in a heavenly sage sauce and they have a fixed menu for lunch which is actually a great value for 10 euros, including a glass of wine. The food is pretty delicious but I must warn, the service is pretty horrible unless you are there with a Florentine or you speak Italian enough to know that service in Florence in general is a alien concept. The owner is somewhat temperamental and the food presentation/order if they are busy is extremely inconsistent. The only reason why I am even mentioning them is because most places to eat in San Niccolo actually suck and if you have to eat well, don’t want to spend a fortune and can put up with lame/slow service- then Cent’Ori is worth a go. The wine list is non-existent and you have to go to the wall inside to pick your wines, half of them aren’t even marked for price and your lucky if they remember to bring your wine glasses. All that being said, I would still go back if in a bind and none of the other eateries on this list had a table available.

Address: Via di S. Niccolò, 48, 50124 Florence, Italy

In your quest for soul in Florence,

Curious Appetite

Are you curious about food tours in Florence? Take a progressive dinner crawl (with me!) for a curated, delicious evening while discovering the best food and drink spots with soul. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for live travel tips and subscribe by e-mail to this blog for future updates. Happy travels!

Il Santo Bevitore- Florence

In August, It is a bit challenging to find good restaurants open as a lot of businesses close up and say “I’m blowing this popsicle stand- I’m off to the beach!” It is not impossible to find good places open, it just becomes more of a challenge.

Dear anyone planning a visit to Italy in August- THERE ARE FEW PLACES OPEN AND LOCALS AROUND IN AUGUST!! DON’T BE SURPRISED!! Call restaurants ahead of time!

Il Santo Bevitore is Italian for “The Holy Drinker” or as I’d like to think, the holy boozer…

I called Il Santo Bevitore in Santo Spirito (my favorite neighborhood and the last Florentine quarter that hasn’t yet been ruined by crap shops and plastic tourism) and they were thankfully open. With every morsel of delight, I highly recommend Il Santo Bevitore in Florence.

Some people say this restaurant is for tourists. Or rich schmoozy expats. I disagree. It is not the typical Italian mom and pop trattoria where service is non-existent and cuisine charismatically inconsistent. It is, however, for those who appreciate dining culture, graceful service, a handpicked wine list, cozy candle-lit aesthetic and beautifully thoughtful food. Yes, the price is not 5 euros for a pasta but for those extra 5 you get something truly incredible.

In restaurants, I almost never order a risotto. This is a pretty cliché dining intolerance among snooty gourmands. However, the menù tickled my intrigue…curiosity one may say. It was a black squid ink risotto with squid and cuttlefish. I love fish and anything seppia nera (black squid). I said yes…I will take a risk.

It was the best 10 euros spent on any 1st plate any fish and/or risotto groupie could wish for. The rice was perfectly chewy but not slimy. Dancing with umami…the fish had an unbelievable buttery texture and it seemed like the chefs made this risotto to order. Creamy, layered and luscious, you may now forget about any distrust you had for a resto risotto…

Black squid ink risotto

**This was not the plate I enjoyed..I was too busy in sensorial bliss to document that moment with a foodporn shot. I suppose you will just have to go and try it on your own.

The most unexpected surprise was the few slices of nutty soft cheese almost slightly Parmigiano in nature nestled on top just barely softened by the warmth of the fresh churned risotto.

The wine of the night was a super Tuscan white blend of chardonnay and malvasia. It was luxurious synergy on your palate. Gushing with euphoric acidity. This dinner- my curious readers- was indeed one of the most orgasmic gastronomic experiences I’ve been blessed with this year in Florence. Bravisssimi.

To finish, we had an amaro made from honey of the Brunello producing region of Tuscany (Montalcino). It was divine…reminiscent notes of a cardamom creamsicle. I am very much an adorer of amari (after-dinner bitter liquors) and get quite disappointed going to bars and restos only to see the usual sugary suspects of Amaro del Capo, Montenegro and if you’re lucky Amaro Lucano. So when I saw a honey Amaro from Montalcino, I nearly blushed…these guys at Il Santo Bevitore in Florence have it right: they are tasteful and artful with every detail of the menù.

