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Mar 25, 2012 11:56 AM

Florence: Bistecca and bread? (not quite the same as older posts) - also Rome

Hi, as you might guess I'm looking for recommendations for a restaurant to go to for steak, and a bakery for bread. The steak question has, of course, come up multiple times before, but I think I'm probably coming at it from somewhat different priorities than others. As to bread I've not seen anything definite.

First thing: the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Here's the thing. I absolutely, POSITIVELY do not care at all about: price, service, atmosphere, location, level of tourist population, or any other incidental detail. On price, I should also say that this goes both ways: it could be the most expensive steak in town, or the cheapest, for all I care: 25 Euro or 250, whatever. I'm looking for the restaurant which serves absolutely the best steak.

I've been to Sostanza. The steak was very good. But, there will be some restaurant in the city where the chef or the owner is just simply obsessed. He will have stopped at nothing not just to find the ultimate Chianina farm, but hand-selected the individual loins. He'll have installed the perfectly-designed grille and will have worked his life on grilling it to perfection - until he can do it by feel. That's what I'm looking for. If there truly is nowhere better than Sostanza for this level, I'd return - but I'd like to see if there are other options - that raise the bar even higher. I should also note that what I'm looking for here is "ultimate" by Tuscan expectations - done in the way that *they* would think best possible.

Next, though, might be harder: bread. It seems strange to me that most recommendations I see concerning bakeries, regardless of the source, seem to be much more orientated towards pastries rather than breads. Those that do exist tend to be concerned more with sourdough breads, that is to say, breads in a modern idiom. What I would like to find is the bakery in Florence that makes the best bread, in the traditional idiom, i.e. not sour. Just plain basic (white) bread, not fancy breads with various added flavours or bits - made to the highest possible standard.

While I'm at it, although this is a bit incidental to this post - feel free to skip this if you want, I'd love to find restaurants in Rome that do the best authentic Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Abbacchio al Forno. Same qualities apply, namely everything incidental is beside the point. On the former, it's worth noting that the pasta used MUST be Bucatini, and on the latter, I'm *not* looking for all'scottadito.

In exchange I can offer various bits of wisdom on chocolate, if you're interested.

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  1. ciao- I have lived in florence since 1984-usually we go to trattoria mario or trattoria sergio for steak- open at lunch only! I also like the meat at Cipolla Rossa, it is owned by a butcher, the Mannetti family in the central market ( ask to see your steak first) they are HUGE. I also have steak at Trattoria pepo--- i lived near the central market so most of my choices are from eating near home!
    Tuscan bread-- is unsalted-- so most people are not fond of it. I ADORE schiacchiata all'olio, the local specialty which is a flat bread, brushed with oil and sprinkled with salt. There are crunchy versions and also a softer version. in searching for a good bread, ask for one cotto al legna, cooked in a woodburning oven, usually also means it was made naturally with a "mother"

    6 Replies
    1. re: Diva

      Thanks, although frustratingly for the visit I have in the near future lunch won't be an option, so I'm having to look at dinner possibilities, a particular disappointment since when in Italy I like to have lunch as the largest meal of the day.

      Mark me as the exception, then, to the rule that people aren't fond of unsalted Tuscan bread. I tend to like bread more as something in its own right alone, as opposed to as simply a vehicle for something else on it. Do you have anything more specific on bread locations? I understand the general idea about what to look for but that is of only marginal help when a good bakery could be almost anywhere and you don't know where to look. Also, many places might be good in a general sense but I'd like to find the best place in particular. For example, there are many ice cream shops in Bologna that meet the general description of what to look for in a great one, but (certainly to my mind at least) there is one that is the best, Sorbetteria Castiglione. And it's clear when you go that the ice cream here is the product of an obsession. I realise "best" is a relative term of course, but a decent list of particular establishments to start with would be very useful to avoid aimless wandering.

      To help with narrowing the selection, I should also point out that "made naturally with a "mother"" is part of the category that I would call sourdough, which I'm not as fond of - because the sour flavour interferes with the pure taste of the wheat itself, and in fact in general I'm not particularly fond of sharp flavours. However, I'm certainly willing to give it a go if it should be inevitable that the best places will do it this way on point of principle, particularly if it's strongly typical of the region. When I visited San Francisco I considered it almost unthinkable to have anything but sourdough, and it will be said that the top sourdough I had there (from Acme bread in the Ferry building) was world-class wonderful.

