Florence 2011 Trip Report: Il Pennello, Cipolla Rossa, Trat. Mario, La Bussola, Trat. Cave di Maiano, Sostanza,Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Pitti Gola e Cantina
Late September 2011 my wife and I returned for a second visit to Florence. Here are a few notes on the restaurants we enjoyed.
Upon arrival in Florence on a Sunday we knew our options were limited for a late lunch and headed over to Il Pennello. (located at Casa Dante) What a fabulous find. We started with ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach served with burro e salvia that was delightful and fresh tagliatelle “strascicate” Florentine, which was a meat ragu with the addition of cream. Very tasty. We wanted to eat a relatively light lunch so for secondi we both had carapacio with rucola e grana. Perfetto!. We enjoyed a cold Antinori rosato on this warm Sunday afternoon. The place was very busy and mostly filled with Italian families, some multi-generational. We were so charmed by this family run restaurant that we returned for dinner a few nights later.
For dinner 2 days later we tried one of their signature dishes: Carabaccia. This ancient recipe for Tuscan onion soup was fantastic. The natural sweetness of the onions and carrots shined through and topped with bread and just a touch of Parmagiano cheese this is hands down my favorite version of what we know of as “French onion soup”. There is a recipe for the soup on their web site that I have not yet tried to reproduce:
We had pasta with zucchini and zucchini flowers that was great, and tortelloni with tomato and cream that was good. For secondi we shared some peposa (beef stew) that was tender and rich and peppery and wonderful. We opted for the house wine which is only served in a 1.5 liter fiasco. (Unlike many other trattorie that will serve a mezzo litre) It is so inexpensive that you wouldn’t feel too bad if you left some unfinished. We, however, ordered a cheese course of smooth fresh pecorino and Parmagiano to accompany us as we sat and relaxed to finish our giant bottle of wine.
Osteria Cipolla Rossa was a nice choice for our first dinner on this return trip to Florence. The menu features many traditional Tuscan items with some modern twists thrown in. The atmosphere is also quite “hip” (and I guess by using the descriptor “hip” I prove that I am not ;-) It was quite pleasant in the front dining room that sort of simulates the appearance of being on the front porch but we were surprised to hear Bon Jovi playing a bit too loudly throughout the restaurant (I guess for real Bon Jovi fans the volume was quite low, but not what we expected). Really no complaints here, just surprised. And most importantly the food was good. We had gnocchi with a pecorino cheese sauce topped with a good helping of shaved black truffles. The wonderful earthiness of the truffles did not get lost in the very cheesy sauce. Also a pasta dish with guanciale piccante. The pork cheeks were cooked in chunks, crispy like bacon in an oil based sauce with lots of spicy red pepper. For secondi we shared pork loin with marinated red onions and vinegar. (This dish caught my eye because I remembered reading a review about it, maybe here on CH?) It was moist and tender and very tasty indeed. The only bad thing about this dish is that the strong vinegar sauce is not at all wine friendly. No problem, we ate some bread to cleanse the palate before finishing an excellent bottle of Rosso di Montepulciano.
On Monday, first full day in Florence after recovering from jet lag, we wasted no time returning to Trattoria Mario for lunch. We arrived before the noon opening to avoid the lines and were just as thrilled with the place this time as we were last year. We had Tagliatelle ragu that was very good and ravioli verde with zucchini and garlic and a touch of tomato that was even better. We were disappointed that they didn’t have their awesome zuppa di ceci on the menu. We also had simple roast chicken that was nice but the agnello al forno was the standout dish. The lamb was roasted to perfect tenderness and was mouthwateringly delicious. We also had fagioli al ucelletto, white beans in a sauce of tomato and sage that are the main reason we dreamed all year about a return visit to Mario’s. (and I learned that I have been using too little tomato when I try to recreate these beans at home) Mario’s is famous for their bistecca and our shared table mates seemed thrilled with the steak, we tasted a bite and yes, it was quite good. They also have some of the best house wine around, Chianti from the town of Rufina. We love, love, love this place. You can’t beat it for authentic Florentine food at amazingly low prices.
