Florence and Food

Being a solo traveler means I have lots of time to take notes! This blog is a distillation of the notes I took while eating my first lunch and dinner in Florence. Warning: do not read on an empty stomach.

For lunch I followed the hotel receptionist’s advice and went to a small square lined with four restaurants. I chose the cheap and quick Osteria (spelling?) and sat outside to watch the world go by. A surprising number of cars and vespas whip through the square which is swarming with people. I’m always amazed that no one ever seems to get hit considering the vespas are speeding and people step off curbs without looking. Remarkable reflexes!

The first excitement was watching about half a dozen Senegalese merchant guys running full tilt through the square and out the other side. All of them carried their rolled mats packed with sunglasses, purses, whatever. I expected to see several police hot on their tail considering how fast the guys were running but nope – nothing.

I digress for a moment – Florence has changed since the last time I was here (2001). First, the only African guys with the bogus stuff for sale that I’ve seen were the guys running through the square at lunch. Every piazza I went to during the day was completely empty of them – and they used to be everywhere. I read that the police are really cracking down and actually fining customers who buy fake designer products from the guys. The bargain Gucci sunglasses apparently can come with a very hefty 1000 Euro fine.

Second, there are no gypsies anywhere that I’ve been so far. I remember that it used to be virtually impossible to get  from A to B in Florence without being accosted by wailing gypsy women  or kids with newspapers. I was robbed by a group of such kids in Paris back in the eighties so I’ve never been a big fan. Anyway, they are gone from Florence.

Third, Florence is sparkling clean — like eat off the piazza clean. After a full day of walking in sandals my feet were still relatively pink. A garbage can graces every corner and often the cobblestones are wet from a recent hosing. The occasional deposit of horse poop from the passing carriages is about it for mess. Florence feels cleaner than downtown Vancouver (mind you, that might not be saying a lot!).

OK – back to food. Lunch consisted of a 2.5 euro glass of red wine (buono) and a slab of unleavened bread filled with gorgonzola cheese and proscuitto. Very simple, very cheap, and just wonderful! Cheese oozed over the round board the bread was served on; each mouthful was a weeper.

Actually, I’ve felt like weeping every other moment since I stepped out onto my balcony at the hotel to see the rooftops of Florence. I mean, it’s Florence! What is it about this place? It’s full of tourists and sort of like a Renaissance Disney World and yet it still manages to feel authentic and just, well, wonderful!

I love watching the people go by while I indulged my gorgonzola high at lunch. Two kinds of people – tourists and locals and it’s easy to tell the difference. The tourists are obviously given away by the maps flapping in the breeze but also by their clothes — sweaters tied around waists, running shoes, shorts, T-shirts, checked shirts, goofy Tilley hats – yes, it’s not pretty. And then across the square at the posher restaurant arrives a whole bevvy of local Florentines. Ciao Bella! The men are as beautiful as the women — sharp suits, sunglasses perched nonchalantly on perfectly coiffed hair, clean shaven, smooth and clipped, just exuding confidence. They look almost more perfect than is humanly possible – like stylish Italian Ken dolls. And the women! Lots of gold jewelry, hoop earrings, high heels, beautiful bags slung over wrists dangling with bracelets, tight skirts, sleekly tousled hair.

I have stopped short of wearing running shoes with my capri pants but I think the camera over my shoulder and the wholesome middle-age lady look is a dead giveaway. Sigh.

But keeping with the theme of food – on to dinner. I’ll backtrack to the Uffizi in another post.

Ah – dinner. What can I say? It’s 5 am and I’m up blogging because of jet lag and I still feel like weeping with ecstasy when I think about my dinner! After walking around the neighbourhood checking out what was on offer, I settled on a place very close to the hotel overlooking the Arno. Here are my notes more or less as they were written. The paper has the grease spots to prove it!

A glass of Rossi di Montalcino — much more woody then anything I’ve ever tasted. Smells almost like the old wet stone would taste. That doesn’t sound appetizing but believe me it is. It tastes like the old world.

First course – insalata mista — a nice combination of crunchy lettuces, carrots and cabbage with just a few wonderfully plump and salty olives. The greens taste so, well, green–fresh and flavorful, a world away from the boxed salads I buy at home. They taste like they had, at one time, actually grown in the ground.

Each sip of the rosso gets better if that’s possible. I’ve never drunk a glass so slowly! I’m still trying to describe the taste but so far can just say that the wine tastes like the old buildings.

From my table I can see the arched walkway across the Arno River near the Uffizi. I don’t have a window table but I’m not far away. The candlelight makes the place feel ancient, timeless.

And then my gnocchi with gorgonzola arrives. Yes – two gorgonzola dishes in one day. I’m making up for lost time since I never indulge in such fattening fare at home! I chose the gorgonzola gnocchi in honor of our 2001 trip when we found a restaurant that served such amazing gorgonzola gnocchi that we went back twice. Megan, if you’re reading this, you will remember!

This gnocchi is just as good. Each bite obliges my taste buds to plumb new depths of pleasure. I swoon just thinking about each rich, sweet sphere of gnocchi coated with a creamy gorgonzola sauce. The dish also contains wonderfully firm and flavorful mushrooms and a sprinkling of ground up sausage meat. It really is to die for.

I eat more slowly than I have ever eaten in my life — not wanting the experience to end. Each sip of the rosso is better than the last and enhances each forkful of dripping gorgonzola sauce. When finally I have just four gnocchi sitting demurely on my plate, I pause for a longer than usual moment.

The server swoops over and reaches for my plate. I almost plunge my fork into her hand.  I would be guilty of murder if she so much as touches my plate before I have licked it clean.

And then, finally, I must finish the gnocchi and stare, bereft, at my empty plate. And then the last swallow of wine and it is over.

I top off the evening with a stroll along the Arno and a Crema gelato. I plan to blog when I get back to the hotel but I am too tired and by 10 pm am I am fast asleep!

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