You Can't Get a Bad Meal in Italy!
by Jeff Gordon
As a discreet destination, Florence can captivate the tourist’s attention for endless days. The Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia are required elements of the curriculum, and experiencing the splendor of the Battistero di San Giovanni will no doubt occur numerous times as the nearby Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore is like a beacon, drawing visitors to the Piazza della Signoria, the crossroads of the city. Florence, however, is far more than museums and statues. The aura that pervades the narrow stone streets and the ubiquitous clay-red tile roofs gives one the sense that here in this most sophisticated Tuscan town, civilization itself woke up again after the darkness of the middle ages was lifted. And with it, the surrounding countryside produced the grapes and olives and vegetables and veal and on and on and on that today serve as a tangible connection to the lives of the Medici and their court.
Italian food, and specifically that found in Tuscany, is a collage of colors, textures, and tastes that, in its simplicity, is distinctly different from the cuisine in other parts of Italy. A simple salad of arugula adorned with kernels of corn and avocado shavings formed with a melon-baller becomes a masterpiece when it is dressed with the Modena Balsamic vinegar that tastes like nectar. Ravioli with a pink sauce, known as rose, can transport you to another place, particularly if you add practically any Multipulchiano or Classico wine to your table. And veal! I would characterize my recent trip to Florence as the search for the ultimate veal dish, and I found about 10 of them, every one slightly different, but each superb.
Any ristorante you choose will have a menu that will be flawless, and, in fact, the pride the Italians have in their food emanates from strong family traditions. The smaller and more quaint the ristorante, the more unique and tasteful the dish is likely to be. On our first evening in Florence we happened onto the very charming Ristorante Paoli on the via de Tavolini. Their menu describes Paoli as nel cuore di Firenze con l’antica tradizione della buona cucina Toscana. Italian is such a logical language: in the heart of Florence with the ancient traditions of the best kitchens of Tuscany. And was this ever a find! This first stop on my tour of veal led me to the scaloppini alla cittadina e piselli, and Jan had a perfect risotto. The desert trolley capped our first Tuscan meal with a nearly over-the-top chocolate cake and tiramisu. Unreal.
One beautiful evening, Jan and I walked the side streets near the Duomo looking for a small, “neighborhood” cafe that might have a claim on the locals rather than tourists. It was not easy in this section of Florence since the streets were filled with Americans, Japanese, and Germans. Tucked away on the Via dello Studio, the Ristorante Il Caminetto beckoned with small twinkle-lights draping an arbor in its “garden room.” Yes, there were tourists in evidence, but some “regulars” were sitting at tables near a small bar, and to us, this little place fit the bill. The Caprese di bufala salad was so fresh it barely required dressing. And when I asked our waitress for her suggestion, she pointed to the Scaloppina al limone and the spaghetti al ragu. It was so good that we very nearly went around again for seconds.