Gilda’s Bistrot- my favorite coffee and pastry bar in Florence

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There is nothing more than I love than character and quality. One may say a cappuccino is nothing more than milk and espresso, but for me it is a coveted pleasure that I partake in at few places. There are a few things that can put me in a funk and one of those is a bad cappuccino, and you may think that could never happen in the country of coffee culture but I assure you it does and it does for many reasons. 1. The method in which milk is steamed is fundamental. 2. How it is poured over and weaved into the luscious dark espresso and 3. How much the barista actually cares about their job. Anytime I have been into Gilda’s, it has been like walking into a friend’s home. There is no high pressure. There are no overwhelming crowds. There is not some hungover barista annoyed by your caffeine feening existence. There is a little spread of homemade pastries welcoming your arrival into this little peaceful nook into the heart of the very Florentine Sant’Ambrogio, one of the most special neighborhoods in the food-loving world.

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According to their website, the bar is from an old bank in Turin which operated in the 1920′s

I quite enjoy the presence of Gilda, her wildly awesome red hair reminding me of Lucille Ball and an unforgettable thick Florentine accent, chit-chatting with the locals discussing probably really important things but all I can notice is the art nouveau decor, attention to detail and how really eclectic just having breakfast can be in Florence.

(thanks, google images!)

(thanks, google images!)

If Gilda is not at the bar serving up smooth coffee, her son is. Funny story: for the longest time I thought this gentleman was her husband. She is just that badass that I would have pegged her with a man young enough to be her son.

They have a lunch and dinner menu’ too which I have yet to try. They source their fruits and vegetables from select vendors/producers in the Sant’Ambrogio Market while they source their meat from farmers in Piedmont which includes heritage breeds of cattle (beef) and source fish from a local cooperative in Viareggio.

There is no table charge and breakfast at Gilda’s offers you a sweet oasis from the usual coffee bars dotted all over Florence. The pastries change every day, for example I had one recently with summer apricots and a dot of custard and the most perfectly buttery, flaky chew.

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90 cents gets you a slice of heaven. AKA more buns for your buns.

I'll just take the whole thing, thanks.

I’ll just take the whole thing, thanks.

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….And this is why I will probably have diabetes by the time I’m 30 for as long as I continue to live in Florence…

I was not paid or endorsed for this post. I just felt like sharing. All pictures (minus one) are mine. So go and visit Gilda and her son (not her husband) in Florence:

Gilda Bistrot 

Piazza Lorenzo Ghilberti
50100 – Florence – Italy
tel. +39 055 234 3885
e-mail: info@gildabistrot.it

Looking for more authentic advice for food, dining, travel tips, drinks and more in Florence? Contact me!

Flavio Al Velavevodetto Osteria in Rome, Italy

For those of you who may not know the entire history of my Italian love affair, I should let you know that I spent 2 semesters studying abroad in Rome during my undergraduate studies. The 1st program I did was a language and culture program where I lived with a host family in 2007 and the 2nd program was the Geopolitics and Anthropology of Food in 2009 where I lived in a sort of dorm apartment in Campo de’ Fiori.  So between living with a family and then living in the dead center studying food at its political core, I picked up a slight appreciation for Roman food culture. It has been years since then and my last 2 years of rustic Tuscan food have washed away most of my Roman food memories. When I first moved to Florence, I romanticized Rome and my faint memories of oxtail, pizza by the squared “slice”, sheep’s milk pecorino cheese, pasta carbonara and amatriciana. I thought Rome had a funkier (meaning cool) food culture than Florence that was just poor man’s food with loads of re-purposed stale bread.

I have been back to Rome a few times and now that my tastes in restaurants and local cuisine are constantly evolving I purposely seek out what local bloggers are raving about together with the restaurants I learned existed during my time working for a food and wine tour operator in Florence. Flavio al Velavevodetto was a restaurant I was instructed to send clients to and I also spotted it in an, albeit outdated, article from The Guardian. So I thought I must try this the next time I am in Rome. Plus, the founder of the Slow Food Movement (Carlo Petrini) is said to dine here on his jaunts to Rome. Basically, a must-do for my political palate.