      1. re: AlexRast

        I like tuscan bread best as a vehicle, be it in for cheese, finocchiona,for dipping or inclusion in soup, or sopping stew, but best as a base for crostini or fettunta, toasted rubbed with garlic and doused in fresh olive oil Ital breads made with starters generally arent sour like some french country breads or SFsourdough
        hopefull some of our local will chime in but here are a couple bakeries from Emily Wise Miller
        Becagli, breads schiacciata
        Borgo Ognissanti, 13 50123 Florence, Italy
        055 215065
        Forno Sartoni
        Forno Stefano Galli, several locatiobns
        VIA FAENZA 39 R.50123

        1. re: jen kalb

          galli is now closed on via faenza--
          try Forno ivana on via del ariento behind the stands---- she has many styles of bread--
          the cotto a legna is the traditional bread-- unsalted- made with mother-- but not sour dough

          forno ivana
          Via del Ariento, 21R

          1. re: Diva

            Interesting on the bread-making technique; I've had numerous breads in Italy, almost all not sour - and I suppose I'd basically assumed that they weren't made with a "mother" because it had been my impression that doing so inevitably ended in a sour result. That does expand the options considerably. Thanks for the insights and ideas of where to go.

            By the way, does anyone have definitive information on whether Osteria Caffe Italiano is open and serving food between 12 am and 1 am on Sunday night? I've seen various conflicting statements about their opening hours and their own website sheds no light either. (Why do so few restaurants, no matter what the location worldwide, list the *actual* hours at which they physically serve food? It would seem to me that this is critical information, because it wouldn't be of much use to a hungry would-be patron to arrive, expecting a meal, only to find that only the bar were open)

            I rather need to know this because I'll be arriving on a very late flight on Sunday evening and can't expect to reach the city until just after midnight at the earliest. And I'll need to eat desperately, because my flight leaves (Manchester, England) at 5:25 in the evening, and I won't have had any opportunity to have dinner, and this in a context where I will only have been able to have one meal that day at all, *and* very little eating over the entire weekend (translation: utterly ravenous upon arrival) One place that does seem definitely to be open is Napoleone - their site indicates that more or less unambiguously, but Osteria Caffe Italiano looks interesting and if I can get food there I'd love to give it a go (unless opinions of it are all negative).

            1. re: AlexRast

              This is for others that could leave Florence proper. For Bistecca drive to Panzano for Dario Cecchini's version. You have to reserve the Bistecca ahead of time. If any one is crazy passionate about meat in Tuscany it is Dario! All his other products are delicious as well. Chianti butter is his version of whipped, spiced lardo spread over rustic bread. Unbelievable! It is a "foodie" pilgrimage type of place but the food delivered.

              1. re: scfinson

                Definitely Dario Cecchini typifies the personality type of the type of restaurant I'm looking for. I will have to register a quibble: he doesn't (apparently) use Chianina beef, which from the point of view of a purist is a problem, but I wouldn't doubt that his steak is as good as it can get. It's too bad I won't be there on the days his restaurant is open...

    2. OK, after getting various bits of input from various sources, I seem to have a list of "candidates" for the bistecca. I'll list them, along with my feeling about what to expect: please let me know for any given place whether what I imagine is accurate or off-base:

      Trattoria Sergio: Will have to be for another visit; lunch not practical this time. However my prediction: good but fairly basic; probably not the ULTIMATE bistecca, closer to the ultimate value-for-money proposition, i.e. very good steak, very low price. Similar applies to Trattoria Mario.

      Buca dell' Orafo: I got this recommendation from a friend in Florence whose opinions I trust absolutely; this person would never recommend anything less than the best. The meat will probably be close to ultimate, but the cut might not be the true bistecca alla Fiorentina. A possibility that there is a "twist" to the cooking technique, and I would prefer to avoid innovative "twists".

      Osteria de' Benci: Multiple internet and published recommendations. They look obsessive. Very promising. However it's possible that you have to choose between a non-Fiorentina cut Chianina steak, or a non-Chianina Fiorentina. And might they be compromising on ultimate quality in order to provide a marginally better value proposition?