We had plans to catch the free classical music concert at San Lorenzo church so we opted for pizza for a quick evening meal. We returned to La Bussola and loved it again. The crust is thin, crispy and stretchy and hole-y as it should be and the buffalo mozzarella is worth the extra euro as a topping. Good pizza in Tuscany? Yes, here it is. I have not been to Naples so I can’t say if this is “real” Neopolitan style pizza, but it is darn good. Last year we had lunch outside here, so we were pleasantly surprised at how lovely the inside dining room was. Casual elegance. Good pizza and a good bottle of wine were all we needed before the concert.
Tuesday we took the # 7 bus to Fiesole but got off 2 stops early and then walked to Trattoria Cave di Maiano. One of the main attractions here is the outdoor seating on the shady, picturesque patio. A very pleasant place for a “country” lunch. We had pici with a sauce of sausage and black truffles that was fantastic. The gnocchi with creamy pecorino sauce was a bit bland for my taste. For secondi we tried maialino that was tender and flavorful, but not my favorite dish. The pollo al mattone was fantastic. I have had this dish elsewhere where it turned out dry (too heavy a brick?) but here it was prepared to a perfect level of succulence. A winner. We had contorni of fagioli al ulcelleto that was OK but prepared with rosemary instead of sage, and a nice salad of baby greens. After a casual 2+ hours of lunch here we took a taxi down to Fiesole which is definitely worth the trip.
Sostanza was on our To-Do list last year but we never made it there. We stopped in on Wednesday afternoon for lunch and were very glad we did. Famous for bistecca, Sostanza has been praised extensively on CH.. For me the attraction was the chicken in butter sauce that Plotkin says “makes him swoon”. First we had pasta which was surprisingly good. Pasta with sugo: simple tasty meat sauce was nice. Couldn’t wait for Bologna so had to try tortellini in brodo and it was also very good. (had I been there right after Bologna, and not the week before, I may have been critical to point out that the pasta was not as light and dreamy as what we found in E/R but I had no complaints about the tasty broth and very nice pasta here at Sostanza). The pasta servings were small enough to leave room for the main attraction, but in retrospect we could have been very satisfied sharing one order of the famous butter chicken. Each serving was 2 large thick chicken breasts (OK, technically 2 half breasts, but you know what I mean) and it is quite filling. The chicken is impossibly tender and juicy and very tasty, but of course it is, it is swimming in BUTTER. I can see how this could make one swoon. Most delicious indeed.
Final night in Florence and we finally get to return to our favorite place Vini e Vechhi Sapori. They are closed Sunday and Monday and were booked fully on Tuesday so this was our only chance to return to this fabulous restaurant (If I was in town on different days of the week I would have booked here more than once) Our second dinner here did not disappoint. Well, we were disappointed that they didn’t have cinghale. We were told that they rotate their menu with a different ragu each day so you might find duck, beef, cinghale or game depending on the day. First a salad of rucola, artichokes and parmagiano. Then amazingly good pappardelle with daino ragu (venison) Even better was the wide loop pasta served with zucchini blossoms and saffron cream. So light and delicate and so tasty. The pasta here is so good! For secondi: peposa imprunetta severed with broad green beans was super. We also tried a dish of chicken strips cooked with balsamic vinegar and rucola and tomato that was good but not as memorable as the rest of the meal. They don’t serve coffee so I was forced to finish the meal with a glass of very good Grappa di Brunello. They can only seat about 18 people so be sure to book ahead.
We also returned to Pitti Gola e Cantina for another very enjoyable wine drinking session. Last year we had a fantastic time tasting some excellent Tuscan wines here. This year we returned and had a great time again. They do serve food, and we enjoyed some crostini and cheeses and nibbles including some of the best olives we’ve ever eaten, but Pitti Gola is all about the wine. Zeno is very proud of each and every wine they sell and chatting with him is most entertaining. He has also developed a relationship with some good Tuscan producers so has some exclusive, limited production wines that you can’t find anywhere else. If you love fine wine, this is the enoteca to visit.
Via della Porcellana, 25, 50123, Florence, Tuscany 50123, IT
Via Rosina, 2, Florence, Tuscany , 50123, IT
Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Via de' Conti,53, Florence, Toscana 50123, IT