I have to say, I wasn’t extremely impressed. Mostly with the service, to be quite fair. The food was hit and miss. The prices were actually not bad. Very affordable considering everything we consumed.

My main complaints were: Ordering took a very long time. Meaning, we were there for about a half an hour before we could order. The wine list was never brought. And I didn’t ask for it. If you can’t bring me a list which then inspires me to spend more money than the barely drinkable house wine, then why should I? When we could finally order, I asked for advice as it was my first time and I wanted something really good and typical. I originally wanted the fettuccine with seafood but they had apparently just sold out. Which is kind of b.s. in my opinion, if they had been a little efficient about taking our order perhaps they wouldn’t have sold out? And apart from that, the restaurant wasn’t even at full capacity so how did they not plan ahead? I was particularly looking forward to the seafood pasta because on the bottom of the menu’, in fine print, where it usually says “items with an aterisk denote a previously frozen product” instead delightfully boasted that all seafood was fresh and collected from the local markets the same day. I have to cut them some slack for that.

So mind you, I was in Rome this last weekend which is the middle of July. And the advice he gave me? . Trippa alla Romana. Tripe. Tripe??? That is not very seasonally appropriate. It’s the equivalent of going into Zara and asking what’s their top seller in July and them suggesting me to try a fall sweater. Okay…so then instead I ordered the other suggestion which were fried meatballs that came with some sauteed chicory greens and potatoes. Can’t go wrong, right? Also very seasonal and appropriate. The potatoes had a tough, chewy skin and a mushy grainy flesh. Which means they probably were baked ages ago and then possibly reheated in the microwave. The fried meatballs however were absolutely gorgeous. Very hearty portions, consistent in texture, tasty, herby and had the perfect crunchy crust on the outside. Really, they scored on the balls man. But one of my pet peeves in restaurants is when they screw up potatoes.

We ordered a starter of eggplant parmigiana which was really tasty, just the right amount of salty with delicious cheeses,  crispy on the edges, soft fried flesh eggplant slices (not soggy!) and a tangy rich tomato sauce. It was lovely. A plate of very soft, fresh and buttery prosciutto. And an interesting plate of zucchini dressed in a sort of mint, roasted garlic and olive oil sauce. The zucchine were a bit overcooked but that happens in just about every restaurant I have been to in Italy. I.e. overcooked zucchine. But it wasn’t so overcooked that they became mush, they just had little bite to them. But that mint sauce was pretty phenomenal. I want to try to recreate that somehow.

Then throughout the evening, I saw desserts flying around in a cup that seemed to be a deep goldish-looking zabaglione cream tiramisu’ with a dollop of dark chocolate on top. It looked decadent so I just had to have one. Mistake. The cup was basically pure cream (zabaglione). I had to fish for the cookie (ladyfingers) that are supposed to be layered throughout the iconic Tiramisu’ dessert. It was literally cream, chopped dark chocolate bits, 12,000 calories of butterfat and 1.5 pieces of what seemed to be a dry cookie (which in normal tiramisu’ should be a bit soft as it has usually been touched with liquid espresso before layering it in.) In fairness to Flavio, one of the locals at dinner told me this is a new trend among Rome, to make super cream rich Tiramisu’ in a glass with more chocolate and less cookie. It’s a trend that I am afraid is not too kind to my derrière.

I don’t know what to do, my dear curious readers. I walked inside at some point and noticed their wonderful wines by the bottle selection that I would have adored to order. The place is comfy and truly Roman in style. The food has a lot to offer (the lucky bastards who did manage to get the seafood fettuccine looked like they were eating a little piece of heaven). But the service has got to pick up, man. And make a tiramisu’ that isn’t a cream bomb’! What is the point of going out to eat if the service is DIY? At that point, I’ll cook at home and save myself a food heartbreak from someone like Flavio.

