Showing posts with label trattoria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trattoria. Show all posts

Friday, May 16, 2014

Five Best Trattoria in Florence: Food, Price, Atmosphere

When you're traveling through Italy, it's all about the food. Good Italian food prepared with fresh ingredients. Below is a list of the best trattorie in the city of Florence based on a combination of food, price and atmosphere. 

Trattoria Toscana Gozzi Sergio
Piazza San Lorenzo, 8r
Telephone: +39 055 281 941
Lunch only; closed Sunday and part of August

Known simply as “da Sergio,” this authentic trattoria smack in the middle of the madness of Piazza San Lorenzo began life as a wine and olive oil shop nearly a century ago by the Gozzi family. Take a seat and you’ll instantly forget about the souvenir vendors just steps outside the door. The handwritten menu is thorough but rarely deviates from Tuscan specialties and peasant standards. Start with ribollita (a mere €5), the ubiquitous Florentine bread and bean soup or the passato di fagioli (just €4.5), a delicious pairing of beans and pasta. For your secondi, bistecca alla fiorentina (about €38 a kilo—and more than enough for two or three to share) is the item to order here—big and juicy—or lombatina di vitella or veal chop at just €12.

Trattoria da Mario
Via Rosina, 2r
Telephone: +39 055 218 550
Lunch only; closed Sunday and holidays
Cash only

Just off the Piazza Mercato Centrale, da Mario established itself as a wine bar more than 60 years ago and slowly morphed into a trattoria. The dining room is strictly utilitarian—a few small wooden tables dressed up in blue-checkered linen line white tiled walls, all in full view of a glassed-in kitchen. The menu changes daily (look for a handwritten list at the door and posted on the glass partition by the cash register) and includes traditional Tuscan food lovingly created from old family recipes. They don’t take reservations and are only open for lunch—so plan accordingly—but you will not be disappointed.

Trattoria Sostanza
Via della Porcellana, 25r
Telephone: +39 055 212 691
Closed Saturday and Sunday in the off-season, and most of August
Cash only 

Trattoria Sostanza, a simple storefront eatery just a few blocks northeast of Piazza Ognissanti, has been around for more than a century and still seems untouched by time. The long, narrow dining room is surprisingly bright thanks to the gleaming white tile walls. A large collection of old photos follows Sostanza’s history—it was once called, Il Troia, or “The Trough,” a name that many locals still use today. The atmosphere, like the food, is casual. No frills just simple Tuscan dishes at a fair price. Although their bistecca is memorable, skip the beef, and try their signature dish, petto di pollo al burro (butter chicken), two plump chicken breasts sautéed in butter, and served in a dinged-up metal casserole that has seen better days. (But oh, the stories that little casserole could tell.) Top off the experience with fresh, wild strawberries anointed in wine. Reservations essential.

Trattoria I’Raddi
Via Ardiglione, 47r
Telephone: +39 055 211 072
Closed Sunday

Located at the end of a dead-end street, I’Raddi is a little hard to find but worth the effort (look for the little hand painted sign on at the top of Via Ardiglione pointing the way). The eatery is small and unassuming but modern in its clean design, a reflection of its three young owners, one of whom is creative Chef Alfonso di Noia. His menu changes every two months, tracking the seasons of fresh produce that make an appearance at the local farmers’ market. Look for the hand-written piatti del giorno posted outside daily to check out their specials. Budget-minded travelers should head to I’Raddi at lunchtime Monday through Friday where they can score a serving of homemade pasta for less than €3! Delicious desserts beautifully presented. Call to make a reservation otherwise you’ll need to share a communal table. But, hey, that’s part of the fun at I’Raddi.

These trattorie and many more are all included in the book, Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Florence 2014).  

Chow Italy: Florence 2014

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Trattoria? Osteria? What's the Difference?

When you head to Italy, you will find lots of different eating options. There's the ristorante, the trattoria, and osteria - but that's just the beginning. If you look at the signs above storefronts you'll also see tavola calda, mescita, hostaria, bottiglieria, and even the hard to pronounce, fiaschetteria. But what do they all mean? And is there really a difference between a trattoria and an osteria? 

Good question.

Long ago there were very distinct differences between say a ristorante, a formal eating establishment, and a trattoria, an informal spot that focuses on home-style cooking. These days, however, many trattorie have morphed into ristoranti, and vice versa. Don't let this frustrate you, though. It's still easy to spot the degree of difference from the moment you walk into an eatery or check the menu posted outside. In the meantime, here's a primer on the differences among all your eating options.

Ristorante: A restaurant. Here you'll find the ambiance a bit formal or at least the decor is thought out and cohesive. Tables are usually dressed in linen; tableware and china all match. Waiters are professional and knowledgeable. The menu is usually extensive and the food is often inventive (in other words, you may not find the traditional poor-man's dish of trippa). Expect to pay for all this service and forethought.
copy of the book Chow Italy

Trattoria: A small, family-run eatery that often serves a few choice regional dishes (think carbonara in Rome; ribollita in Florence; pesto in Genoa), with many of the recipes past down from generation to generation. Mom or grandma usually cooks. Dad handles the cash register. The kids wait tables. Decor can range from neat and comfortable to a real "hole in the wall." Prices are usually much less than a ristorante.

