Bistecca Fiorentina My Way
I like my steak cooked medium. I know that this post will evoke the wrath of the uber-foodies who will pledge that any steak cooked beyond rare is an abomination, but so it goes. For me it is a texture thing. I would not enjoy a dried out tough steak, but the texture of barely cooked beef ruins it for me, so I find medium doneness maintains the yummy juiciness we all enjoy, without the "yucky"(IMO) texture of raw meat. I can sometimes handle Med-Rare, but it needs to lean towards medium.
For the sake of discussion, let me define our terms: Medium to me means very pink throughout with a red center. Rare means red throughout with a still cool center. Med-Rare means red throughout with a warm center, Med-Well means gray with a pink center and well is all grey. (And I'm sure someone could define this by temperature as well)
So my question is: Where in Florence can a get a great bistecca cooked to my liking, and how could I best communicate this in Italian, so as not to cause the wrath of my server or chef? I have read here and elsewhere that many places will serve bistecca ONLY "al sangue".
Thank you all. I appreciate tall of the responses but I am not at all thrilled with the options presented to me. I am not blaming the messengers, I was expecting that it might be tough .
So it seems that in my quest for bistecca in Florence I can...
1- not order the bistecca which sort of misses the point or
2- cook it at home- which is not possible for me. At home I have a kitchen and a grill but no chianina beef and in Florence I should be able to find the beef but I won't have my own kitchen or grill or
3- send it back after it comes too rare, hoping that they won't spit on my food in the kitchen as they curse and recook it (is that what you meant Db when you said "they won't like it if you know what I mean") or
4- I could order the chicken in butter sauce -which I am looking forward to since I read Plotkin say it "makes him swoon"- but just as in option 1 above it sort of misses the point.
Oh well. I was hoping that someone out there knew of a place in Florence with great bistecca that would be more accommodating to someone as really uncouth as me :-)
First of all, I don't think you are uncouth. I question your taste in fine steaks, but that doesn't make you uncouth. I've thought a lot this morning about how to answer your question above. It's a complicated answer in a lot of ways as it goes beyond the food and the request itself and to more the Italian culture at large.
Sostanza (since that is the restaurant we all seem to be talking about) has been around for 141 years. Clearly, there is a tradition and a commitment to excellence there to allow for such a long and storied history. Part of it is demanding the best meat and preparing it the way THEY FEEL (not you, they) is the best way to eat it. That is different from what you would find at say, Peter Lugers, where you decide how you want the steak. At Sostanza, and Italy in general, the restaurant decides (for the most part) how a dish will be served. I can tell you that at some point, they have eaten their bistecca from raw to burned to a crisp. That's the only way they could know that they way they are doing it now is right. And over time, they have come to decide and believe that the only way to eat this particular cut of meat is rare. This doesn't just apply to Sostanza either. Every restaurant I visited that had it on the menu served it rare.
Italians have very strong opinions on a right and wrong way to do almost anything at the table, from how a meal is prepared to what ingredients are used to what type of restaurant you should eat at if you only feel like having one course. The ingredients and the methods they used are part of their identity. You should also know that the words passive aggressive aren't generally used to describe Italians. Those strong opinions are open and if you disagree with them, they will let you know. They won't do anything like spit in your food (you don't stay open for 140 years by doing something like that). But you will get a sense of a cold shoulder, perhaps some argument, and in general, a feeling that you are seen as "The Ugly American." Because in the end, you are a visitor rejecting their idea of how this meal is meant to be served and they will take that personally. I know we don't see it that way, but every culture is different and I think that is an important thing to remember when traveling. And this not only applies to the bistecca, but carbonara and several other dishes throughout the country.
I'm sorry I don't have a better answer for you, but frankly the answer is No. To try and help, I've attached a photo of me with my bistecca for reference. I can tell you without question it is the best piece of steak I've ever had in my life and I've covered most of what is considered to be the best here in the US.
re: Db Cooper
A very good reply, I thought. especially since DB Cooper indicates that you can ask for different cooking if you persist and the suggestions by another poster of ordering different steak cuts that do not present the same extreme issue but would give you the same beef.
you largely wont see salt and pepper on the table in italian restaurants either. (another indication of a different food culture)
re: Db Cooper
Db, Thank you for the detailed reply. I hope my last post did not seem to have too snarky a tone, but my writing may have come across that way-- I thought my litle happy emoticon would indicate my intended tone :-)
I understand completely that Italian chefs will feel that there is a right way and a wrong way to serve their food. That was my whole pupose of posting this question. I do not want to change Italian food culture or tradition, nor do I want to clash with it. I posted this question so I could avoid being the "ugly American" in the eyes of others. I was hoping someone may have had an experience with a place that was "more accommodating" to different tastes and apparantly Sostanza is not that place... maybe that place does not exist and that's OK. I also appreciate the picture.
One of the reasons I love to travel is to experience new foods. As with most readers of this forum, I know that the memorable highlights of my upcoming trip to Italy will be the great food I will experience. So when I read about the wonders of Chianina beef, I thought that Bistecca would have to be on my to-do list in Florence. Maybe not.
Thanks again for the helpful info.
top bistecca in Florence, and nearby:
absolutely Sostanza (but remember to call him Troia...) my best choice, remember to book in advance and bring cash with you
if you want to go a little outside, you have to try Da Padellina just out of the town in sud-chianti direction;
there are no problem if you ask them for rare as you like in italian "BEN COTTA" oppure "NON AL SANGUE"; the reason backwards of our short-rare is just because usually a real bistecca alla fiorentina is about 3-4 fingers high, and if you want it rare like you, probably it will becames a little bit too hard to eat.
p.s. i've also launched a discussion about the best bistecca on my facebook page....
You have to do it in the privacy of your own home. It is considered REALLY uncouth to ask for it any way but the way it comes, which is very rare. Somebody also mentioned tagliata, but that too is served very rare. I like my meat better done, and so I simply never order la fiorentina. I have it at home, and that is already admitting too much. You can have other kinds of steaks cooked any way you like.
mayybe you should skip the bistecca and order a tagliata (beef cooked in slices) instead.
or cook your own.
I think it is going to be an uphill battle getting the cooks to cook your bistecca any way other than the way they always cook it. The only bistecca Ive had was not "blue "and slimy but it was definitely red inside. If you insist on trying, maybe a place like Mario where the meat is being cooked right in front of you and not in a kitchen far away by a person other than your server (who may not want to irritate the cook) would work better.
or maybe someine with more experience with all the local places can comment. as to whether any might be flexible/accessible on this issue.. Also working on some italian vocab on the topic could ease your way..
re: jen kalb
I actually asked this question of the server and chefs at Sostanza when I ate there this past July. I personally like my beef to be cooked rare so it wasn't a problem for me, but I asked them if they often had Americans who asked for their steaks to be cooked longer?
Their response was that Yes, they do. They explained to me that they will cook your steak for you to the state that you want it. However, they do ask that you at least try it the way that they serve it to you which in my opinion isn't too much to ask. If it is too rare, then they will take it back and cook it for you a bit longer. But I got the sense that while they will do it, they don't necessarily want to if you know what I mean.
Perhaps you should order the chicken in butter sauce (if you go to Sostanza which seems to be the consensus Best on this board) and let someone else at the table get the Bistecca? You can try it and if you like it, share.