By Don and Linda Freedman

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ITALY Fall 1998 (3)
Index of this travelogue


The Hotel De La Ville, Piazza Antinori, 1 Via Tornabuoni, Firenze, is a ten minute walk from the train station and in a perfect, central location for walking anywhere in the city. This four star beauty has a cordial and well-trained staff, graciously and unobtrusively looking after their guests' comfort. Our soundproofed room was large and tastefully furnished with a king size bed, sofa, coffee table, desk and chair and lots of closet space. The windowed bathroom and heated towel racks were appreciated amenities.

We decided to try the highly recommended Il Latini at Via dei Palchetti 6r. We arrived just before the throngs and were seated at a community table, which is part of the experience in this eatery. We watched as the lines of anxious diners lengthened throughout our meal.

After ten minutes a waiter appeared and in a rushed manner wanted to bring us the house specialty, assorted meats and crostini. He was not pleased when we rejected the offering and he proceeded to rattle off other possibilities. He became really exasperated when I asked him for a menu. It took forever for it to arrive, but in the interim our table had filled with other tourists with whom we were exchanging travelers' chat.

We started with ribollita - we love this Tuscan bread and vegetable soup. It was as poor a preparation of this classic dish as we have had. Linda's ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a spicy tomato sauce was average, at best. My roast rabbit was an unusual presentation of the intact, scrawny body, simply roasted and devoid of flavor. The wait between courses was extensive and when the food arrived it was thrown on the table. We were almost finished with our meals when our neighbors received their first courses. I don't understand the long waiting lines at this place.

It doesn't seem right to be talking about a meal right after talking about a meal. But nevertheless we are programmed to have breakfast each morning and the buffet was what one would expect from a four star hotel. The issue is how not to overeat so you have open-to-buy for the rest of the day - dream!

We love just wandering the streets of Firenze discovering new treasures; combined with the search for gold earrings for our anniversary (for Linda, not me!), the days aren't long enough.

We found our way to the magnificent synagogue, which has been very well preserved and maintained; the Moorish and Byzantine design is stunning. As always when visiting a synagogue in Europe, thoughts of the holocaust tear deeply.
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For market enthusiasts, the old market in Piazza Ghiberti was a neat discovery, particularly the tavola calda Da Rollo inside. With seats and booths around a counter, frantic staff dished-out lunch hour delights at reasonable prices to dedicated regulars who devoured the market-fresh food and headed back to work. A great budget meal in a down-to-earth setting, we shared good-size portions of mixed green salad, fagioli, a salad of barley, tomato, cucumber and onion and a platter of thin-sliced rare roast beef.

The search for gold (earrings in this case) always starts at the Ponte Vecchio. Here's where you go to see the design selections and get a fix on the pricing. Next, as you wander the streets, you stop at every jeweler (or so it seemed) to increase your knowledge. Then it's time to get serious about finding the perfect pair at the right price (I thought that's what we had been doing!). At G. Ciampini, Borgo SS.Apostoli 4, it was finally Happy Anniversary, Linda time. It's a tiny place with a small but superb selection and Gina works with you to make the right decision. When it came down to picking one from the two pairs we'd narrowed it down to, Gina said she thought the less expensive pair better suited Linda. That's the kind of honesty that's pretty hard to come by.

We have had very inconsistent eating experiences in Firenze, from very good to poor - never excellent. This was our lucky trip, thanks to Roberto, the concierge at the Hotel De La Ville. His first choice was La Maremma, Via Verdi 16r. It's now our first choice!

Upon entering the pleasant Tuscan environment, the wonderful aromas from the semi-open kitchen in the rear assail you. Co-owner Enzo deftly handles the front, graciously seating the diners and in his low-key, unpretentious manner seeing to it that they feel comfortable and important. Co-owner Fabrizio is the master of the cucina. When we get a good feeling about a ristorante and particularly when the owner is looking after us, we like to leave the menu selection to him. Enzo was happy to oblige, but correctly insisted upon a bit of our participation.

We started with an assortment of three antipasti: salami with fresh figs, crostini ai frutti di mare (very fresh mussels, clams and octopus) and crostini with warm chicken liver pate'. Each was a gem - from the homemade salami with delicate figs to the seafood in a light, savory sauce to the uniquely-seasoned pate. The primi piatti of large, delicate ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta in a basil and walnut sauce with a touch of Parmigiano-Reggiano and cream and the gorgonzola risotto were heavenly . Our secondo piatto was a grilled, sliced Florentine steak, crispy outside with a warm, red center - as tender a steak as we've ever had anywhere. It was served on a bed of barely cooked arugula. What is there after heaven? A nice, cool, fresh fruit salad topped off the meal and we lingered over the last of the quite good house Chianti.
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The second choice was around the corner from our hotel, Ristorante Buca Lapi, Via del Trebbio 1. Buca means cave and that means one must walk down a long flight of steps to get to this restaurant. Considering the size of the portions, one must be in good shape to climb your way out. At the foot of the stairs is a large, open, sparkling kitchen with five white robed chefs happily and professionally working as a team amongst the big chunks of beef and veal hanging from the ceiling and piled high on the counters.

We started with crostone con zucchini and acciughe (baby zucchini and a hint of anchovy marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar). Our primi selections were pappardelle fresche al cinghiale (fresh wide noodles with wild boar sauce) and pici sensi con salsiccia e finoccio selvatico (homemade long pasta with sausage and wild fennel sauce). Fortunately, they were wise enough to give us some time to digest before the secondi piatti arrived. It was a good opportunity to relax and enjoy the house Chianti. Lombatina di vitella alla Buca Lapi was a medium-thick slice of very tender veal on the bone, lightly breaded and braised and topped with asparagus, artichoke, funghi and Gruyere. Coniglio fritto con zucchini was delicious fried, meaty chunks of rabbit and zucchini. Each and every course was superb. I must admit that we were unable to finish the last course as the portions were just too large; had we known, we'd have ordered fewer courses. Even we have our limit!

In these last two restaurants, we were treated individually and with care. We were not rushed despite the fact that both places were filled with diners. Many of the eateries in this city (particularly those offering community seating) treat their patrons like cattle which might be fine for a one-time experience at a theme restaurant but for the most part reduces the enjoyment of the dining experience (for us, anyway). That sort of treatment is reminiscent of the complaints we hear so often from people who have traveled with tour groups as opposed to independently.
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to next pageto Camogli or choose a city below

(1) Rome
(2) Chiusi
(3) Firenze
(4) Camogli
(5) Genova
(6) Bellagio
(7) Valle d'Aosta
(8) Torino
(9) Piemonte
(10) Pavia & Stresa

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