Posted by: francescacoviello | December 20, 2010


Finals week was hectic, on top of the stress to pack and get home in time for the holiday’s. On one of my last full days in Florence, we had planned a day trip to finally see Pisa and Lucca – but never made it to either place. It’s a good thing we didn’t hop on the train when we had the chance, because there was a slight change in weather. I noticed a few flurries floating outside of my window, and within an hour it was coming down heavy. It snowed all day, accumulating 6 inches of chaos. Florence rarely experiences snow fall, and the last time that they had a significant amount of snow was in 1985. The city shuts down under such conditions, and the sight of a plow was no where to be seen. It was really special to see Florence covered in white, just before leaving, but it couldn’t have been any worse timing. I was scheduled to leave Sunday morning, and my roommate leaving Saturday (the day after the snow) was cancelled until Tuesday, with the rest of student’s abroad. The airports were in calamity. Not just because Florence couldn’t handle the wintery situation, but all the major airports in Germany, France and London holding connecting flights were closed too. By the grace of God, I somehow got on my flight to Zurich – four hours late, after waiting and watching every other flight on the board cancel. We missed the connection to JFK, and were told that there were no flights to New York available for 2 days. As I began to breakdown to the transfer agent, he offered our group of students a seat on the Boston bound flight. Without hesitation, we accepted and boarded the plane to New England. I stayed in a hotel for the evening, which was not a part of the original arrival plan – but I was just happy to be back in America. My departure from Boston to NY was at 8 the next morning, I finally made it home, safe and sound.

It still hasn’t hit me that Italy is just a memory, a part of my past, and will make a huge impact on my future. My time abroad was more amazing than I could have imagined, and couldn’t be more thankful to have had the opportunity. In the Boston airport, a man asked what I had been studying in Italy and I told him communications. He said “Oh so you learned how to talk with your hands” (motioning dramatic hand gestures). He made me laugh as I agreed. There is so much to say about living in a foreign country, studying the culture, and adapting to the surroundings – so I will explain through a final piece I wrote for my food writing class:

The Other Side

If I were to say that I came to Italy to study abroad, I would be lying. Rather, studying abroad in Florence was an excuse – an excuse to completely immerse myself in the sights, smells and sensations of Firenze. American students typically spend a semester overseas taking general classes. For me, I selected a program that would not only cater to my academic needs, but focused on my passion. Cooking, eating, and food in general have developed into an infatuation, which encouraged me to pursue the communications aspects of culinary. My four-month journey throughout Europe, while living in Italy has created a new understanding of food cultures. Rich pasta, savory cheese, and full-bodied wine typically come to mind when thinking of Italy. Living in a foreign city has allowed me to figure out my own interpretation of the true Tuscan dishes, which consist of trippa, ribollita, and lardo. Most people don’t realize that the delicacies of Florence include the “unwanted” parts of the animal, and that the bread is unsalted. My expectations of the restaurant scene throughout Firenze have shaped my perception and appreciation for traditional cuisine. As I reflect upon all of the memorable and forgettable dining encounters, I have come to realize that “the other side” offers a more attractive selection.

Certainly there is an abundance of famous and outstanding restaurants around the city center of Florence, but according to my own findings, the most noteworthy places to eat are across the river. The first month of my journey was initially disappointing, as I had a difficult time finding my own niche within the small world of trattoria’s. Living next to the Duomo presented only the possibility of consuming overpriced, low quality Italian food. I was committed to discover a hidden gem in my neighborhood, and every time I entered a true “authentic” Florentine restaurant, I left hungry and disheartened. It felt like I was being mislead, that the idea of Italy being a food capital was a lie and that I would be eating mediocre meals for the remainder of my time abroad. My roommate and I wandered around on a Sunday determined to conquer our preconceived notions. It was early, so we waited until the restaurants served dinner then noticed a really nice place not far from Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The menu was very appealing, so we poked our heads in and asked for a table, as the people working were just finishing their pre-shift meals. We had water bottles in hand from our walk, and were aggressively asked to put them away upon sitting down. When we both ordered the mixed green salad we received two totally different bowls of greens. Mine was mostly frisée, and my roommate had mescaline with a sufficient amount of tomatoes. Then our entrée arrived, which we were sharing. Just before the plate landed I was astonished, because I had just witnessed the chef remove our pasta from the microwave then hand it to our server. It was a rubbery plate of dry, stuck-together penne with “fresh truffle shavings” and porcini mushrooms. In retrospect I wish I had said something, or demanded that they take it away because I refused to pay for crappy, microwaved food. Not only was the meal a disaster, but the attitude of the wait staff was rude and unaccommodating. In any case, whether the food is good or bad; the atmosphere presented by the people working can make or break an entire meal.

