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11 meals (so far) in Florence

My husband and I are currently in Florence, spending a 4 week vacation here. We’ve been eating in the apartment most lunches and about half the dinners, but eating dinner out half the time. I made a target list of restaurants from recommendations here, other friends’ recs and Elizabeth Minchilli’s app. We tend to share an antipasto, then share a primo piatto, then each have our own main course, and share a dessert. We’ve been going for house wine generally.

Even though we still have 9 days to go, I thought I’d post our restaurant feedback so far, especially before it vanishes in the haze of too much Renaissance art (or vin santo).

Summary (with specifics below):
Excellent – Sostanze, Il Santo Bevitore
Very Good – 4 Leoni, Frescobaldi, Acquacotta, Enoteca Le Barrique
OK, but not sure what the fuss is about – Vini e Vecchi Sapori
So so – La Grotta Guelfa

Sostanza. Outstanding. We’ve been twice. Just the epitome of simple Tuscan cooking, with excellent ingredients served simply (except for the artichoke omelet, which is their specialty and a bit more complicated, but still relatively simple). We’ve had the bistecca, butter chicken, fagioli in oil, and the artichoke omelet. All just outstanding. Fantastic warm and competent service.

Il Santo Bevitore. Maybe the best food so far, although not simple like Sostanza. At dinner at least (I think lunch is simpler) the preparations are very creative and all totally delicious. Kind of a hip vibe.

4 Leoni. This came very highly recommended and it was indeed very good. They have a pasta with pear that is their specialty that did not disappoint. Nor did the other appetizers we shared. We had friend visiting for a few days the night we ate here, and somehow the 4 of us all wanted ossobuco (a mistake already, because I always think multiple dishes should be ordered for maximum experience) and it was good but the sauce was not special, so I thought it was a bit of a letdown. But our fault for not trying enough different dishes.

Frescobaldi. We went here the evening we arrived, not knowing it was sort of a “chain” (locations in Rome airport and Harrods in London). We didn’t even know it was a big restaurant, because we entered from the side in the little wine bar. The wine bar has just a few tables outside and a couple more inside. Lovely atmosphere, excellent service, and great pastas and risottos.

Acquacotta. Nice family-run place, and we’ve eaten here 3 times, so I guess I have to say we like it. That said, the dishes can be a bit hit or miss. Excellent pastas, and the wild boar with polenta is very nice. But a stuffed rabbit I had tasted a bit like Salisbury Steak with an undistinguished sauce. It has 3 rooms and the whole thing is managed very competently by a total of 4 people. We’ve chatted with the owner a bit. She and one other waitperson run the front of house. Her husband and sister do all the cooking. They run around like mad, but never seem overly stressed or frantic. One evening there were very long waits between courses, but generally service is fine.

Enoteca Le Barrique. Quiet, out of the way, we had a lovely Sunday lunch on their back courtyard. A bit more sophisticated than the usual Tuscan fare.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori. Took us a few days to get a reservation. I have to admit that the food was very good, but the service was rushed, and there was not a single Italian in the place. It seemed a bit like they were intent on a giving us an “Italian experience”.

La Grotta Guelfa. We booked here because our friends visiting wanted to eat outside, and the reviews had been pretty good. Our food was not excellent (our friends weren’t asked how they liked their bistecca and it came mostly rare, which they didn’t enjoy). I guess it’s sort of like you would expect from what appears to be a totally touristy place.

We still want to try the Cibreo trattoria, and maybe Garga and Olio e Convivium. We looked in on Zeb, but my husband thought it looked too hipster. Any other places we must try before we leave in a little over a week?

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  1. We were in Florence 10 days ago. Our hotel recommended the restaurant TOUCH. It was really wonderful. Make a reservation. People stopped by and waited until a table was free. You'll be greeted by a friendly staff and a glass of prosecco. I hope you get a chance to try this place.

    Via Fiesolana, 50122 Firenze, Italy
    +39 055 246 6150

    1. Great report!

      Re: Vini e Vecchi Sapori. We ate there a couple of years ago and were the only non-Italians in the place.

      1. Il Santo Bevitore was one of my favorites when I was in Florence 2 years ago. We had a delicious meal- it was like they took classics and refined them, more of a modern take on tuscan food.

        As for Vini e Vecchi Sapori, I totally blame Tripadvisor. When we were there it was about 50/50 locals and tourists. However, it was also the #2 restaurant on Tripadvisor so everyone was making reservations at the place (I think it's slipped down a bit now). I did have a very enjoyable meal there, completely different experience from Il Santo Bevitore.

