Italy Trip Report: Florence
via del Campanile at via delle Oche
The best gelato we ate in Italy, by far. And that is saying a lot. This Turin-based chain has 7 Italian locations with another opening soon in New York. They use “slow food” ingredients in some of their gelatos – Amalfi lemons, Sicilian pistachios, Ecuadorian and Venezuelan chocolate. The results are creamy, flavorful, and fresh. My favorite was the Cioccolato Extra Noir – Venezuelan chocolate gelato with bitter Ecuadorian chocolate chips. The lemon sorbet was also outstanding. We also ate gelato at Perche No and Caribe, which were both good. But Grom ruined other gelato for us. If you’re in Florence, there’s no reason to go anywhere else for gelato. I think we went there 5 times in 3 days.
Trattoria 4 Leone
Via de dé Vellutini 1r (Oltrarno
They have a very unique pasta here called pear purses (“fiochette”). It’s a pasta, stuffed with pears and covered in an asparagus cream sauce. The pears aren’t super ripe, so the sweetness is more subtle than you might think. It’s a must try. The risotto with porcini was way to salty. The tagliatta di manza (possibly strip steak?) was simply grilled with salt and pepper and served sliced with peppery greens. The Chianina beef was melt-in-your mouth succulent and had an incredible beefy flavor. I liked this much better than the filet at Osteria della Logge in Siena.
Via del Porcellana 9r
055 21 32 04
Excellent risotto with baby zucchini and cheese. Ziti in a fresh-tasting green tomato sauce. The food was very good. They have a nice garden, but it was the only place in Italy where we got mosquito bites, so come prepared.
Acqua al 2
Via della Vigna Vecchia, 40/r
I have to disagree with the many recommendations that I got from this board and from friends and family for this restaurant. We thought that most of the pasta dishes we were served as part of the pasta sampler were thoroughly mediocre. I think that a good steak should mostly speak for itself, but the blueberry and balsamic sauces are so touted, that I had to try them. As it turns out, if you don’t think you’ll like a thick balsamic sauce on your tenderloin, you’re probably right. Service was gruff, impatient, and snooty. Let me explain how the pasta sampler works, since the waiter won’t. They can’t tell you which five pastas you will get because they just wait for another table to order a full plate of pasta, then throw in an extra handful for you. Since we wanted to try the artichoke pasta, we got one artichoke pasta and one sampler. Our first sample, which appeared with our plate of artichoke pasta? The artichoke pasta. Lame.
Piazza del mercato centrale, 26/r
Located by the central market, we had a very nice lunch at this trattoria. We started with a tangy, delicious, plate of carciofi alla romana (cold artichokes marinated in olive oil, herbs, and crushed red pepper flakes). Also good were the ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with a rich meat and tomato sauce. The mixed bruschetta (liver, tomato sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms) were nothing special.
Piazza Santo Spirito, 6/r (Oltrarno)
A great, and large, plate of risotto with shrimp, mint and saffrom (18 euros). Also a delicious pizza quatro stagione (olives, artichokes, ham, mushrooms). The pizza was comparable to Patsy’s in NYC.
Florence is such a glorious place. I loved my meal at Il Bronzino a few years ago. I even got to watch Lionel Ritchie talk on the cell phone, flirt with a young woman and sort of eat. My favourite course was the absolutely delicious bistecca fiorintino.
I had some other wonderful experiences--but I have to also plug Nerbone for the real food and feeling of Firenze. If you are brave enough try the tripe stand across from the American Express office in the square by Dante's house.
I've been to Florence every March for the last 4 years and have always gone to ZaZa. I honestly can't say I've had a bad meal there, although there are better places to eat. I've always brought a group of 15 - 25 and never heard anyone complain. I will say that their Tiramisu is the best I've had, as it is similar to a creme brule'.
I am in florence right now and also felt compelled to reply after I took my family to Grom and was supremely dissapointed. Out of 5 different orders, only the nicciola was OK. The others were icy and probably rank as some of the worst gelato I've had. I couldn't believe it after everything I've read on chowhound.