By that point I had received plenty of recommendations, but I didn’t want to hop on the American bandwagon of beliefs. My sister, who spent time in Florence, swore by the blueberry steak at Acqua al Due. Being that she is not a huge meat eater, I believed that it was a valuable suggestion. She ranted about this steak so much, that when I was having issues packing my bedding for Italy (which I didn’t need), my father told me to call my sister to see how she managed. My boyfriend chimed in, “she’ll probably just tell you to sleep with some blueberry steak.” How clever. When I finally did eat at Acqua al Due, I shared the pasta sampler and ordered the infamous blueberry bistecca – it was good, but I wouldn’t describe it as the best meal I ever had, especially in Florence. I enjoyed the unique combination and was pleased to taste how the fruit sauce complimented the filet – although it may have been a little overpowering, and stained my teeth purple. Since I am a big fan of breakfast food, I was told to eat at Adi’s Dinner on Via Faenza, as well as The Diner, owned by the folks at Acqua al Due. A word of advice… DO NOT eat American “diner” food while in Italy; it is worth waiting to go home for. The burgers may be decent, but dining at a place called “The diner” should not be allowed, ever.

When my boyfriend and his family came to visit, things started to look up. They were staying on the other side of the river, which was a blessing in disguise. For four nights straight we ate out at different restaurants along via Santo Spirito, and wandered into the Piazza della Passera. One of the nights we couldn’t decide where to go, then stumbled upon Dante’s, a place that I had heard about from many students for being legitimate and inexpensive. I was both curious and skeptical. We were sat 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.

Among the more traditional osteria’s across the river, Cinghale Bianco was a huge success where I nearly licked my plate clean. The simple homemade spaghetti with pomodoro and pecorino was more appetizing than I could have imagined. But the greatest revelation I had was locating the contemporary style Italian restaurants, on the other side. Quattro Leoni, Santo Bevitore and Sant’Agostino are my top 3 favorite restaurants in all of Firenze. (La Giostra is up there too, but that is a given for anyone visiting Florence, and it’s not on the other side). 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). At Quattro Leoni, 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, I had the 4Leoni salad consisting of mixed lettuce, diced avocado, chunks of pecorino, and pine nuts, drenched in an arugula pesto. My ‘purse’ pasta was a delightful surprise, mini pouches stuffed with taleggio cheese, ricotta and pear, then covered in a creamy asparagus sauce. The sides of deep fried porcini mushroom and grilled vegetables did not let down either. Santo Bevitore put so many overpriced “trendy” New York City establishments to shame. Everything about this restaurant was on point – from the ambiance, friendly and knowledgeable wine stewards and menu selection. The experience at Sant’Agostino was a real treat. The owner greeted us with free prosecco, and when we asked for suggestions he told us to trust him. I was tempted to order the Caesar salad, since I had been craving it and was intrigued to try the Florentine rendition. He wouldn’t allow me to eat anything American, so instead I was surprised with sliced, marinated artichokes with shavings of cheese. It was unusually perfect, and made for a great introduction to the pasta carbonara. The secret spots situated on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, around Santo Spirito and scattered near the hills have broadened my dining horizons. My experience in Florence can be happily defined by all the delicious meals, friendly characters, and unforgettable conversations shared – all over food. I came to Italy with the intentions to eat well, and write about my observations, which has resulted into a story of transformation, from a struggle to the triumph of indulging in the best of Firenze.




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