Firenze [ 2005-05-18, 8:45 p.m. ]

Sunday. Kent and I arrived in Florence late in the afternoon and in BAD moods – the train from Milan took longer than we anticipated and both of us were tired, hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable and cranky. Luckily as soon as we got to our hotel we started to feel better – the hotel is very modern and chic, very cool and in an old area of Florence, on the “other” side of the river, mostly Italians over here, kind of the Village of Florence. We checked in and walked along Via Pisana looking for lunch. It was around 5pm, but hot, and there was a streetfair – lots of locals. We sat outside at Il Bovaro and ate. I had a panini with prosciutto and mascarpone and Kent had a pizza with grilled eggplant and fontina cheese. He had a beer and I had an enormous glass of wine. The food was excellent and very cheap. Kent’s pizza had tomato sauce that tasted like tomatoes x100 – so much flavor, so sweet – very good! The bread was good, we sat outside and watched people – lots of dogs, even some that barked and barked like Tuesday (ie, as if they wanted to eat the face off the other dog and then piss in the gaping hole). After lunch we walked over a bridge and explored a little bit.

It was Sunday evening, most shops were closed or closing, but we found the street with the posh stores, and also walked to the Duomo. We walked west around Santa Maria Novella, eventually found our way back to the river, crossed over to “our” side and headed to the hotel. We had the hotel make a reservation for us at Beccofino – Brit and her husband had eaten there last year and recommended it, I also read about it in Bon Appetit. We took a cab there for a 9:30 reservation, having no idea where it was, but really could have walked, as it turned out. Dinner was very good – restaurant was modern and casual, mix of Italians and tourists, quiet and sleek. Our waiter was very attentive and accommodating. We had:

Kent: Risotto w/asparagus
Sirloin over beans
Chocolate mousse dessert, not Italian at all

Me: Zucchini carpaccio w/smoked salmon
Rack of lamb
Biscotti and Vin Santo for dessert

We had a DELICIOUS bottle of wine with dinner – a Super Tuscan, Cabernet w/Sangiovese and Merlot. Also were given limoncello by our waiter after dinner, had a GREAT experience and would recommend Beccofino to anyone. Came back to the hotel and had a good night – back around 1:00 a.m. I had taken a bath before dinner in our gorgeous bathtub – was huge! Loved the bathtub, like bathing in a Mini Cooper.

Monday. I woke up first and took another lovely bath – the tub is HUGE! While Kent showered I went out on my own – and honestly, I much prefer exploring alone. Love Kent, but really like being free to turn on any street I want. First I went to a little pastry shop and ordered a cheese croissant and a macchiato from a very hot barista with excellent biceps. The pasty was better than I expected, breakfast cost about 2 Euro, and the coffee was excellent. After breakfast I walked a few doors down to a little open market/shop with beautiful produce outside. I grabbed some raspberries and started to get strawberries but was quickly reprimanded by the shop lady – NOT self serve! While waiting I walked farther in to the shop and also got some bread, wine and cheese – the older, male shopkeeper was helping me while a younger man chatted with him. The shopkeeper turned to me and said, “How-a you say? Everyday? He break-a my balls…” Very fun experience. I got the strawberries and tasted the cheese – altogether I got 1 bottle of wine, bread, about ¼ pound of cheese, a pint(ish) each of strawberries and raspberries, and the total was under 15 Euro. I told the shopkeeper I’d be back the next day.

I went back to the hotel – Kent was dressed – I suggested we could have the food I’d bought for lunch. We headed out and walked to the Ponte Vecchio, crossed over, wandered all over the place. Tried to get away from all the tourists but the streets are narrow and are teeming with tour groups and scooters. We paid 6 Euro each and went into the Duomo – climbed to the top of the cupola! SO MANY STEPS!! At first I had balked at paying so much to get into a church, but it really was incredible and worth the cost. We walked up and up and up and UP, so, so high! Eventually we got to the cupola, and the view was SPECTACULAR! It was like a postcard, like a living cliché of what Tuscany should look like, all terra cotta and tile dotting the hills and the city unwinding in a spiral – or a tangle – from the base of the Duomo. It was amazing. We were so happy. Climbing back down all those steps was harrowing, the steps spiral and I was worried about losing my footing, but slowly made in back to the piazza and the many, MANY tour groups and kids screaming and shops selling overpriced espresso and gelato. After, we window shopped, went into many stores but didn’t buy anything. Back to the hotel, had our lunch which I had bought earlier. Strawberries that were unlike anything in New York. California has strawberries that taste like strawberries, but we don’t often find them in Brooklyn. These taste weird, Kent said. They taste like they are supposed to, I answered. They were ruby red, inside and out, and tart and gorgeous. Had cheese and wine also, filled ourselves up in our room with delicious snacks, then took big, fat naps. I’m not usually a napper, but slept like a damn baby.

Left for dinner around 9:15 – walked towards San Spirito, ended up at OIO, which I had read about in Bon Appetit. It was close to our hotel, small, very sleek and funky, hip. We were the only diners there, which initially made up uncomfortable, but turned out fine – the waitstaff was casual and friendly, more people dropped in for coffee and drinks later, the manager played with CDs and the sound system while Spanish music played. We each started with carpaccio and then had pasta, and had a Chianti Classico with dinner. Kent had carpaccio of bresaola with fennel and balsamic vinegar, I had the same but with radicchio rather than fennel. We both had spaghetti, Kent’s with onions, peppers, carrots and mine with pancetta. My pasta was so, so good – had big slivers of lemon zest in it, no sauce, and I could smell the lemon as soon as the waiter put the plate down. The flavors were so vibrant, I loved every bite. After dinner we tried to ask the waitstaff about good bars in the area – Kent had a very charming conversation with the waitress which involved lots of nodding and diagram-drawing. I asked where we could get cigarettes (for Kent, not me), and the waiter gave me one from his pack. I loved the dinner because I felt it was very authentic, not expensive, simple, good and no other Americans anywhere in sight. The menu was only in Italian, which is the only time in Italy we encountered that – an English version was offered everywhere else, or English descriptors were listed below the Italian, at every other restaurant. Our hotel is in the Oltarno, which feels very bohemian, also more “working class” than tourist industry. Lots of locals and students, which I love. Mommies and nannies with strollers, old men and old women. Am glad we are staying here instead of more central, touristy area. After dinner I got gelato at the place on Via Pisana, the young guy who sold it had the bluest eyes I have ever seen. After the gelato we went back to Il Bovaro for Vin Santo. Then, back to the hotel for cigarettes in the courtyard (Kent got a whole pack from a vending machine on the street. Was very happy.)

Tuesday. Less than great day. Woke up, got dresses and then opened the window and discovered rain. We headed out, discovered the hotel had no umbrellas for us to borrow, but at hotel’s suggestion looked for supermarket. Normally I would have been excited to see a “real” local market, but it was cold and raining and we had to cross the traffic circle of death to get to the supermarket, which of course had no umbrellas. But, on the plus side, the market was very nice – produce was impressive and in different circumstances I would have liked to browse. We left, decided to just get wet, got pastries and espresso at the same place as yesterday. The rain slowed down but we FOUGHT. I was bitchy, Kent was moody, his pronunciation of “grazie” in Italian and “UM-brella” in English were pissing me off, we stomped across the river without speaking. He bought an umbrella outside Santa Maria Novella which pissed me off even more because the rain had stopped and so we argued more. We went to the OLD Santa Maria Novella pharmacy around the corner from the church, then to the central market. Somewhere in between we made up. The butcher shops at the market were scary and impressive – heads still on everything! We walked to the Galleria del Academia to see The David, but decided the line was too long, so we just walked and walked. And walked. Basically explored the 2nd Avenue of Florence – not especially beautiful or charming, but definitely full of locals, not tourists. Eventually we made it back to the Arno, crossed before Ponte Vecchio, walked around the San Spirito are, had lunch at an overpriced Enoteca/Olio/Convivium place. I had salumi with a glass of Chianti Classico, Kent had proscuitto with warm bufalo mozzarella and a glass of Syrah. I saw on their wine list that the restaurant offered a 1997 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and decided to try it, despite the 13 euro/glass price because I don’t often taste either 100% Cabernet or 1997 vintages. The waiter had to open a new bottle for my glass, and when I first tried it, it was NOT ready for drinking, very tannin-y and brash. But with time it mellowed – it was very good, but not $15/glass-good. I wished I had ordered some cheese with it, could have used some protein to cut the acid. Regardless, after lunch, I was SLOSHED.

