Saturday, July 17, 2010


We arrived in the hot stone oven that is Florence on a Saturday.  Locals were cooking pizzas on the sidewalk.  The sun was checking out apartments.  “What a nice temperature!” said the sun.  “I really think that I could live here.

Our hotel, the last Priceline deal of the trip, was beautiful, although we had to pay extra to stay in the renovated half of the hotel, thus erasing the financial advantage conferred to us by the Priceline Negotiator.  The old half had neither air conditioning or functioning locks.  The new half was a sparkling oasis of avante-garde toilet fixtures and freezing cold.  The only downside was that our room, and Florence in general, was infested with mosquitoes.

Tuscany is famous for Chianti, white cannellini beans, ribollita, and giant t-bone steaks.  Some call it the most beautiful city in the world, but it seems like someone calls every Italian city the most beautiful city in the world.  For lovers of renaissance art, though, Florence is hard to beat.  Famous statues litter the piazzi like pigeons, which also litter the statues.

The first night we wandered to the old town and grabbed dinner at a cheap touristy place because we were hungry and it was there.  Sophie’s bread and vegetable soup was only okay, but my pasta with spicy tomato sauce was surprisingly good and the wine we ordered, a Chianti Classico, was really good.  We forgot to take pictures, as usual.  But don’t worry -- there will be pictures of food in the near future.  Look: it's Ponte Vecchio!

Lonely Planet mentioned one gelato place in particular called “Vivoli” that was supposed to be especially good.  The authors even suggested that it might be the best gelato in Italy.  The last time I was in Florence I got hopelessly lost every second turn, but with a map and compass it was surprisingly easy to navigate.  I still have no idea why I have never carried a compass with me up until now.  If you have a compass you don’t need a good sense of direction.

Anyways, the gelato was really fantastic.  I still don’t understand what it is, exactly, that makes gelato different from ice cream, but qualitatively I would say that it is lighter and lots more flavorful.  Ice cream, especially fruit flavored ice cream, isn’t usually intense.  Gelato is.  We came back to the place several times, and in the end these were the best flavors: rice, canteloupe, pistachio, and yogurt.  The rice in particular was super awesome; it had actual al dente rice grains in it.  Recommended for lovers of rice pudding and horchata.  Sophie was pleased.

The next day we mostly just sat around and read.  Lunch was at another touristy place, but they had fresh porcini mushrooms and we ordered a plate of porcini fritti, which were delicious.  We wandered into the Duomo, which is huge and beautiful and has a pretty unique color scheme for a Catholic church, but I soon because exhausted by the heat and decided to find a café and read and drink cold sparkling water.

Sophie wandered around the area and shopped.  While we tried to go to the Uffizi, the line to get in was about two hours long and neither Sophie nor I could stand the wait.  Apparently reservations are practially a requirement -- the line to get in even if you had them was about an hour.  We ate dinner at a wine bar and discovered why Tuscany is not known for its white wines.  The food they served was cheap and tasty.  Sophie and I shared a salad of mixed greens with corn and olives -- the olive oil they provided was insanely fruity -- and we each ordered a different soup.  Sophie ordered pappo al pomodoro, which is a bread soup with tomatoes, and I ordered ribollita.  Tomato bread soup is a totally brilliant idea.  The bread cuts the acid and adds richness without making the soup heavy or muting the tomato flavor like cream does.  I’m definitely going to add it to my repertoire of soups at home.

Sam met us for lunch the next day in front of the replica of Michelangelo’s David.  “Hello!” he said.

“Hello!” we said back.

I had looked this time in the Michelin guide for a place to eat and found a place called “Del Fagioli” that looked tasty and price appropriate.  I was most certainly right.  It was a bit off the beaten path, but another American couple eating there said that they had been there countless times (the husband often traveled to Florence for business) and that the restaurant was their favorite in Florence.  They gave us the rest of their wine, a half a liter, and explained to us that the restaurant was family owned, and that we were extremely lucky to have found it.

The menu was completely in Italian, so ordering was tricky.  Sam and I thought that the price for Bistecca Fiorentina was by the kilogram, and we were right, but it turns out that you are required to order an entire kilogram of steak, and so we were also wrong.  Sam and I both really wanted to try the steak, but neither of us felt up to eating a kilogram of steak, or even half a kilogram.  Instead we both ordered the special, which was a sort of incredibly tender pounded meat with a tomato sauce and potatoes.  Everything was perfectly seasoned and flavorful.  Sophie ordered ravioli stuffed with pine nuts and parmesan cheese.  She was extremely pleased.  In total the meal for three people was only thirty-six euros.  It was our cheapest meal in Florence, and also the best.

I forgot to mention on other food item that Tuscany is famous for: saltless bread.  Apparently way back in the history days the Florentine couldn’t afford to put salt in their bread, and it became traditional to make bread without salt even in times when they could afford it, like right now.  They put salt in everything else, mind you.  Lots of salt.  Just none in their bread, which means that their bread, although beautiful, sort of tastes like ash.  Or raw flour.  Or something else that isn’t exactly bad doesn’t inspire vigorous eating.  I really cannot understand this tradition.  People couldn’t afford a lot of different things at all sorts of different times in history, but the moment they could afford it they started using it if it made sense.  I mean, there’s probably someplace in the world where people couldn’t afford shoes for a while, but is there now any affluent area of the world that goes shoeless for the sake of tradition?  I don’t think so. Bread with salt is indisputably superior to bread without salt.  Put salt in your bread.  Just do it.  And wear shoes at the same time.  Children like shoes.  And salt.  You don’t hate children, do you?

We liked lunch at Del Fagioli so much that we decided to eat there for dinner as well.  On the menu was panzanella, or bread salad (they do add salt to this, thank God), tagliolini with ragu, and soup with beans and cabbage.

The soup and spaghetti were good (I make a better ragu) but the panzanella was amazing.  I could eat pounds and pounds and pounds of it.  Jake, learn to make panzanella.  It is delicious and vegetarian and filling and it keeps well.  The olive oil that they used to make it was especially yummy.  I could use fancy words to describe it, like fruity, light, floral, and olive-oily, but I won’t because I’m not that kind of person.  I think that the Florentine put bread in everything because they know that their bread sucks on its own and if they put bread in dishes that traditionally contain salt they aren’t breaking the “no salt in the bread” rule.  At least they found a workaround.  I love panzanella.

As usual we walked home and went to sleep after dinner.  We are not late night people.  We are not early morning people either.  And,

The middle of Day
Is far too hot to really
Get anything done


  1. The Panzanella looks amazing. I definitely want to make that but don't have a good recipe. If you find one let me know!

  2. I'm a food nerd and read a book on gelato, so I can speak to the differences between ice cream and gelato. The official difference is that ice cream contains around 10% fat, whereas gelato only contains 5-7%. Gelato is also churned slower, has more air in it, and is served less-frozen than ice cream. The reason ice cream needs higher fat content is because it is so much colder, it works by basically coating your mouth with the milk/cream fat which helps impart the flavor. Gelato, on the other hand, doesn't coat your mouth with as much creamy fat, so the fruit flavors seem more intense.

  3. I know I already had a nerdy comment on this post, but just today I saw a NY Times article about egg-less ice creams, and one of the main points was that the fat content in egg-based ice creams dilutes whatever flavor (pistachio, peach, etc) because the custard base coats your mouth. Eggless ice cream isn't necessarily gelato, but it seemed like a similar concept, and they were recommending eggless ice cream for fruit flavors in particular, since the flavor wouldn't be diluted by the fat coating your mouth.

  4. Whoops, I meant to post the article, not your own blog address: