I have a big travel article on - what else – Florence in the October issue of Elle Decor, so check it out while it is still on the shelves. The editors found and commissioned beautiful photos to go with the text, and Florence Foodie herself is featured on the Contributors’ page – quite an honor.
October 16, 2008
September 19, 2008
On many of my tours, American clients have asked me about what they’ve noticed as a Florentine cultural taboo against taking home a doggie bag from a restaurant. Let me clarify something, it’s not that Florentines would be embarrassed to ask for a bag in which to take home uneaten leftovers from a fine restaurant, it’s simply that they would RATHER LAY DOWN AND DIE than do such a thing . Why? Let me introduce you to the concept of the Bella Figura - which means, “making a good impression,” or “putting on a good face.” The same impulse that drives women and men to shave and accessorize before going to the corner grocery creates an atmosphere unamenable to the doggy bag (even the name is brutta figura).
When you go out in public, you are not only representing yourself but also your entire family. If you ask to take food home from a restaurant – even that 40 euro bistecca that there is no way you can finish – in the mind of a Florentine you might as well be saying, “my father is a bum and mother is a prostitute who raised us to beg on the streets.” Or at the very least, “I am poor and don’t have enough to eat at home so I need to bring home parcels from restaurants.” For Italians, poverty is an all-too-recent cultural memory and they will chase it away using everything they’ve got, from that finely cut Zegna suit to a strand of pearls to a prophylactic spritz of of Versace cologne.
April 20, 2008
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I’ve eaten at Vecchia Bettola several times recently and it is still as good or better than ever. I gave it a strong review in my book (both editions), and it is well deserving. The food is so simple and yet so delicious – the epitome of Tuscan cooking. I always get the Penna alla Bettola (tomato, vodka), and either the bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is always enormous, enough to feed an army, or the smaller filetto, because their meat is so good. I love the waiters, who are also the brothers from the family that owns the place, and the wine list is very good as well.
The news is that the address has changed – for some reason the namo of the big avenue has actually been changed from Via Ariosto to Viale Pratolini. The new address is Viale Vasco Pratolini 3-7.
April 20, 2008
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I’ve been very slow in posting this (been a little busy with new baby, who is here lying next to me …), but my article on cacciucco, the signature fish stew of Livorno, is finally out in the April issue of Saveur magazine. I’m very happy to write for them, since I’ve always liked the magazine a lot.
March 16, 2008
I am going to try to do a few more posts in the next couple of weeks, but in general, for the next couple of months or so, I am going to be on maternity leave. We are very excited about the new arrival, and all I can think about is baby baby baby, so it’s been a little hard to post. I hope readers will check in again every so often, especially starting again in June - I promise I will write occasionally.
March 16, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, Wendy Brucker, the chef and owner of Rivoli restaurant in Berkeley was here in Florence. Lisa Kaborika (spelling probably very off – sorry Lisa!) arranged a lunch with all of us so Wendy and I could meet, as she is a fan of my book (I was very flattered). While we were having lunch, it came out that Wendy and her husband were trying to think of a good name for her new venture in Berkeley, a simple Italian trattoria-style place on Shattuck Avenue (Berkeley could really use a good Italian resto, BTW).
She was tossing around some different ideas, and said she wouldn’t mind if the name were short, simple, and street-related, like Rivoli – Rue de Rivoli, etc. So I suggested “Corso,” as in the Via del Corso here in Florence. She loved the idea, and it looks like she will be using it for the new restaurant, which I will be very excited to try the next time I am in California. Here’s a link to the newsflash:
January 30, 2008
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.
December 25, 2007
I love Florence’s Central Market and would like it to remain as populist as possible in this tourist-beseiged city, but I was very pleased to read in The Florentine that the market is going to have a 1 million euro redo of the first floor. Right now the place could really use a little face-lift – the first floor is cold, dark, disorganized, and a bit dirty. They say they are going to redo and modernize many of the stalls, and create a central part of the market where people can watch cooking demos, try samples, etc. I can’t wait to see it.
For now this is second-hand reporting, but I am going to get more information from my friends and contacts at the market in the next few months.
December 18, 2007
I’ve always had a hard time finding vanilla extract in Florence – apparently they don’t really use it for baking in that form. You can find the beans, and you can find vanilla flavored sugar and such, but extract is as rare as gold, and about as expensive. I used to buy it at Bizzarri, that amazing old apothecary in the middle of town, but last time I went they wanted to charge me 40 euro for a tiny bottle! Last year I had my parents slip a little 3 oz bottle into their carry-on. But this year I finally realized I’ve been an idiot and vanilla extract is one of the easiest things you can make at home.
Here’s what I did: split open two vanilla beans and slipped them into a bottle of Stoly vodka that was not quite full. Then I put it in a dark place and have been shaking it every couple of days. You are supposed to wait about two months before using it, but I’ve started sooner and it’s fine – in fact it’s great. I’ve never really been one for canning and things like that because the sterilizing part makes me nervous, but with something like this you don’t have to worry because the alcohol will kill any bugs that crawl along.
December 10, 2007
So as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately, and in some ways I am turning into Italy’s Test Kitchen. A few months ago I made a batch of scones from the Cheese Board Collective cookbook (yeah Berkeley!). I had made this recipe before (and many others from this book) and it was delicious, but this time, I realized while stirring that the dough had a rancid taste, and I narrowed it down to the butter I was using, a seemingly unoffensive product simply called “Burro Formato Casalingo.” It may have been past its due date, but I suspected this was simply bad butter. The scones were almost inedible, and I began looking around (in Florence) for the best local butter.
I tried local favorite Mukki, which is fine, and Lurpak, the eurobutter that is apparently used by Wolfgang Puck (according to my friend who used to make pastries for his catering business). Lurpak is also fine. I even tried butter by the Slow Food dairy guy up in Piemonte, whose name I forget. His butter was good, but I finally found what I was really looking for – a pure, creamy, fresh-from the dairy taste – only in the butter made by Sterzing-Vipiteno, from high up in the Italian alpine region of Alto-Adige, where the cows speak German. This butter is totally delicious. Stay tuned for my musings on European flour …