Staggered back towards Via Pisana and our hotel, got gelato at the place near us with the blue-eyed server, who was not there. I had pistachio, which was excellent, delicious. We sat outside and are and enjoyed the sun for a while, then walked back to the main shopping area, over the river again. Went into Prada but didn’t buy anything, drooled over hobo bag at Bottega Veneta again, then back to the hotel where I crashed. Crashed! Slept for two hours! Woke and got dresses and took a cab to Cibreo for dinner. Disappointment. Maybe it was the hype or maybe it was the bad waitress, and maybe we ordered poorly, but while it was ‘good’ it was not great, not amazing, and we could have eaten better in New York. The service was lacking, which made the whole night unremarkable – I poured our wine, both bottles! No one came to check on us, and we got stuck in a side room with a huge table of loud, obnoxious American stereotypes who asked for “regular” coffee and SANG THE CHICKEN DANCE. Ugh. But, food was good. Just not great. We had:

Bottle of Sancerre to start
Several tapas-like starters, pickled carrots, tripe salad, lima beans – loved this course.
Fish soup
Bottle of Amarone with main courses
Me - Salt cod w/toast and cod chowder
Kent – raw tuna, cut thicker than carpaccio, drizzled with oil.
Dessert was many things – cheese tart, flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake with orange marmalade -- we were the last people in the restaurant, so the server brought tons of dessert to us.

The fish soup that we both had to start was excellent, but I think the procedure for ordering threw us off – waitress, who we never saw again, sat down with us, listed the appetizers and then said, “AND NOW YOU MUST CHOOSE.” We were caught off guard, to say the least. I inquired about the salt cod and she didn’t seem to approve, suggested a combination with another entrée – both cod, 1 salt cod, 1 cod chowder. The salt cod was served with toast, good but not what I expected. Kent was also unsatisfied, didn’t know what to order, couldn’t remember the entrees, the waitress suggested brain, which he did NOT want, so he said he’d have the tuna, which was one of the items he remembered. It was good – raw, fresh, meaty – but the serving method and size seemed more like a starter crudo than an entrée. The wine was perfect, though, and I was proud for picking a good bottle, it was about 40 euro, not cheap but not too expensive. There was another table near us of three men – from what I could gather, they were working together on a merger – one was a banker, the other two (American and British) were business owners. They seemed to be having a similar experience as us, that is to say, under whelmed. Dessert was better, and the waiter who took our dessert order offered the “less-flour chocolate cake” which was undeniably charming. But it took FOREVER to get the check, we were far and away the last party in the restaurant and it is not small! While we waited outside for our taxi, we saw a very cute dog sniffing around. I pet her, and crouched down, she eventually came over and gave me kisses while I pet her some more. She had a collar and tag that said “NINA” and before we left, Kent saw the manager of the restaurant looking and gesturing to the dog. He opened the door for her and she looked back and forth between us and inside Cibreo, eventually scampered inside, where the manager said, “Oh, Nina,” and many other charming Italian words and the dog jumped on her and looked very happy. Nina was the highlight! Took a cab back to hotel and missed New York a bit.

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