Osteria: Back in the day, an osteria, or inn, was a local gathering spot where the old men played cards and drank local wine from the innkeeper's oak barrels. It was almost like what we'd call a bar. Some served food but that wasn't the main focus. Today, however, an osteria is an eating establishment very similar to a trattoria in that they serve simple, home-cooked meals. Some have a "rustic" ambiance to them.

Hostaria and Taverna: Once bars or taverns, these establishments have slowly transformed into osterie and trattorie. They can also have a bohemian or rustic feel to them.

Mescita, Fiaschetteria, Enoteca, Bottiglieria: All wine shops, wine bars or taverns. These days, most sell a variety of panini (small sandwiches), light nibbles such as olives and cheese, as well as a few pasta and meat dishes.

Tavola Calda: Translated it means "hot table." We'd know them as quick-service fast-food places or a cafeteria. They are a great spot to get an inexpensive, home-cooked meal.

Rosticceria and Girarrosto: Quick-service fast-food establishment that mainly sells high-quality, fire-roasted chicken and other fowl. Eat in or take out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Renaissance Remembered: Trattoria La Buca delle Fate in Pienza

The beautifully designed Trattoria La Buca delle Fate wins my vote for one of the most charming trattorie in northern Italy. Located in the quintessential Renaissance hamlet of Pienza, nestled in the rolling hillsides halfway between Montalcino and Montepulciano in southeast Tuscany, La Buca makes you feel as though you're dining in a royal castle. In fact, it's housed in the restored 16th-century Palazzo Gonzaga, the former summer residence to the famous Renaissance family and art patrons that ruled Mantua for nearly 400 years. Although renovated to accommodate a modern kitchen, the dining room retains a palatial mood. Large, crumbling stone columns shoulder exposed brick archways. The cross-ribbed ceiling is as high as a cathedral's, and old-world details abound from primitive lanterns to wrought-iron, padlocked gates. Purely magical.

To start this banquet in proper style, we order Nobile Pantano, the local red wine with a pungent, dry flavor. It's just one of many from an impressive wine list. For our first course, our waitress, Rosana, suggests we try a few house specialties--pici della casa and zuppa di pane. Both are traditional peasant dishes of the region and don't disappoint. I sample the former, freshly hand-rolled pasta paired with a hearty cinghiale (wild boar) sauce but the di funghi porcini looks tempting as well. Kevin is content with the latter, a tasty combination of crusty bread soaked in a market-fresh tomato soup. Other primo piatto include tagliatelle al ragu and gnocchi di patate.

Follow the map to Trattoria La Buca
"Try the turkey," whispers Rosana when she magically appears after we've wiped our plates clean. "It's very fresh." The petto di tacchino, thick slices of turkey breast in its own savory juice, is indeed wonderful and a tribute to Tuscany's talent for roasting fowl. Kevin opts for the coniglio in umido, a delicate rabbit stew in a rich brown gravy. If only we can return another evening so we can try the mouth-watering bistecca ai ferri, Tuscany's famous grilled steak, and pollo arrosto, spit-roasted chicken. Both dishes, sizzling and fragrant, pass our table in route to other diners.

Although we're full, we're shown the dessert cart and my favorite after-dinner treat--tiramisù. Translated it means, "pick me up," and with its espresso-soaked sponge cake and fluffy mascarpone-cream filling, it does just that. Then, from beneath the cart, Rosana pulls out an unmarked bottle and motions for our glasses. She fills them halfway with a strong-smelling, orange liquid.

"Vin santo?" I ask.

She smiles and proudly nods. "It's our own, made here in town." The sweet, Italian desert wine is a perfect addition to the afternoon. Kevin and I linger at La Buca's for another hour, content as well-fed royals of long ago. When the bill arrives, it's a mere pittance, well within the commoner's budget.

Trattoria La Buca delle Fate
Corso Il Rossellino, 38
Telephone: +39-0578-748-272
Closed Monday
Approximate cost of our meal €36

Friday, August 12, 2011

How to Find a Cheap (But Good) Place to Eat in Italy

As the dollar continues to sink against the Euro (1 Euro = $1.43 as I write), it's becoming more and more difficult to travel to Italy on a tight budget. Counting pennies while dining out is an option. But do you really want to eat pizza and drink aqua minerale every night? Here are a few tips to help you experience Italy's greatest asset--food and wine--without breaking the bank.

Finding affordable places to eat in large cities
such as Florence presents a challenge.

1.) Do your research before you leave home. The Internet is a great resource to help you pinpoint dozens of low-cost eateries. Website and blogs such as this one will steer you in the right directions. Other great sites to check out include TripAdvisor, Chowhound and Slow Food. Write down your options in a small notebook to take with you. You can even draw or print up a small map using Google Maps to help you locate your finds once you arrive in Italy.