I was racked with guilt for having sent clients here in the past knowing what I had just experienced. But my friends reassured me that I am just more aware and they wouldn’t have noticed what I did. That they enjoyed it. House wine and all. Just like the little stain on your shirt that no one sees until you point it out.

Will I continue to send people here? To be determined…

In dining dilemma,

Curious Appetite

DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions. If you don’t like them, well you don’t have to read them.

 

 

Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence (Italy)

As much as I enjoy a fancy cave aged, herb crusted goats milk Tomme cheese and a oily, aromatic glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Dolomites, at the end of the day I simply adore a good rustic Tuscan greasy spoon hole-in-the-wall with house wine that could pass just as easily as an oily gasoline…

This is what I ACTUALLY adore most about Florence. It’s the family run, health department renegades, the hole-in-the-wall where you sit elbow to elbow with strangers at your table, the Tuscan peasant food oasis that has abso-fucking-lutely ZERO pretension…Italian food is this to me. Fancy name brand chef restaurant serving shot glasses of heirloom tomato coulis and vanilla pod risotto with some equally pretentious mystery “foam” that lacks not only soul but the ability to make you break a sweat when you’ve eaten a little too well. Put it away. I don’t want it. Unless a gorgeous Mediterranean man is insisting on taking me there (happens ALL the time!), I will snub it just like it snubs me with its out of reach menu prices.

Which brings me to my next point is that these greasy spoon, Tuscan hole-in-the-walls are affordable. And meant for the blue (or skirt?) collar wallet.

A friend of mine in Florence whispered to me sweet nothings recently, aka restaurant recommendations which may as well be dirty talk in my foodgeek world, and it was this pretty solid Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence.

I am a bit hesitant to trust his recommendation because it is located in one of the most candy coated touristic corners of Florence: San Lorenzo which is extremely hit or miss.  Some spots are extremely authentic and utterly Florentine while others make me want to cry in a corner, shake my fists and curse everything that American pop culture superimposed on the world. And it’s round the corner from the line up of tourist trap restaurants (with few exceptions).

Historical, Florentine restaurant for the last 60 years.

Historical, Florentine restaurant for the last 60 years.

But albeit being mixed up with the bad culture kids on the block, most aimless fanny-pack wanderers would not be able to easily stumble upon Mario’s. Great. The front entrance is almost undetectable and plastered with guidebook stickers and newspaper reviews from over the years. It looks like it’s not open, but it is. Indeed it is.

Walk in. Stick to a corner where the waitstaff couldn’t possibly knock you in the head with a massive platter of bistecca fiorentina (the Florentine t-bone) or pour a crock pot of Tuscan ribollita soup (twice cooked peasant “kitchen sink” soup) all over your pathetic clean clothes that are about to get ruined anyways (despite your best efforts) by crunchy skinned fried rabbit, saucy oily zucchini ravioli and the token splatter of fiasco bottled “chianti” house wine.

Do not ask for a well-done steak in Florence. Please.

Do not ask for a well-done steak in Florence. Please.

Put your name on the list and wait to smash in next to a couple of others who if they don’t become your best friends afterwards, are probably just French.

Fancy, Michelin-starred multi-course menu. Obviously.

Fancy, Michelin-starred multi-course menu. Obviously.

The menu is written on paper on the wall. There might be a dog in the kitchen. The old man is hacking a massive row of t-bones right in front of you (well, behind the kitchen which is transparent and protected by some sort of glass. There is the waitress’s daughter sneaking bites of potatoes from ready plates and from the fryer (I bet. I’m onto you, kiddo!) and a very cute cook giving you googly-eyes (or you imagine that’s it and not just his lazy eye which got burnt from too much hot grease). You are immediately thrown into the chaos and your job is to embrace it, watch steak getting hacked and order as fast as you can.

Meet your meat.

Meet your meat.

Me and a lovely partner in eating crime ordered: Tuscan Zucchini Ravioli stuffed with ricotta. Fried bunny thighs. Panzanella salad.

Word to the wise: Vegetables at these casareccia, casalinga, greasy-spoon mom & pop trattoria places will ALWAYS be soggy, over-boiled, over-oiled and greasy. Any hope in nutritional value has been washed down the drain. That is not why you are here. Want vitamins? Take a vitamin. Or eat your frilly salad at home to save calories for gut busting jaunts like these.

The pasta will not be al-dente. You will be lucky it wasn’t sold out since these primi piatti usually sell-out in the first hour or so during lunch. And that grease puddle is what that tasteless Tuscan bread is for: la scarpetta. La scarpetta means “the little shoe” and is that chunk of bread you dance around your plate with to sop up what juice is left.

Silly rabbit...

Silly rabbit…

The fried bunny (rabbit) tasted like fried chicken. A thick fried layer of batter blanketing a very white moist thigh meat. Ditch the dainty fork and knife, sink your teeth into that thigh like it was Jessica Rabbit’s.

The panzanella was forgettable. Panzanella is a peasant bread salad served in the summer with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onions. I absolutely usually don’t like raw onions but if thinly sliced, I can manage. But these were like massive haphazard chunks that seemed like they had been cut with a butter knife. I guess they were saving their chopping/slicing energies for the massive rack of steak.

The meal ended with a chat to a group of gentlemen, one of which looked like Ray from Girls (but a more handsome, Roman version) and strangely enough I couldn’t stop looking at him (shameless) and soon enough either my own googly-eye-ing or the random old man singing “happy birthday!” (probably the latter) got us over at their table, slamming down more wine, laughs and culture exchanges and moving over to the nearby bar for a post-meal coffee and shots of limoncello. At four in the afternoon. And this, my dear readers, is why I can’t see a country better to live in than this.

With wholly adoration for il bel paese,

Curious Appetite

p.s. Useful info: Trattoria Mario is only open for lunch Monday-Saturday.

http://trattoria-mario.com

 

 

 

First Floor of Mercato Centrale in Florence

(photo from google: Top Floor of Mercato Centrale)

(photo from google: Top Floor of Mercato Centrale)

Mercato Centrale is a historic food market in the San Lorenzo district of Florence, Italy. The district itself is utterly famous for the leather and tourist trap stands (selling mostly overpriced souvenirs and sometimes poor quality leather goods) lining the streets wrapping around the market. The reason I don’t particularly like these stalls is that they block the way of some truly legitimate foodie joints like Casa del Vino and the historical carb-oasis Forno, not to mention amazing cafes, wine shops and kitchen gadget shops. I think in someways, the mercato centrale is a huge sellout to its historical roots. There still remains some rustic Florentine spirit, amazing fruit and veg vendors, fish mongers, butchers, bakeries and wine shops…not to mention the always valid Nerbone comfort food pitstop which melts my heart with its luscious boiled beef sandwich with hearty Tuscan men serving it up to match and solid greasy spoon primi  (like a rich, ragu’ smothered lasagnole pasta) which washes away any cynicism I may have walked into the market with.

The top floor of the Mercato Centrale has always been a mystery to me as up until recently, it was an unused space and now has been transformed into what I deem a sort of upscale food court, but that the marketers term “Street Food with Comfort”. In short, I absolutely love the idea. Finally. Something young and modern in the Florentine food scene. I love the rustic hole in the walls and food markets, but you know sometimes I want to see a semi-pretentious hipster food haven for the younger foodie scene in Florence. I like that there is a collection of food stands in one bustling space where it feels just a little like something I would find in London. I.e. Borough Market. Basically how it works seems like a food court. You pick your food from the variety of stands and mosey over to the bar or seating area to nosh. You can bring food to the bars which is nice. Easy access to booze.

But of course, because I am a critic there are things I must slam. The chairs: I personally don’t like to hover over a beer or a food plate. The high tables have even higher chairs.  The inconsistency in service and quality: Once I visited the Il Fritto e Le Polpette stand which does only fried meatballs and battered fried seasonal veggies. No,actually I visited twice. The 1st time was pretty solid. Crunchy yet soft oily salty (aka blood pressure enemy) veg basket with warm, plump and savory balls (that could be rude!). The second time the staff were completely useless, apathetic (probably from being tired and overworked. Or Florentine.) And the veg fry was almost inedible, too mushy and absolutely no flavor. The polpette, served almost with disdain and resentment by the staff, were cold, dry and puny. For 11 euros, I expect a little more than cold meatballs and baby food.

