Because of my work I have to eat out often. These
are some of the places I have especially liked;
they're mostly in Tuscany, though I expect to begin
traveling farther afield in the near future. This
page has reviews and restaurant suggestions for
Florence & vicinity.
La Cantinetta Antinori
Palazzo Antinori 3 Tel. (055) 292-234, closed Saturdays & Sundays (you'll want to make reservations in the summer).
In days of old, those fortunate enough to own land in the country would open cantinette to sell the produce from their estates to the city folk -- not a bad idea, if you think about it. Though Antinori is primarily known for its wines, about 20 years ago they decided to revive this custom -- not with a cellar store, but with a restaurant in Palazzo Antinori. It's one of the most comfortable and welcoming places in Florence, and one of the few that's split-level.
I recently had a business lunch, which began with a flute of spumante (dry) to accompany the toasted bread and liver paté we nibbled on while browsing the menu. We settled on sharing a pair of appetizers. One was insalata di lenticchie, a delightful and extremely interesting lentil salad seasoned with curry, fennel and lemon -- a combination that wouldn't have occurred to me but was quite good. The second, bruschetta con il cavolo nero, bruschetta with kale, was less interesting but not less good. Standard Tuscan fare, but perfectly prepared, with a thick bed of kale atop the slices of bread, and just the right amount of good oil. The kale was a little bit salty, to compensate for a lack of sharpness attributable to unseasonably warm weather, and the whole was quite nice. The second course was arista in crosta, roast loin of pork en crust, though crust is something of a misnomer here as the wrap was moist and herby. And quite good, as was the meat, which was extremely tender. There was also creamed spinach, which was simple and tasty. The wine? Cantinetta Antinori features all of Antinori's wines, and is thus an excellent place to taste by the glass. We had Guado al Tasso, a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend produced at Bolgheri, which was quite nice, rich and enticing of bouquet, and full, round and with nice fruit on the palate.
For dessert, a simple crostata di mele, a delicately made, tasty apple pastry that went very well with a glass of Muffato della Sala, the botrytized dessert wine Antinori makes in Umbria. It's similar to Sauternes, though this vintage had more pronounced fruit and less evident botrytis than the French wines I've tasted. Quite good, however, the sort of wine you could easily spend an afternoon enjoying sip by sip.
The cost? Depending upon what you eat, expect to spend between 35 and 80,000 lire per person (or more if you order a rare vintage). Given the atmosphere, this is more than reasonable. Highly recommended.
Florence, Via Della Docciola 14. Tel: 055/402024 Closed Tuesdays.
Though it has undergone a serious facelift since I first went in 1985, I Ricchi remains a well kept secret. To reach it you really have to drive - there is the number 45 bus (ask the driver when to get off ), but it stops running at 8. Take the Via Bolognese up past Trespiano, the city cemetery, and turn left onto the road for Cercina (right after the turnoff for the cemetery parking lot). The road winds for several kilometers, passing through a couple of hamlets and up a steep hill (turn left at the top of it), and the restaurant is on the left at a spot overlooking the valley, with the cemetary bleow. There is unfortunately no sign, but there is a terraced trellis out front which should help you recognize it.
Once you get there, you're in for a treat: Hearty Tuscan fare, with rich pasta sauces and traditional thick soups such as ribollita to start you off (after the appetizers), as well as lighter dishes such as tagliolini con limone, tagliolini in a delicate creamy lemon sauce. The second courses are excellent; the restaurant is famous for its mixed fried meats, which are dipped in a batter that becomes wonderfully crunchy. Accompany them with mixed fried vegetables and you've got a meal fit for a bishop, especially with the house wine, a young zesty Chianti whose acidity nicely counterbalances the fritto . The desserts are the damnation of the dieter: Massive portions, and so delicious you'll want more. The meringato, interlayered meringues and chilled cream liberally sprinkled with bits of chocolate, is heavenly on a summer day.
Price? Surprisingly reasonable, about 40,000 lire per person. One major quibble: there's no printed menu, and as one person who visited pointed out, this makes it hard on those who don't speak Italian. And a minor quibble: the house wine is now Antinori's Santa Cristina, which seems a little much. Something by the flask would be nice to see.
L'Enoteca Fuori Porta
Via Del Monte alle Croci 10/r (Florence, just outside Porta San Niccoló, on the road up to San Miniato). Tel 055 2342483, closed Sundays
It's a little bit out of the way, but well worth the walk, especially on a pleasant spring afternoon when you can sit outside. What will you find? Nice people, good foods, especially cold cuts, cheeses, sandwiches, and simple first course dishes (though how simple taglierini with a liberal sprinkling of white truffles are is open to debate), and Florence's best wine list -- All the producers in Tuscany make sure the Enoteca has their wines, and you can sample some spectacularly rare vintages -- say a 1971 Tignanello or Monsanto, for example. Nor is it just the Tuscans; the Enoteca has a wide selection of wines from other regions and from abroad.
Perfect for lunch but better for dinner, when you want to spend a quiet hour eating good food, watching the world go by, and talking with friends. Highly recommended. The cost? Variable; if you don't want a whole bottle, or want to sample a number of different wines, you will be delighted by the variety of the 40 wines sold by the glass. If you want a bottle, on the other hand, you'll have hundreds to choose from. Depending upon what you order, figure from 20,000 lire per person on up.
L'Antico Ristoro di Cambi
Piazza del Tiratoio, just off from Ponte Vespucci in the Oltrarno (near the chuch of San Frediano); Closed Sundays
In the past every Florentine neighborhood had a fiaschetteria, a place where people would gather for a quick lunch, and where a segment of the population would pass the afternoons drinking wine by the flask. San Frediano was a poor neighborhood and had several, all hole-in-the-wall type joints whose clientele began to age inexorably in the 70s, as the younger generation adopted other pastimes. The one on the corner of Piazza del Tiratoio boarded up its doors about 10 years ago while the owners unleashed the stonemasons, and emerged about a month later as the Antico Ristoro di Cambi, an elegant eatery catering primarily to the lunch crowd. They still sell wine, of course, but now it's accompanied by a wide variety of salads, first courses, and entrées, things to be eaten by people on the go who don't want to slow down after lunch. I had pappa al pomodoro , a delicious dish made with fresh tomatoes, basil, and day-old bread that was spiced just right, followed by a "springtime salad," which was actually a platter with tomatoes, radicchio, mozzarella, thin slices of pecorino and some bresaola (cured beef drizzled with oil and lemon juice). Tasty, and since the items were distinct the flavors didn't run together.
Elisabetta, on the other hand, had had a heaping bowl of fresh salad and tripe salad, tripe served with thinly sliced fresh tomato and seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Both quite good. You can, if you want, order a steak -- the guy behind us did and appeared to be enjoying it, and in the winter the menu changes to reflect the cooler temperatures, with more rib-sticking entrées such as beans and sausage.
The cost? Betty and I spent 39,000, but didn't drink any wine (too hot). If you want something simple, quick and quite Florentine, you should try this.