On another note, I've never been as impressed with Za Za as everyone else on these boards. Mario's around the corner is , in my opinion, much better.
Last night we ate at 13 Gobbi and it was hit or miss. The bistecca was pretty good (not as good as - remember it being at sostanza the last time we were here). The pasta special with artichokes was very good but another with ravioli with butter/sage sauce was not.
Tonight we're supposed to go to 4 Leone. But after our recent experiences I'm nervous it'll be another spotty meal.
Any suggestions for something else reliably fantastic? I'm willing to pay more if necessary...
Florence is tough.
Try one of the other places on the slowfood site
Im glad to see del Fagioli listed this year along with marios.
Ive always wanted to try Tranvai in Oltrarno, listed.
Florence has never seemed to us to be a pasta town - and more expensive is not always the route there either. Meats, bean dishes, soups, ricotta gnocci (those strozzopreti)sometimes risotto are more likely to please.
On gelato - is it really a wintertime thing among the Italians? - it doesnt tempt me much. Student population is also low at this time of year. There may be turnover issues and the shops may be cooling more than is optimum to preserve it longer. Just a guess tho.
If you are still there and looking for other places, here are some I posted on a while back (the last is my favorite, but I would go back to any or these again and plan to do so next year):
1. NERBONE, Mercato Centrale Always great to visit the markets of an Italian or French city/town and see what’s available. Although there are other food places within the Mercato Centrale, the best is Nerbone, a food stand about 25-30 feet long facing one wall of the market. There are some tables and chairs opposite the stand on a first-come basis, no table service offered. You select what you want and pay for it at the cash register. There you can also order from their daily menu of hot dishes, or pay for a bollito sandwich, then stand in line at the other end of the counter with your receipt waiting to get your sandwich of sliced boiled beef on a panini roll. The meat carver wants to know if you want him to dip the roll in broth (bagna) and if you want salt, salsa verde (mostly parley in olive oil), or hot peppers on top of the meat. Your sandwich is handed to you in a piece of waxed paper and you leave the line. Sandwich is quite good and reasonably prices (2.30€ = $3.08) I also ordered a bowl or ribollita, the great Tuscan bean and cabbage soup, at the counter and it was one of the best we ever ate in Florence, certainly the least expensive. This place was full of local workmen having their lunches and friendly bantering with the counter staff.
Overall rating: don’t miss the experience. Bollito and soup great! The scene is real and down-to-earth. Everybody wears a smile.
Before or after you eat at Nerbone, visit a market stand just 1 row up and 1 over from Nerbone: PERINI. This is a meat/cheese/salad purveyor of high quality products. They regularly put plates of food to sample on the counter and you can help yourself: slices of prosciutto on bread crisps, olive spread, marinated tomato spread, marinated garlic cloves, cheese, etc. In fact, it the food makes you thirsty, just ask for some wine and they will pour you a cup or white or red. But remember they are there to sell products, so taste and buy parmigiana or boar salami to eat later.
2. LE MOSSACCE Via Proconsolo 55/r (about 3 doors north of Via Corso on west side of Proconsolo) Another favorite with local clients. Primi: penne in fresh tomato sauce with chucks of pumpkin (great combination), canneloni with spinach and cheese in a meat sauce (thin sheets of pasta wrapped around the filling). Contorni fagiolini (beans) with oli and garlic, spinach. Just a light lunch at 20€ ($26.80) with a 1⁄4 carafe of house wine + water
Overall rating: if you want to mix with local diners, this is the place. Small quarters, but excellent basic Tuscan fare at low prices. Great for lunch because it’s only a few blocks from Duomo.
3. TRATTORIA LA CASALINGA Via del Michelozzi 9r (Oltrarno, short walk from Pitti Palace). Another good local restaurant with real home cooking, few non-Italians. Man seated next to us was eating a half chicken (stewed in a clay pot) and stalks of celery – nothing else – and the chicken was enormous. Primi: we shared a rigatoni-type pasta dish with sauce of tomato, sausage, onion. Secondi: arrista (roast pork but on the bone) and coniglio (roasted rabbit). Very satisfying lunch at moderate prices (28€ = $37.50)
Overall rating: an excellent choice for lunch after a morning’s visit to the Pitti Palace or Boboli Gardens. To find it: from sidewalk front of Pitti Palace look for Banca Toscana across the street; narrow street next to bank leads 1 short block to Via Maggio; cross Maggio and Casalinga is on your left a few doors down.