        1. We'll be there in September

          I have selected

          da Ruggero
          Via Senese, 89r


          Via dell'Albero 30

          Allende here recommended Vecchia Bettola which I wanted to do except that it's closed on the two nights we will dine in Florence.

          NB: Do not use Trip Advisor to select restarants. Instead use it to confirm that diners like a spot you have chosen by other means.

          1 Reply
          1. re: collioure

            I agree not to use Tripadvisor for restaurants, my point was that VVS has been so popular on Tripadvisor that it may have become too in demand.

          2. Glad to hear you're having such a delicious time in Florence. I've actually never been to Vini e Vecchi Sapori since it is almost impossible to get a reservation. It seems to me to have earned a lot of its popularity through English language travel boards. Not to say it's not good. I hear it's very good. But....maybe not worth the wait and trouble of securing a table in what is a simple trattoria?


            1. Thanks for this great report!

              1. Zeb's food is fine...don't let the minimalist modern decor throw you. Yes, you sit on stools facing the server & yes the setting is not homey, but the food was excellent when we went last year. And go to Garga. Casalinga too. Your post brings back good memories of our month there last year.

                1. So grateful for your advice, Steve R. Just got back from lunch at Zeb – yum.

                  First, last night we went to Garga. Lovely place. We asked to be seated in the first room, because my husband likes to observe the kitchen when possible, which he enjoyed. We loved the tagliatelle del Magnifico with its citrus and mint flavors. I had a beautiful grilled octopus on top of garlicky spinach. My husband had a veal chop with green beans that was fine, but not exceptional. The complimentary prosecco and bruschetta were nice touches, although the bruschetta was a bit odd. Tomato sauce on top of very tall pieces of focaccia. The balance of sauce to bread seemed wrong, or maybe it’s just because we had already wolfed down a couple of pieces of excellent thin focaccia from our bread basket before the bruschetta came. Overall very good.

                  After reading your post about Zeb this morning, we went there for lunch today. Just great. We didn’t see a menu anywhere. The owner just described everything he had available. We split an order of pasta with truffles. My husband had panzanella and a stuffed zucchini which were both nice. I asked him to bring me a plate of vegetables, and I loved them. Eggplant, zucchini, fennel, various greens and mangiatutto beans (I’ve never seen these long flat beans at home in Boston; we’ve been buying them in the market here and cooking them at home and we love them). With wine, very nice and very reasonably priced. Thanks again for the advice.

                  Minor gripe at Garga: I’m American, but speak reasonable Italian – it was my major in college, and I lived in Rome for a year (many years ago). In most places people converse with me in Italian. Our waiter at Garga last night insisted on speaking English to me, no matter what I said back in Italian. He even confirmed my orders by speaking them back in English. It kind of annoyed me. The owner of Zeb did the same, but it didn’t bother me so much. Since he was describing food and ingredients it was best he spoke English, since otherwise I’d have stopped him every other word to explain or translate. :)

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: wendyrobin

                    Glad you went to both Zeb & Garga. Reading about Zeb when we were there, we also almost didn't go, but Eliz. M's write up of it in her "Eat Florence" app. got us there and we loved it (& them). Garga has an interesting history. The chef/owner's father was a local art celebrity & had, with his wife (who was doing the desserts when we were there) a restaurant called Garga that closed several years ago. Their son (the current owner/chef) was living in NYC & was chef at a place in Manhattan (ehh). He met & married someone from Bklyn. & has now moved back (w/her) & re-established this family restaurant. The 1st time we went, we wound up sitting at a table with all of Sting's staff (he has a place outside of Florence) on one side of us & the Brooklynite wife's father with friends at the table on the other side of us. Needless to say, English was the language of the night all 'round. The 2nd time we went, everyone there was local & my wife (who's reasonably fluent in Italian) couldn't get them to speak Italian to her either. Same frustration as you had. At the end of the meal, we went up to the chef's pass thru & I joked with him that I wanted everyone to speak Brooklyn to me, but Italian to my wife. Apparently,it didn't get through. Lucky for him that the food's so damn good...he's especially inventive with the small plates and the pastas, while the mains are not as uniformly solid.

                    Sorry for the length of this. As I said, glad you enjoyed it. Go up to San Miniato in the evening for the monks' Gregorian chanting (if you haven't already). And, by the way, why have you been to Aquacotta that often? We went 3 times as well, but we had an apartment on that block.