***golf clap***

I bid you a sweet a due…my dear curious eaters,

Curious Appetite

La Ghiotta: a Florentine Tavola Calda

I love when someone wants to get lunch. On a weekend in Italy. Especially this time. There is this little hole in the wall in my neighborhood that I look into every time I pass, curious as to the simple Tuscan delights that lie within. Most good restaurants in Italy are brown and mustard decorated hole-in-the-walls. They have paper place mats, uncomfortable chairs with the straw seat that give you splinters especially if you wear a skirt and get stuck in your leggings and hand-written menus. And mostly everything is under 10 euros a plate. The exception being the bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak) which is like 30 something euros a kilo and you usually split with others. But personally, I wouldn’t get a bistecca fiorentina at one of these. When in Rome, or rather Florence, stick with the mom-style comfort food in a joint like La Ghiotta.

When you walk in, you immediately are greeted with all the tavola calda type items like roasted pork, polpettone (big Tuscan meatballs that are typically meaty and breadcrumby), small fried fish medley, hot gooey lasagna, fried polenta (a decadent goodie I discovered in Florence) and maybe some random slices of pizza. You can either order some of this to-go or to bring immediately to a table, or you can order from the hand-written menu. There is nothing pretentious here with nothing to hide or show off. What you will find is simple Tuscan food at modest prices. Antipasti include salami boards and crostini toscani. Primi include spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fried sage and butter sauce. Mains include generous slabs of Milanese style veal cutlets and roasted fried potatoes. No fru fru fusion, just damn good (real) Italian food. What I had was the mare caldo (warm ocean) with a personal carafe of sparkling house wine:

Delicious. The calamari had a perfect balance of chewy and meaty. The clams were little buttons of flavor. and the Mussels were creamy and retained a good deal of garlic and herbs. The sauce was silky, herbaceous and woven nicely with garlic. I was even taken aback by the shrimp, which I usually do not care for in restaurants as they are rubbery and freezer burned. Again, the buttery texture soothed my senses and revitalized my appreciation for this little meaty sea creatures. This was served on a modest piece of toasted (very plain) Tuscan bread which soaked up all this wonderful broth and it basically melts like pure umami in your mouth.

After this, of course we enjoyed an espresso and a dessert: Tiramisu’

Tiramisu’ literally translates into “Lift me up.” Well, how could this not lift you up? It’s a booze cream and marscapone cheese cake with cookies soaked in espresso. Not to mention the obvious sugar high this invokes.

Tiramisu’ is not a traditional Tuscan dessert, but La Ghiotta was out of frittelle which are little fried rice donut-like sweets- I’ve seen these in Venice also so may not be exclusive to Tuscany. And sometimes I see them in the bakeries filled with custard.

The point is- when you are in Florence, eat off the beaten tourist path. Be okay with getting squished in the corner with straw-bedded chairs that drive splinters up your bum. It’s okay. You know why? Because you will probably have one of the best meals all month at a traditional hole-in-the-wall without burning a hole in your wallet. And leave with a slight buzz at 3 in the afternoon. These gastronomic moments in Italy are priceless.

La Pentola Dell’Oro- Renaissance fare in 2012

La Pentola Dell’Oro means “A potful of gold.” I live in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance (consider the museums like the Uffizi, The Accademia, THE DUOMO,  the Boboli Gardens, etc)  and of the Italian language (remember Dante Alighieri and L’Inferno? Dante was Florentine and Italian was born from his laments on hell and society.) I overheard about La Pentola from a group of locals cooing over their recent experience with renaissance inspired fare describing spices from the orient and other exotic posts that influenced Florentine society during the Rinascimento, Italy’s cultural “rebirth.”

Mostly what I’ve found eating out in Florence is either Tuscan “delicacies” of animal guts (such as la tripa and il lampredotto, good thing Italian is such a pretty language because these are all words for offal), pizza or pasta or some other variation concerning tasteless Tuscan bread, tomatoes, pork products and pecorino cheese. Delicious, yes. But not exactly intense culinary technique (excitement) compared to foods of the south.

ThisPot of Gold” was indeed a worthwhile venture. Consider the following:

Le Pappardelle sulla lepre (pappardelle fresh pasta w/ wild hare ragu’ made in the Etruscan “Artusi” fashion)
Le Lasagnole (lasagna-like cut noodles tossed with ginger, cane sugar, chestnut honey and walnut. Not sweet, but very savory!
Il Porco Cinghiale in dolce forte- Wild Boar in a chocolate, cedar & pine nut sauce. Looks like mound of mud but indeed very yum num. Ever had “mole’?” Well, imagine instead,, a melt in your mouth savage forest ranged pork that feasted on chestnuts and filberts in an aromatic olive oil pine nut chocolate spice marinade.