4. TRATTORIA IL CONTADINO Via Palazzuolo 69-71r (just around the corner from Sostanza) Passed this place many times but didn’t go in because it advertised Prezzo Fisso: we thought that might not lead to good food. But finding it listed in the ACCESS – Florence & Venice guide gave us hope it might be worth trying. What a great find! Two rooms fill up with local workmen at lunch and dinner. We expected a fixed-price meal would have maybe 2 selections, but there were 6 choices for primi and secondi and 4 for contorni. Primi: riso con salmone e crema (not risotto, but rice with smoked salmon, parsley, and cream which was very good and almost a creamy as risotto), farfalle (bow-tie pasta) in a cream-based tomato sauce with ground veal. Secondi: stracotto (beef stew made with wine, tomato, carrots). Contorni: spinach and a green salad with thin slices of fennel included. Fixed price of 10€ per person includes primo, secondo, contorni, vino, and acqua (plus caffe if you want).
Overall rating: best quality/price value we found. Don’t go for price alone, go for the great home-cooked food with wide variety of choices. Fresh fennel in the green salad was something we never saw in more expensive restaurants. Highly recommended for the food, but it is not Michelin star quality if that’s what you want.
5. VINI DEL CHIANTI Via del Cimatori 38r (3 narrow doors in from east side of Via dei Calzaiuoli) This is not a sit-down restaurant, but a sidewalk sandwich/wine booth where people stop for a quick panini at lunch or in early evening. There’s a list of the ingredients available for the sandwiches and you can order a glass of wine to go with it. You just stand in the street and eat/drink what you bought. Panini can be had with meat, tuna, veggies, etc., and cost 2€30 each.
6. TRATTORIA ANTICO FATTORE Via Lambertesca 1/3r (100 feet from Uffizi through archway on west side of museum courtyard). Second time we ate dinner here and will return again! Primi: tagliatelle sul daina (ribbon pasta with deer sauce) a wonderful taste and their best dish: gnocchi tartufo nero (gnocchi in black truffle sauce). This Gnocchi dish is the best I have ever eaten anywhere! Secondi: scalopini de vitello (veal with mushroom sauce) and osso buco (good sized portion with marvelous flavor). Only time we ate a dessert: torta della nonna: pie with cream filling topped with pignoli (pine nuts). Drank Ruffino Torgaio, a Tuscan wine similar to chianti. Excellent service, a few non-Italians (given is proximity to Uffizi and Pazza della Signoria, this is understandable, but the food is very good.
Overall rating: this ranks at the top of our choices for restaurants to visit on any trip to Florence.
A side note: if you go to www.anticofattore.com and search the site, you may find an offer of a free gift. Print the page and show it when you enter the restaurant. You will receive a free dish with the restaurant’s name and a free bottle of Ruffino wine to take with you when you leave.
If you are still in Firenze when you read this do NOT leave there without going to Sostanza which has absolutely outstanding bisteca. There are a lot of places that claim to serve bisteca; some do-but this is the best and regarded as such by most. Also give serious consideration to Il Pizzaiola which is the equal of Brandi and da Michele in Naples. This is not only Firenze's best pizza but one of the best in Italy. Posts on here are only as good as the credibility of one who posts. If I have any credibility at all-go to Sostanza! Along with Cibreo it is one of the two best restaurants in Firenze excluding the three star Enoteca Pinchiorri.
re: Joe H
Sostanza has GREAT bisteca, but the real specialty there isn't just the bistecca, it's the petti di pollo -- the chicken breast cooked in butter. More calories per gram than you want to contemplate, but worth a transatlantic voyage. Oh also -- if you go to Sostanza and eat anything other than the bistecca or the chicken (and this is especially true for pasta) you will probably be disappointed.
re: Joe H
FYI re: Il Pizzaiuolo (via dei Macci 113r) opposite Cibreo was where we have had terrific pizza on at least a dozen occasions, the original owner Carmine sold it in '06 and has opened a new place of his own Vico Del Carmine on Via Pisana in Oltrarno, just across the river not far from Ponte alla Carraia. http://vicodelcarmine.fol.it/
We look forward to a taste test later this summer.