2.) Stay away from tourist centers such as the Piazza Navona in Rome or Piazza San Marco in Venice where you'll pay through the nose for the atmosphere but only taste mediocre food. Instead, get yourself a good detailed map and wander the quiet side streets where family-run trattorie offer home-cooked meals at a fraction of the price.
    3.) Head to lesser-known or up-and-coming neighborhoods. Pratti in Rome or Oltrarno in Florence both come to mind. Not only will you pay less for your meal but you're sure to have a more authentic experience eating elbow-to-elbow with other Italian families.

    4.) Avoid menus written in English or translated into seven languages, or a waiter standing on the sidewalk beckoning you to come on in. It's a sure sign of a "tourist trap."

    5.) Look and listen. Look inside to see if there's a crowd (always a good sign) and listen for Italian being spoken (ditto).
      6.) Check the prices on the menu posted outside--including "pane e coperto" or cover charge, and "servizio" or service charge--before you venture in to avoid costly surprises when the check comes. (Smaller trattorie rarely charge servizio; larger restaurants and tourist traps usually do.)
        7.) Ask a local but be cautious. The padrone or concierge at your hotel may not lead you to where the locals eat but instead to a restaurant that caters to tourists. If you make friends with the barista at the local cafe, on the other hand, she may tell you where she dines after work if you promise to keep it a secret!
          Buon appetito!

          Friday, April 15, 2011

          Dining Out in Italy: Tips for Saving Money

          Like most 20-somethings, the first time I traveled to Italy, I didn't have a lot of money. Fresh out of college and eager to explore the country, I looked for any way possible to save a euro or two (although in those days, it was a lira). Although I was traveling on a shoestring budget, I still wanted to sample the regional cuisine and wine, and I didn't want to eat just pizza every night. Through trial and error, I found lots of ways to save on my food bill. And you can, too.
          • Eat your main meal at lunch and then just snack at dinner. Many Italian eateries offer the same menu at lunch for less than what you pay at dinner, sometimes 50 percent less. But unlike here in the U.S., Italian restaurants don't stay open all afternoon. In Italy, there's no such thing as a "late lunch." So don't try to push your lunch time until late in the afternoon or you may find your intended restaurant closed.
          • Try an Italian Happy Hour. In Venice (a very expensive city, indeed), head to a local baccari, or wine bar in the early evening. There you can nibble on snacks called "cicchetti" which often include some delicious treats like crostini, fried mozzarella, salami sandwiches, olives, and marinated seafood. A plateful of several different kinds can be had for under 10 euro. But you've got to go early. Italians may eat dinner late but they eat cicchetti right after work. Other Italian cities have also embraced the Happy Hour concept, too. Buy a drink and nosh on a delightful selection of stuzzichini, or "little snacks" in apertivi bars in Rome, Florence, and Milan. 
          • You can save money while dining in Italy.
          • Stay away from restaurants near major tourist destinations. Restaurants near the Piazza San Marco in Venice or the Piazza Navona in Rome are expensive, the patronage touristy, and the food often mediocre. (Although it can be fun to grab a table and order a drink at one of the outdoor cafes and people watch just as long as you're aware that you're paying for the ambiance). Instead wander the backstreets and neighborhoods in search of family-run trattorie. There you'll find local, regional dishes for less than big-city restaurants. Look for simple menus printed in Italian--not a half dozen languages--a good indication that it's a local establishment. The more basic the menu and bare-bones the interior, usually the better the price of your meal.
          • Leave the city altogether. City restaurants tend to cater to tourists; the suburbs are for the locals. In Rome, for instance, just a few miles from the city center at the beginning of the historic Appia Antica (Via Appia), and you'll find Trattoria Priscilla. It's an unassuming small eatery off the beaten track, and therefore, less expensive. Here you can get a bowl of fresh pasta for 9 euro; a grilled veal chop with roasted potatoes for 11 euro.
          • Create your own Italian smorgasbord. Head to the local market for a bottle of wine, a loaf of crusty bread, a hunk of cheese, and some fresh fruit. Then head to a park for a picnic. Or, if you lucked out and got yourself a "room with a view," head back to your hotel for a do-it-yourself room service meal.
          • Don't forget these little gems. A tavola calda is a small, self-service cafeteria, but the food rivals any cafeteria I've ever eaten in! Chefs display an array of hot and cold platters of gorgeous grilled vegetables, sandwiches, pastas and salads--all for very reasonable prices. A popular take-out restaurant plentiful throughout Tuscany is the rosticceria which specializes in grilled meats. Their spit-roasted chickens are to die for! And, of course, don't forget the ubiquitous pizzeria. After all, a trip to Italy wouldn't be the same without a slice or two.
          • Vino della Casa. These three little words mean "the house wine." Locally produced, house wine boasts superior quality and the price can't be beat. So skip the bottle and order a liter or half of vino della casa.
          • Accept an invitation from a local. If you're lucky enough to be studying abroad in Italy and befriend a local, graciously accept an invitation to join him at home for a true Italian experience.
          What are your tips for saving money while dining out in Italy?