The wine bar is pretty lame. It’s operated by the Consortium for Chianti Classico so I am a bit surprised by the lack of satisfaction I gained from my experiences there. Once I went with friends and asked the staff for a wine list and they said very menofregista (could care less attitude)  “we have these wine by the glass”  Which were a few Tuscan reds and a mysterious “Bianco” which meant absolutely nothing to me. For being a DOCG Consortium run wine bar, I expected more.  I asked what could he suggest by the bottle and he said ” we have everything here as you can see” and points to the wall of wines. Excuse me, sir. I know you have a wine list somewhere- how am I supposed to know what your stock is?? How hard is it to talk to me? Or better yet, sell me something? Why are you working behind a bar if you are so rude and antisocial?  I swear, some people in Florence need to learn service- I know your job is rough and you’re working crazy hours and it doesn’t pay great but suck it up or quit. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you how incredibly hilarious I find the amount of effort one puts into being a jerk when it is so much easier to be nice. And another time I went, we brought some fried fish over (which was also a bland tragedy that was worse than the fish and chips I had in my University cafeteria) and they had run out of white wine by the glass. Okay…luckily they had some franciacorta (the champagne of Italy) but how could a wine bar run out of white wine in the (nearly) summer? I mean, I can’t say franciacorta wasn’t an amazing back-up plan but you get my drift I hope.

Anyways, back to my 1st story (rant). Finally, I managed to fanagle a wine list from a fairly competent woman who was pleasant and after dealing with my dates and making a final decision on a bottle, the sir returned to pour. Insultingly enough, even though I had done most of the wine questioning, he directed the 1st pour to my male (Italian) friend who actually then passed it to me to check for cork. Maybe it was a coincidence, but that is not the point in service. No matter how crazy your clientele (i.e. me) is, they should never leave a customer questioning or doubting the level or quality of service they were provided. I’m not a wine expert (I dabble!), but bar staff should first ask who is tasting rather than assume it’s the local male. Or maybe he was just a knob.

Another last jab I’ll twist into this critical rant, is that all the TV screens together with the Ikea furnishings make some parts of the place feel like an airport lounge.  And what’s up with the Vietnamese-esque hanging wicker and cane lamps? Someone pointed out to me that Florence has a unique history with basket weaving (think fiasco!) so why would they choose these decorations that obviously look like more Ikea accoutrements when the market is supposed to represent Florentine traditions, albeit with a modern twist? I know it probably came down to the almighty budget and this one is probably a harsher criticism than necessary but I just had to say it.

I must give some positive vibes somewhere in this post. The pizzeria Sud: go. Just go. The manager is really sweet and it rubs off on his staff. The pizza is pretty damn super as it is the same masterminds behind Caffe Italiano (one of the best pizzerias in Florence, hands-down).  And they make a cheesecake which rocks my world. And I usually never go crazy for cheesecake. It’s something so creamy, full of flavor and texture and cosmically delicious.

Also, the barmen? Oh, hello. Not bad eye candy, ladies! Those little vests, wannabe speakeasy vibe and hipster hats can serve me mass-produced beer anytime of the day.  A side note because I’m starting to get too nice: why the heck aren’t they showcasing more artisan, Italian beers on tap??

The final verdict: I will still go. I’ll just avoid the places I ripped into. The cheesemongers look promising as does the meat stand that serves up mean tagliere charcuterie boards and my favorite: steak tartare. And I am at the end of the day, glad they are there to represent modern Italian food culture in such a traditional location while also being one of the few spots in Florence that breathes a European air.

In fierce criticism,

Curious Appetite

 

 

 

White wine pairing tips for cheesy, saucey foods.

I live in Florence and summer has indeed arrived. Except for today. Which is why I am not a sweaty mess and why I can even stand to be near my computer. It’s so funny to see my friends in Seattle through the social media webs wearing light spring jackets and here I am pushing the envelope basically trying to see how much I can get away with not wearing and pondering how sheer I can really get away with because I feel like I am going to die if I wear anything other than a gel pack of ice. I am exaggerating, after all I could be in Cairo where it’s like 110  degrees. Anyways, I digress as usual.

I am very weary of red wine in the warmer months in Florence, not only because to me red wine says cozy sweater and fireplace recounting the days I spent backpacking through Europe saving baby kittens from olive trees, but because most shop keepers are infuriatingly aloof about how they store their wine on the shelves. A wine shelf near the door is a horrible idea. And unless it is a super market, or a very smartly designed shop (that is not ever in direct sunlight) or has the luxury to invest in air-conditioning I don’t trust poorly stored red wine to be anything but vinegar or acidic grape juice at best.

Apart from that, I honestly can’t fathom consuming something that isn’t cold. I recently had a dilemma where I wanted to make an eggplant parmigiana but didn’t want a red wine. In normal weather circumstances, I would usually go for like a Negroamaro from Puglia or a Barbera from Piedmont for a baked cheese, vegetable and tomato dish like an eggplant parmigiana (or even for like a cheesy lasagna too) but I wanted to figure out how I could pair with some white wines. So I went to the wine shop at Eataly on a Sunday to stare at all the bottles hoping my food and wine pairing classes would flood my memory. Here is what I managed to pick out after many minutes scratching my head and having a lot of “oh yeah!” moments:

photo4(2)I wanted to stick to a white wine from Southern Italy because I am obsessed with gastronomic identity, meaning to pair local wines with the local cuisine. In theory, an elegant white wine from the Langhe (in the Northern, Slow Food capital region Piedmont) such as Marin by Fontanafredda could have sufficed just as easily as a rich, aromatic yet balanced Sauvignon by Bastianich from Friulli. But I wanted to go down south where the dish originates. You should still try these with something cheesy or creamy like risotto, the traditional Piemontese vitello tonnato (which is boiled veal in tuna mayonnaise) or anything with seafood, of course.

In the end, this is what I found and which I suggest for a baked cheese and tomato dish like Eggplant Parmigiana:

COS Rami Sicilian White (as early as 2012) This is a very unconventional winery which specializes in local, indigenous grape varieties and abides by biodynamic production methods. The particular grapes showcased in COS’s Rami are Inzolia and Grecanico.

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photo5(3)But what I ended up choosing was a Sicilian Viognier by Calatrasi & Miccichè. This would be good also with a chicken dish in a cream sauce or a creamy mushroom risotto- perhaps not exactly Sicilian foods but just to give you an idea what Viognier could also match well with.
Photo from the googleland

Photo from the googleland

 

I picked this because Viognier tends to be a richer white wine, what I like to call a greasy wine which give a nice full mouth watering start and long finish but not too fruity or aromatic, with just a tinge of petrol on the nose which for me is also why I call it greasy. This was a great wine pair for a saucy, creamy ricotta filled Eggplant Parmigiana which I proudly made, by grilling (not frying) the eggplant, and whipping up the tomato sauce from scratch with heirloom umami rich tomatoes, garlic, herby olive oil from the most recent fall’s pressing and fresh basil.

I'm hungry just looking at this ricotta eggplant burger looking thing.

I’m hungry just looking at this ricotta eggplant burger looking thing.

In my posts regarding food and wine pairing, I don’t go into the tasting notes too much because I just want readers to know what’s good in my opinion and to find out for themselves. Wine is all about opinion. And these are my suggestions that you can take or leave. This is my blog and this is what I think.

In my humble opinion,

Curious Appetite

 

 

 

Food and wine pairing- Tagliata steak and Chianti

Before I moved to Italy, I dabbled in food and wine pairing classes in Seattle and in certain ways I feel like it was easier to play and experiment around with food/wine pairing at home than it is here…WAITAMINUTELETMEESPLAIN!

