To my readers (hi Joanne, Andy), I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything new. I’ve just been so … pregnant. But I did manage to go out to dinner recently, and it was a great experience. Ever since I noticed this little place in San Niccolo (the neighborhood in Florence least in need of a new restaurant, bustling as it already is with Fuori Porta, Rifrullo, Osteria Mescita di San Niccolo, etc.), I’ve been very curious to try it. They serve Ischian food – as in cuisine from the tiny island of Ischia, next to Capri – which sounded novel and exciting.
The ambiance is a little different – I read in La Repubblica that one of the partners works a day job at IKEA, and in fact, the whole place is tricked out in somewhat recognizable Swedish decor. But aside from the too-heavy focus on white and pastel, they’ve done a nice job. This is also one of those places which, I guess for tax reasons, is a “private club” and not a restauarnt, but membership is free and not a problem.
Since Ischia is an island, one could assume that seafood would be the star of the show. And in part it is, but the real centerpiece of the menu is “coniglio ischitana” – very small and very tender rabbit, brought in weekly from Ischia, and slowly braised with wild thyme and other herbs. (The Ischian word for wild thyme is piperna, giving the restaurant its name.) As you can see from the photo, above, Ischia is a bit cliffy. The rocky, rugged coastline drove settlers up into the hills to raise the animals and vegetables, essentially with their backs turned to the sea. If you are curious about the special little rabbit, the friendly waiter/owner will gladly bring you a little pamphlet explaing all, though many diners might not want to come face to face with these furry creatures until after the meal.
At the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered the grande assagio di antipasti and secondi, skipping the primi. This was smart in that the antipasti are very tasty (some better than others, but very different from the usual Tuscan crostini and affettati) and definitely filling, and you would not want to miss the secondi: tender rabbit, meaty grilled gamberoni (big shrimp), or the fresh whole fish cooked in a subtle acqua pazza (white wine, herbs). But I also liked the look of the seafood pastas on other diners’ plates, so I will be going back to eat those, too. This is also a rare chance to try red or white wine from the island.
All in all, I highly recommended this place — the food is different, delicious, and not too pricey for Florence. On the winter night we were there, the restaurant was only partly full. I hope that Florentines will branch out to try this new type of food, and keep Piperna going.
La Piperna, Via S. Niccolo 48r, 055-234-3336.