                    1. re: Steve R

                      Love your story about Garga....

                      We have been to S. Miniato al Monte twice, and love to listen to the brothers chant - it really slows down your breathing.

                      As for why 3 times to Acquacotta, it's a good question. I guess, as with you, it's fairly close to our apartment (we're just east of the Duomo). But also we really like the homeyness of it in some way. The food is reliable and the owner has made us feel very welcome.

                    2. re: wendyrobin

                      Florence and Venice are two cities in Italy where in our experience folks routinely switch into English (assuming they speak English, that is) talking to English speakers even if you address them in Italian. Its just the way it is. Habitual behaviour (because usually it works better since their English is likely to be better than at least my stumbling Italian) but can still be irritating.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        @ wendyrobin

                        What kind of truffles re the pasta with truffles?

                    3. Two more updates:

                      Last night we went to Cipolla Rossa for dinner. Service was very odd, but the food was nice. I had a salad to start and my husband had anchovies. Then we each had meat for our mains - he had a pork chop and I had a veal chop. Both huge, grilled and delicious.

                      After dinner we wandered over to the Mercato Centrale to check out the new (opened 6 weeks ago, apparently) upper floor. It was really hopping, and seemed to be primarily Italians. It was very like the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid where we go with our Spanish friends for a drink and tapas before dinner. I don't think I'd eat a meal at MC (it's kind of an upscale food court) but it looks like a fun place to get a drink. It has an Eataly shop up there also, but I'm talking about the little food vendors and the bars, which I don't think are part of Eataly.

                      By the way, I just don't get the whole Eataly thing in Italian cities (vs. in NY for example which is the only other one I've visited). Just doesn't seem to make sense.

                      1. Its a pity that you didn't enjoy Vini e Vecchi Sapori I was last there in October 2013 and the food was excellent. There were a lot of non Italians but we had a table for 8.45 and there local/tourist quotient improved. One Italian couple even came with their dogs, two beautifully behaved black labs who sat under their table! Have you thought about places like La Posta which is excellent and is in the centre of Florence (not far from La Grotta Guelfa - which is poor, but traditionally in Italy bistecca is always served rare) and even does some fish/seafood?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: LotsC

                          Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, we have returned to Boston so no chance to try La Posta, until the next time. Just to clarify, we did like the food at Vini e Vecchi Sapori. It was more about the overall experience. One of the things I like about Italian, in fact most European, dining experiences is the professional service (i.e. the job is a profession, not a fill-in during school vacation) and not being rushed. The waiter at V&V was playful and joking to the point of being annoying, and we definitely felt rushed to get the next set of parties in. Very good food, and in a different atmosphere it would have been great.

                        2. Thanks for checking back in! It's so great to hear your experience and feedback. Glad you tried and liked Zeb!


                          1. Just to close out my post on Florence restaurants, in our last week we went back to a couple of favorites and tried 2 new ones I hadn’t referenced in my original post.

                            The first was Trattoria Cibreo, and frankly since it’s been about 3 weeks I’ve forgotten everything that we ate, which I realize is unhelpful. We appreciated the opportunity to have some less popular Italian dishes, but they seemed to have put the menu together in a strange way. One of our starters was a simple polenta in oil, which was great. Then I ordered the vitello tonatto for my main course, which is a dish that is served cold. I expected it to be cold, but what came was a very small portion, which was smaller than the appetizers we had. Tasty but not to die for. Anyway, the restaurant was interesting, but not our favorite.

                            The other additional place we tried was Da Ruggero. Fantastic. We followed advice to go for lunch and walked 40 minutes from our apartment north of the Duomo to this place south of Porta Romana (in 90+ degree heat – oh well, mad dogs and Englishmen, as my husband is English). As an aside, we arrived 15 minutes early for our 2pm reservation and since the table wasn’t ready, we continued on down the street a bit and walked up a steep hill to visit the church of Sant'Ilario a Colombaia, which was really lovely. Anyway, back to the restaurant, the atmosphere was great, as it was full of big Italian families having a long Sunday lunch. The food was very traditional and very delicious. Again, I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember one of the 5 or so dishes we ordered was the spaghetti alla carretiera, which had a nice spicy sauce. And for our mains we had grilled chops with sides of beans, both dried and fresh. The service was great. Totally worth the long walk to get there.