Posted by: francescacoviello | October 27, 2010

Mangia! Mangia!

I just had my first group of visitors in Florence, which I had been anticipating since my arrival. My boyfriend Gordon (who is a UT graduate) and his family planned a 3 week trip throughout Italy. Conveniently, one of those weeks is during my fall break so we will be spending the time relaxing along the Amalfi coast. It was fun being a tour guide in the new city I call my home, but I mostly enjoyed discovering new places and things with fascinated company. We mostly ate while they stayed in Florence, and we definitely ate well. Since their hotel was on the other side of the river, I was finally exploring the unfamiliar territory known for quality restaurants. The first night we enjoyed an early dinner at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (Tavern of the white boar), we were sat at the only table overlooking the entire restaurant, on a little loft-style landing. It was very quaint, and the service was extremely hospitable. After ordering the house carafe of vino rosso, our antipasta arrived. A cutting board covered in Italian cured meats and cheeses, scented with truffles and accompanied by lardo. (The reason why lardo sounds unappetizing… because it is actually lard. Sliced fat, which is served as a main ingredient in many Tuscan dishes).

For the entree I had the homemade spaghetti with pomodoro and pecorino cheese. It was a good thing there was extra bread to soak up the savory sauce because I could have licked my plate clean. With barely any room for dessert, we were convinced by the friendly owner to order the tiramisu and panna cotta, which was literally the icing on the cake. Debbie (Gordon’s mother) who had traveled to Florence just over a year earlier, insisted on eating at Cinghale Bianco, and it was a successful recommendation (especially after being mislead by many students living in Florence). Dining on the opposite side of the Arno, just outside of the center makes all the difference in the world as far as merit of food, ambiance, and attitude.

The air has cooled down in Italy, autumn has finally made its presence known. In comparison to Florida weather, it is quite refreshing to spend the fall semester studying in a region where the food agrees. After walking around (every day) seeing the sights, we were always ready to eat again. A light lunch near Santa Croce, with some thin cheesy pizza and caprese salads. We relaxed at the Ponte Vecchio Suites, then got ready for some more food around dinner time. On a Friday night, all the restaurants along via San Spirito were packed, and it was even too early for the Italians to eat! We got a table at Dante’s, a spot I had heard much about from classmates for being authentic and inexpensive (I was both curious and skeptical). They sat us downstairs, which was cozy and less crowded, expect for a 15-person table full of loud, drunk American boys. We couldn’t wait for them to leave, as we watched them stumble up the flight of stairs… nearly falling on their faces. The atmosphere was perfect by the time our food arrived, piping hot and intensely aromatic. I was presented with a plate of penne with tomato sauce, a touch of cream, meat and porcini mushrooms. It had caught my attention on the table next to ours, and must have been reading my mind. Gordon had the homemade tagliatelle with white cream and truffles, the smell was invigorating and engulfed the entire dining room. Blair (Gordon’s sister) had the farfalle with pesto and pomodoro and cream, it was undoubtedly “something to write home about” (as they would say). And for Debbie, a side of garlicky sauteed spinach with the bean soup. We were four happy campers, content once again from a fulfilling Florentine meal. Then, the unwanted limencello appeared on the table, as a complement from our server who insisted we needed the digestivo. He may not have spoken much English, but he was right.

As we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant, we noticed a pleasantly lit dining room across the street, occupied with candles, wine bottles and smiling faces. I didn’t hesitate to walk in and ask, “Scusa, posso fare una prenotazione per quattro persone domenica sera? Per favore.” A reservation for four people, sunday night –  please. We were penciled in at Santo Bevitore, a contemporary style Italian restaurant that (in retrospect) I have read much about in various guidebooks. In the meantime, we had dinner plans lined up for Quattro Leoni, a place we stumbled upon just hours after a chef from Apicius raved about the menu.

The quiet hotspot is located in a small area called Piazza della Passera, tucked around the corner of the mighty Palazzo Pitti. Usually, it is a good sign when an Italian restaurant doesn’t offer an english version of the menu (meaning it’s not a tourist trap), but I couldn’t understand half the dishes, even after studying Florentine food all semester! The waitress was less than pleased that we were American. Perhaps we were more needy than most, requesting bread plates for dipping olive oil and extra water – as though it’s too much to ask for. For an appetizer, Gordon and I both had the 4Leoni salad consisting of mixed lettuce, diced avacado, chunks of cheese and pine nuts, drenched in an arugula pesto. My ‘purse’ pasta was a delightful surprise, mini pouches stuffed with taleggio cheese, ricotta and pear and covered in a creamy asparagus sauce. The sides of deep fried porcini mushroom and grilled vegetables did not disappoint either.

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