Sunday, 5 July 2009

Florence update

I'm just finishing a quick weekend in Florence (one lunch to go!) and I hit a lot of the standards so updates are warranted.

I've been staying at the Westin Excelsior, which I quite like. The rooms are big and well furnished, many of the rooms have Arno views, it's on a great, relatively quiet piazza (Ognisanti) a bit off the beaten path, and it's part of the Starwood chain so I get points. It's not cheap, but deals are available (particularly with points). Room 250, which I've had before is particularly nice, as it's in a corner and is very quiet.

Onto the food!

I arrived late Friday night so I headed over to Acqua al 2 as their kitchen is open quite late. They, as usual, did not disappoint. The fusilli lunghi marscapone e funghi may be my favorite dish of pasta in the world. The tagliato di rucola was very good, though after eating it I was reminded that I should simply have two dishes of the fusilli when I eat at Acqua. Gianni and Stefano are both still there, wonderful hosts as always. Gianni confirmed that they are opening an Acqua in Washington DC in Eastern Market with massive outdoor seating. A much shorter plane ride from New York, I'm very much looking forward to it.

Next day came lunch at, where else, Trattoria Cibreo. Feeling particularly uninventive, I ordered my standards again: Pomodoro in gelatina, sformato di ricotta e patate and calamari inzimino with a half bottle of chianti di fonteruoli 2004. Friends, alas, something has changed at Cibreo. Don't get me wrong, it was very good. But something in the kitchen has mellowed - it is no longer mind-blowing. For example, the Pomodoro historically had a bite - a combination of raw garlic and hot pepper. Neither was present. It was still silky smooth with great olive oil, but it didn't have the kick that makes it so addictive. The Inzimino similarly had no heat, one of its signatures in the past. Also, it was soupier than usual, with less calamari and more greens (that seemed to by spinach rather than cavolo nero). The sformato was delicious (I still wish I could get a recipe...).

For dinner, hold onto your hats, I tried something new. I had run across the name La Vecchia Bettola numerous times before, and had driven past it on a number of occasions while looking for a gas station to refuel rental cars. I decided to branch out last night and eat there. I reserved for 9:15, arrived promptly to a very long "line" spilling out into the small piazza in front. It took 15 or 20 minutes to be seated at one of the long, marble topped communal tables. The crowd was overwhelmingly Italian (a good sign). We ordered an antipasto a la Bettola con funghi (afettati - prosciutto, salame, finochianna; crostini di fegato; and marinated porcini) but our primi came first. The waiter, who appeared to be handling the entire interior himself (there's a small outside as well) had forgotten, so we decided to have it after our primi. I had paccheri a rottanculo (not a particularly appetizing name), a meat sauce with beef, pork and chicken livers, that was delicious. My friend had penne a la Bettola, a spicy, incredibly rich penne a la vodka that was similarly fantastic. The antipasto arrived (without the funghi) and was fairly standard, I'd probably try something else next time. They had an insalata di ovoli (amazing mushrooms sliced thinly and raw) that tempted me when I saw it on the menu (they're unbelievably good) and I finally ordered it once my secondi arrived, but they'd run out. For secondi, I had braciole con caperi e acciughe (a breaded, thin veal cutlet sauced with a wonderful tomato sauce made with capers and anchovies). It was incredibly flavorful and moist. My friend had Coniglio Arrosto Morto (rabbit roasted to death), which was very moist and flavorful, but far too bony. Red wine della casa came in a large, straw wrapped jug and cost 4 euro per person no matter how much you drank. It was remarkably potable. Desserts, particularly the fresh fruit, looked great, but we were far too full. The place is great, try not to tell too many people...

And now, off to lunch.

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