Because in Seattle we have amazing shops for wine including little boutiques that specialize in hand picked small selections and big mega stores that could be the mall of wine for all I know. Which means, international wines. I’ve been lucky to find a few international labels in wine shops here, but mostly French. So. Typical.

Anyways, but I have become curious again to exercise my food and wine training that I feel is slipping away. Generally I know what wine to order when out at dinner or what wine to pick up for a home cooked meal, but I got out of practice of intentional pairing. Like looking for the exact wine that would be the exceptional pairing with something I was preparing.

And in terms of Italian wine, I am more lost than I ever have been. Before I came, I thought I knew a thing or two about wine. I had some basics like I must say my palate and nose were very well trained and I can now pick up cork from a kilometer away and if there are little nuances like shower curtain or soy sauce on the nose as well as fruit cocktail or buttered peach on the palate. This is why taking wine classes/training are absolutely crucial, especially for bloggers and especially for bloggers who write about food and wine. Or for anyone who is really curious about wine.  But the reason I am lost about Italian wine is that I now know what is important- and it’s not the grape or the type of wine but it’s the producer and the exact location of the vineyards, better known in snobby sideways wine terms as terroir. So there I was all cocky with my yeah I know Barolo, Chianti Classico and Brunello, yeah those are like amazing Italian red wines and all you need to bank on! Not true! It’s all about learning about the producers and the zones where they were produced. Dammit. Time to hit the books (or the wine country!)!

I digress.

Recently I made Tagliata which is a main dish popularly known in Tuscany and typical to its cuisine. It is sliced steak on a bed of arugula and shaved parmigiana (or grana in my case) with salt and pepper and perhaps a dash of REALLY good balsamico.

The trick to tagliata or steak in general is to leave the steak to relax in the fridge for at least 3 days after getting it from the market. I waited 3 but I could have easily waited another 2 but I’m American and still paranoid about bacteria and mold cooties. In any case, it was still pretty soft and melt in your mouth. My method is to grill a steak for about 3 minutes on each side if the thickness is about 2 fingers thick. I like it to be a little rare on the inside. Yeah, bacteria weird- raw meat I love. Yes, I know I make no sense. Anyways! Then when I flipped the steak, I top it with sale grosso (coarse salt) while the other side is searing. The heat helps the salt melt into the flesh. And then finish with a dousing of fresh cracked pepper.

Steak and red wine- swoon!

Steak and red wine- swoon!

I paired this with a Chianti from Colli Fiorentini  (to be precise, Florentine Hills in Chianti just 20 minutes outside Florence) by the producer Guido Gualandi. Why did I choose this? Well, this little find was made from organic and green farming methods and the producer is very interesting as he has a very romantic approach to wine making (still enlists the typical I Love Lucy grape squashing press) and is very dedicated to ancient vines and autochthonous grape varieties, ancient methods, and small production as this particular Chianti only bottled 10,000 which equates to 833 cases. Also what I liked was the price tag. Retail it goes for €9.90 but at my tried and trusted wine shop it was only €7.50. It was a great match for the steak. Why? Well, since it wasn’t too heavy or aged, it didn’t dominate the flavors of the steak. In fact, it complimented it and there was this dance of smoked cherry with spicy pepper and fatty savory steak flavors waltzing away on my palate. Simply spot on, especially if you are like me and a pragmatic minded foodie. The steak was about €3 from the market so I got away with a lux meal that in Florence would have easily cost me €30 euros (if not more) cost less than half that and with the view of the duomo from my beautiful Florentine apartment. Ahhhh…

The view from my dreamy palace by day

The view from my dreamy palace by day

I suggest you try this at home but what I can’t promise is the views and the quality of meat if you are buying outside of Europe.

View by (almost) night. Ideal for dinner.

View by (almost) night. Ideal for dinner.