      Perseus: Several internet recommendations. Another place with a single-minded focus. Clearly another strong candidate. However, the meat quality itself is a bit of an unknown quantity - reviews and comment don't give explicit information, which makes me wonder if it's a focus of uncritical adulation? Hard to say.

      I Latini: The numerous reviews are unequivocal: the steak is world-class, the rest is hit-and-miss. There is a sense that it might have been better once. Looks to me like a must-try eventually, but perhaps not immediately.

      Buca Lapi: Various comments seem to ascribe to it almost mythical status. Has the feeling of a place that was once clearly the best but since then times have changed. Not the bistecca, it would seem, which is probably still very good, but there seems to be more of myth here than hard fact, which makes me wonder.

      3 Replies
      1. re: AlexRast

        Reading this i had a thought: from 2001 till 2006 there was in europe a ban on the fiorentina cut, which includes the bone, because of the bse danger. A couple of places you are considering above (have no experience with any of them) seem to conflict you bcs of their non-chianina fiorentinas or non-fiorentina chianinas. Can it be these combos were a necessity during that time and now things have improved? Some info on the internet, and definitely a lot in the guidebooks, is outdated. Just food for thought!
        As to dario cecchini, i might get stoned for this, but was there past november for the first time after reading about it for years, from americans as well as italians, and was deeply disappointed. Not only is his beef mainly from spain (and some local, but not chianina), interestingly we found his non-beef dishes (like the meatballs with rosmary) much better than his beef, which was served theatrically but was burnt (i know the difference btw. a nicely charred steak and burnt, almost carbonized!) and too cooked on the inside. Not only is that contrary to how i like my steak, but also a sign of either disrespect to the meat or the effort to hide imperfections of it.

        1. re: vinoroma

          Yes, there was a ban, and you're right, I've thought about this as a possible reason why some places may still be serving a non-Fiorentina cut - a legacy from those days. However, the simple fact that a place would choose to stay with the non-Fiorentina cut even after the ban was lifted indicates to me that inertia won out in that restaurant's case over obsession, which is almost immediately a major negative.

          However the case isn't so clear-cut as that (excuse the unintentional pun), because it's quite conceivable that, even after the ban, many restaurants were finding that even with Fiorentina back on their menu, a substantial demand existed for a different steak cut. In that case, they'd have to be business idiots to remove it from the menu, as long as the classic cut were on there as well. But it seems reasonable to suppose that now it should be perfectly possible to find a Chianina Fiorentina; some menu listings aren't unequivocally unambiguous on this point, which makes me wonder.

          All of this is just pure conjecture though. Does anybody have hard facts or experience on the quality/character of the restaurants I've listed as candidates?

          1. re: AlexRast

            I went to Osteria Caffe Italiano beautiful room but the food was not that good. I am the hugest fan of Osteria de Benci and the Buca del' Orafo which have never let me down and have great atmospheres.

      2. OK, the report from the actual trip.

        In the event, I went to Buca dell'Orafo. Having a Florentine friend along more or less sealed the choice. The steak was definitely the real thing, the right cut, no twists in the cooking. It was extremely good, although I think there is still room for even better. The same friend is promising to take me to Cecchini's next time. In truth my memory suggests that Sostanza's was better, but this would require a side-by-side comparison. Everything else at the Orafo was excellent, though, and I had a pappardelle all'agnello which was *exactly* the sort of primo I was looking for, which I would have been unlikely, I think, to get elsewhere. Still the search continues however.

        I did try Forno Ivana. It seems to me easily possible to do better. The crust was exceptionally thick and crunchy, exactly what I like, but overall it was a bit generic, really; a bit more density and a higher-protein flour (the bread at the Buca dell'Orafo was better) would have helped. Great bakeries in Florence must exist, much as they must in other cities in Italy: it always seems good restaurants have found good bread sources. But these same sources seem frustratingly difficult to track down in themselves. Or is that the way the bread business is in Italy? Is the entire retail market so utterly price-sensitive that the real quality bakers focus exclusively on wholesale trade accounts?

        1 Reply
        1. re: AlexRast

          Next time rent a car, I think the best Fiorentinas to be had our found outside Florence. ;)