I've never posted on Chowhound before, but I've used it a lot in NY to find restaurant recommendations. I'm actually in an Internet cafe in Florence right now, having just eaten lunch at Trattoria Zaza, and I felt compelled to post to say how terrible it was. My girlfriend and I feel like we completely wasted a meal in Italy. I ordered first the soup trio -- a taste of Ribollita, Tuscan tomato soup, and Pasta Fagiolo, and they all tasted like they came from a can and had been sitting around all day, they were lukewarm and just nothing compared to the Ribollita I had elsewhere earlier in the week -- and then the Caprese Salad, which was even worse. The tomato was horribly overripe, mealy, inedible -- instantly obvious without even taking a bite. All week we've had delicious tomatoes, and Zaza is right next to the main produce market overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, so we were expecting something much better, or at least something edible. When I complained, to their credit they took it off the bill, but, really, we're disappointed we wasted a meal here, and I wanted to post to warn others to stay away. My girlfriend had the salad with tuna and it was practically all iceberg lettuce, doused in what tasted like bottled french dressing. Just not worth wasting a meal here.
I do want to jump on the bandwagon about the gelato at Grom, though -- I took the recommendation here and it really was terrific. We went yesterday and went back again today. The extra dark chocolate, studded with little chocolate chips, was amazing, as was the flavor of the month, chocolate with orange -- dark chocolate with little pieces of candied orange peel.
Also want to recommend a place called Fish Restaurant, also near Central Market -- we went for their lunch special, priced at 5-7 euros, which was a lot less than the dinner prices, expecting nothing, but the fresh pasta with vegetables was about as good as it could be, and I had the risotto with a white fish sauce and it was terrific. The market has tons of fresh fish and so I expect they get it all from there and it was terrific.
re: jen kalb
100% agree..perche no is definitely one of the toursity gelato traps. the only thing that comes close to Neri is this little chocolate shop called Vestri. It's practically right across from Oil Shoppe, near Eby's burritos (on the other side of the archway). The chocolate there is incredible and the gelato is out of control amazing
On our last visit to Florence, we rented an apartment close to Vestri. However, we stopped patronizing Vestri in spite of its quality. Vestri keeps its gelato at a warmer temperature than other gelaterias and, during our visit, the result was a serving that quickly became a melted puddle well before the gelato could be consumed. I suspect that the slightly warmer temperature allows the flavors to come through better, but warm-weather visitors to Florence may choose to patronize other gelaterias unless they are happy to drink most of their gelato.
We must have eaten 20 gallons of gelato in the 2-1/2 weeks we were in Italy. Grom served what was truly some of the greatest we tasted. Also in Florence, in the Santa Croce neighborhood, was Gelateria Neri, on Via Neri, whose gelato was Grom's equal. We discovered this place by accident--it was not far from our hotel, and we only later discovered that Rich Steves recommended it as one of Florence's best.
i was in florence three weeks ago and the best restaurant there is cinghale bianco right across from hotel lugarno near the ponte vecchio. everything is great there. also went to a very local place next to the central market called trattoria mario which is again really good. 13 gobbi was okay...i was not impressed though.
I've never been to Acqua al Due - a couple years ago I was in florence for 2 months and we lived right down the street from it. Packed every night with tourists clutching Rick Steves - lines out the door. I heard it was disappointing - probably as soon as good ol' Rick recommended it, they were so innundated they couldn't keep up.
ohhh man!!!! yes on 4leoni. i lived right across the street. and the one time i had enough money ( i was a student) i ate the pear stuffed in the pasta. ohhh amazing. yes on piazza santo spirito, borgo antica. just amazing. lovely. i am glad you got to go to some amazing places.