El albergue

El albergue

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eating Florence

The Duomo is a truly beautiful cathedral.

I really enjoyed Ash’s and my time in Florence - wandering, almost warm weather, the Duomo, the School of Leather, and assorted museums - but my favorite part by far was the different amazingly delicious things we had. So I thought I’d share some of those with you and let your tastebuds water in jealousy.

I had my first ever waffle in Europe here. Since it was my first, I felt slightly skeptical at the beginning, but I think I’ve decided that the Nutella-covered treat was worth it. It was nothing like the breakfast waffles I’ve been used to eating at home my whole life. It wasn’t at all light and fluffy, but rather heavy, almost like a dense cake but approaching the realm of donuts, with a moist inside and crispy exterior, deliciously drenched in warm Nutella… num.

We came across a tiny little sandwich shop as we wandered through some small streets – it was almost just a window onto the sidewalk – and we paused to see what the swarm of people clustering around was all excited about. We accepted a thin menu from a man standing nearby, and after the first glance realized that this tiny joint called I Fratellini (The Brothers) was exactly where we wanted to be. The options, all of them, were simple, and yet they sounded exquisitely lovely. And at only 2.50 a Panini, it seemed to be perfect for the snacking mood we were in. We elbowed our way through the ranks lounging in front of the counter and ordered. Our two sandwiches were quickly prepared and handed out by the brother in charge of assembling who must have been moving almost automatically, he knew his small space so well – it was his kingdom, his domain.

We leaned against the opposite wall, savoring our elegantly simple treats as we watched the others all mill about, me with soft goat cheese, arugula, and prosciutto on a crisply fluffy roll, and Ash with salami and artichoke. After feeling all proud of ourselves for our wonderful find, we realized that this little hole in the wall (literally!) was actually one of the places recommended by Rick Steves in his Italy guide book that has been our constant companion and friend during this trip. Wow! We found a really awesome place without any help, and it turns out that someone famous in his own way rather agreed with us. How awesome is that!

I loved seeing all the brightly colored fruits and vegetables being
displayed outside the produce shops.

Another delightful treat - Nutella calzone!!!

We set out from a pit stop at the hostel happy, arm in arm, anxious for some culinary adventure.
This street looks good, let’s go this way.
A turn here, a turn there, and soon we find ourselves in front of what seems to be THE most perfect of perfect places. It calls out to us. The interior is warm and dark – it speaks of intimacy and quiet connection. I love the classy, yet homey decorations.
The waiter, a kind-faced old man with a stiff, slightly bent neck, calmly invites us past the small front room and open kitchen, around the corner, and into a surprisingly open dining room.
We delight over the menu, trying to pick the best out of all the wonderful options.
It all comes, course by course, and it is… really, I should almost just say that it is too good for words and leave it all to your imagination, but if I did that then you probably even then wouldn’t be able to understand just how marvelous this meal is.
Over nearly three hours of savoring, silence, and quiet conversation, we feel as if we have eaten THE best and most perfect dinner of our entire lives. Let me try to explain why…

We start with soup – white bean and wild wheat with a sprig of rosemary. It is creamy and thick, the kind of thing you crave on a cold winter day. The texture is sublimely smooth, and the flavor gentle and caressing on my tongue. The sprig of fresh rosemary gives a brilliant burst of flavor whenever I get a bit in my spoon.
I seriously want more.

The true star of the evening is our second dish – artichoke salad in a parmesan bowl. Yes, this is a BOWL made of toasted, crispy parmesan cheese filled with a fresh, lightly sweet and vinegary salad made with thinly sliced raw baby artichokes, topped with several paper-thin slices of fresh parmesan because we didn’t have enough cheese already, obviously. The combination of flavors takes our breath away, just as the unheard of (to us) combination of ingredients blew our minds. The savor of the toasted cheese also goes with our glasses of simple house wine to perfection.

Third, we opt for a fresh pasta with duck. Our excitement over the intriguing idea of duck – which Ash has never had before – is fully justified when we take our first bites. Not only is the ground meat tender and smooth (can you call meat smooth?), you can feel and taste the wonderful freshness of the pasta noodles. I imagine they squirmed out of the press soft and perfect on the kitchen counter this morning, just begging to be eaten. Such wonderful texture.

To finish off the meal, we follow the gentle waiter over to the tasteful display of fresh desserts. Seeing us in a decision dilemma, he graciously offers to give us 2 half portions of 2 different desserts so that we could try two kinds without overstuffing ourselves. We gladly accept, of course.
And are we ever so happy with that decision. The tiramisu is lovely – creamy, gentile, softly yet effectively flavored. And the cake is AMAZING. Pear and apple with shavings of orange white chocolate on top. It is dense and tender and moist. It is absolutely sublime. I need more…

Imagining the next time I get to go to Le Fonticine...

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