And wine? A Chianti Classico with notes of herbed violet and tobacco tannins to cut through the fat and protein pleasures of the boar in order to radiate this plethora of layered savor.

Good wine by the bottle for under €20 (at a restaurant)

After this imbibement, my belly was also feeling like a pot of gold. This is definitely off the beaten tourist path and thankfully undiscovered but frequented enough by locals (am I a local yet?) to stay churning slivers of rich, historic gastronomic bliss.

More info here: http://www.lapentoladelloro.it/

You might need a zing bing or go go google translate super powers if you can’t quite decipher the Italiano. BUON APPETITO 🙂

Gelatoholics anonymous- Florence!

I am pretty bummed that I haven’t been writing as frequently as I would like, I tend to have a good reason or another but ultimately- I’ve been too busy stuffing my face and keeping my glass full to bother typing away. 🙂

The first thing I must speak upon is my ungodly obsession with gelato. It’s pretty sick and twisted, at this point I should be considered a gelatochocohawlic. There is good reason, too! First off, I live in Florence where gelato was supposedly born. However, ask an Italian where anything was born and it will just so happen to be conveniently original from their hometown.  Secondly, I live right above one of the best gelaterias in the city. Is it the best in my opinion because I could practically crawl spiderman style  down these ancient walls to arrive at such delectable wonders? Who knows, and let’s be honest- no one cares. I live above a gelateria and it’s become a problem. Thirdly, to make matters worse than being haunted by a gelateria every 100 meters, apparently during renaissance times women were forbidden from eating ice cream. Well, it wasn’t like they got a fine but it was a huge social faux pas for a woman to be seen licking an ice cream. And even today in some silly male and dogma dominated culture it is still heavily discouraged. SOOOOO naturally I MUST make up for all these years of ice cream oppression!!!! I mean, it’s my duty as a free western WOMAN of the 21st century!!! And yes, you’re welcome! 🙂

My wine studies went really well at Apicius and I feel very confident about my command of knowledge concerning wines in Tuscany. Moreover, you can depend on me to ace any challenge on a food and wine pairing with a wine from this beautiful region. For studies sake, I had to really understand and study a pair with a chianti classico (which makes up a good chunk of the Tuscan sangiovese-based line-up) with a nice Tuscan aged prosciutto and a hard umami loaded pecorino cheese. I mean, it was rough work but I finally figured it out, for the sake of my grades.

Back to gelato. My go to flavors are generally anything chocolate and something nutty like pistachio, coconut or nocciola (hazelnut) but sometimes I get a little tutti frutti and venture with fresh watermelon, apricot or cantaloupe.  I’ve even ventured into the fusion realm with saffron rose and then walnut gorgonzola (gelato?! yes you can!)

I have yet to meet a gelato I didn’t like.  Today I had a realization that I may need to go on a diet if I continue at this drink wine at every meal that consists of cheese and cured meats pace/lifestyle, but how could I live without gelato?! Well, thankfully today I found a gelateria that has “skinny” yogurt gelato and apricot sorbet so that crisis seems to have been averted. Or wait, maybe I could go on a gelato diet! In fact, some Italians DO have ice cream for breakfast! I was having lunch with a Sicilian friend and I casually mentioned my gelato obsession and pondered the possibility of having it for breakfast and she said I could in theory as this is practiced in Sicily. (?!?!) Basically, since it gets rather warm down there in the summer, it’s not uncommon apparently to have a lemon granita (like a sort of slushie) with a piece of bread. Alright, so turns out it’s in my genes to want gelato for breakfast! I knew it!! 🙂

Macaroooooons! a perfect cookie for an ice cream sandy!

Oh! one more thing! So eating in Venice can be complete crap! I know you can find little hole in the walls and restos off the beaten path, but you know some people (tourists, you know those who are making a lot of commerce possible with their hard-earned money) should be able to sit near the canals, watch the gondolas pass by and have a bloody good meal too and not get ripped off just because they want to visit a new place. GRRR! That mentality really pisses me off about some resto owners to rip tourists off for the immediate financial boost but really, they are creating a crap reputation and then some people write home about it. 🙂 But nevertheless, Italy is the only place where you can eat complete crap but it still looks lovely on a plate (like these wretched fishy freezer burned gunky shrimp and razor sawed salad with sulfuric over boiled eggs:)

So moral of the story is: when in doubt, eat gelato!!! 🙂 🙂 CIAO!

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