Jon and I ate only three meals in Florence during our last trip. The best of the three was at Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi, and even there our meal was not without a few issues, so it’s fair to say I was disappointed by the restaurants we tried in the city. It wasn’t a good sign when the restaurants that kept coming up in english-language sources were ones I recognized (and had visited) from the last time I was in Florence, in 2003 (e.g., Il Cibreo, Ristorante La Giostra, Beccofino). I wondered: doesn’t anything change?
I think the problem with small cities that are major tourist destinations is that even if a restaurant serves good food, the servers are so tired of tourists that they just can’t be bothered to be polite or responsive. So perhaps there was a little bit of that going on during our trip, combined with the high likelihood that non-Italian-speaking me wasn’t able to research my way to the really good, new places (i.e., the elusive “where the locals go”).
Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi, not far from the train station, was recommended by a friend who’d visited in 2005, and had rave reviews from recent Chowhound posts. When four of us walked in at around 10 pm for dinner, 90% of the other guests spoke english, which isn’t a deal breaker, per se, but it made me suspicious. But I relaxed when I saw how warm and inviting the trattoria’s dining room is, and there’s a large back courtyard where al fresco dining in the summer must be lovely.
We were in a rush to get on the road to Tuscany that evening, so we ordered only pastas. My spaghetti alla bottarga was deliciously seafoody and salty, though more oily than it had to be. Everyone else’s dishes (ribollita, ravioli and a tagliatelle) ranged from fine to pretty good. Our main complaint was with the service. Our server’s body language and clipped speech conveyed a whole lot of disdain and irritation, which ruined an otherwise nice meal.
Osteria delle Belle Donne is located just off Via Tornabuoni. There are five or six shabby-chic outdoor tables, and then inside, the two-story dining room is large and bustling. Jon and I were just glad they were open on a Sunday, and the service was relatively friendly.
The food at Belle Donne was so-so. The best of the bunch was the above-pictured appetizer, pecorino di fossi con salsa etrusca, but it looked like a dying sea creature and there was a fruit fly mucking around in the honey-and-nut “salsa”. I say it was the best of the bunch because once we got rid of the bit with the fly, the pecorino was tasty. More a testament to the pecorino than to any wizardry in the kitchen, methinks.
I was particularly disappointed in an artichoke-heart risotto that wasn’t creamy at all, leading me to conclude that what I had wasn’t made with arborio rice. It was just regular rice in a tomatoey soup with a few artichoke bits thrown in.
Tired of all our “misses,” Jon and I tried to revisit places we really enjoyed the last time we were in Florence. Sadly, Il Pizzaiuolo (located not far from Santa Croce in Il Cibreo land) was a madhouse and there was no way we were getting in on a Saturday night without a reservation. So we walked down the street to Santa Croce and snagged a table at Baldovino restaurant.
We had much better luck in Florence on the gelato front. The word on the street is that the gelateria du jour is Badiani, but it was kind of a schlepp from the Renaissance wonderland of the city centre, so we stuck with oldies but goodies: Carabe near the Accademia and Vivoli near Santa Croce. (One of the beauties of traveling in late October is that there are few lines for gelato).
Overall, as much as I enjoy Florence’s shops, museums and visuals, for food, I wished we’d stayed in the Tuscan countryside. I would’ve been happy to repeatedly eat porchetta like the one we had at the Saturday market in Greve in Chianti (see photo above). Roast pork stuffed with lard. Mmm.