Until next time,

Curious Appetite.

p.s. Useful links:

How to find wine from Guido Gualandi:

http://centovigneitalia.it/vino_italiano/catalogsearch/result/?q=gualandi

Official website for Guido Gualandi wines in Tuscany:

http://www.guidogualandi.com/English/index.html

More about Chianti wines from Colli Fiorentini:

http://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-chianti+colli+fiorentini

Buon appetito!

Gluten-Free food in Florence and Italy in general

Every so often friends from back home come and visit me. It’s a very exciting moment for me because I get to show them everything I love about Italy and for them to see me in the element I write home so much about. The hope is that they will fall in love with Italy at least just a little bit and go home with a unique experience of Italy. As you can see, I work in travel!:) So I usually go to the market to stock up on all my favorite ingredients for the Italian dishes I plan to make in between going out to eat, of course! I recently had a friend come visit and I had a slight intuition to ask if they had any food allergies and they confirmed the following: dairy and gluten. Luckily, I was still at the store when I asked. I looked down at my cart and had a moment of panic as I had mostly stocked up on fancy mozzarellas, special pastas, and other typical Italian products that of course had dairy and gluten. I was definitely glad I asked but also a little worried about how I could get around this obstacle. I went over to the gluten-free section of the supermarket (the coop) and almost everything (minus the pastas) had butter or some sort of dairy product. Really???! I shook my panic off and instead took this as a challenge. I was determined to show her a delicious Italy and disprove the idea that it’s all pizza and pasta.

If you think about it- the Mediterranean diet is all about whole foods and pure ingredients. Appetizers can be marinated vegetables, olives, grilled veggies, cold cuts, olive oil and crudités (pinzimonio), fried polenta and so on. First courses can be bean soups (crema di ceci!), risotti (made without cheese) and rice salads. Mains are usually meat or seafood based and not usually made with cheese unless it’s like involtini or polpette, but it is quite doable to find main courses without cheese if not certainly easy to ask for it to be omitted. Contorni (side dishes) would be a breeze: herb roasted potatoes, braised greens, vegetables, beans, salads and such.

Okay- we figured out how to avoid gluten and dairy in Italy. But what if it is your first time to Italy as a celiac and you just want that Italian pizza and pasta experience?! It just doesn’t seem fair otherwise. It makes you wonder the fairness of it all. And if any of you are discounting this or invalidating the injustice of being celiac because there could be something “worse” well then I am glad you never suffer ever at all on any day of your life as a human being because you know that “it could be worse.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about gratitude but I don’t think saying “first world problems” or “we’re tiny” or “it could be worse” makes an unfortunate situation spin suddenly to gold.

Anyways, so I found a couple places in Florence that are great if you have visitors in town or if you live in Florence as a celiac. More and more restaurants are offering gluten-free pastas so it is not an impossible feat!

 

Neil's Yard, London. My favorite yard in the world.

Neil’s Yard, London. My favorite yard in the world.

Miso di Riso- Very good for vegan and macrobiotic lovers, too! Vegan, gluten-free baked goods and a nice lunch and dinner menù. They also have an interesting organic and biodynamic wine offering. I like how the inside feels like a combo of a greenhouse and a café in Neil’s Yard in London. Very centrally located in Florence makes it a plus. I don’t know, the reviews on yelp were kind of hit or miss but my friend approved and she’s too a foodie from Seattle so I kind of trust her opinion and so should you! :)

La Luna- Gluten-free breads and pastas- score! Okay so my friend definitely cheated here and had cheese on her pizza but she had a gluten-free Margherita (made with buffalo milk mozzarella) and said she dreamed about it the next day. I tasted it and it was not bad! I would have eaten it- which is saying a lot! I did heaps of research on gluten-free pizzerias in Florence and most of them seemed like garbage tourist traps that sold gluten-free food as a gimmick. When I found La Luna, it was in a somewhat local-y neighborhood so I trusted the risk. They had a full pizza menù with a gluten-free options for them all. They said the GF dough was made in house (unlike pre-made packaged ones) so I was sold. We ordered a starter platter that included coccoli (my loves, aka “cuddles” of fried bread that you then proceed to stuff with stracchino cheese and salami), arrancini and fried mozzarella- ALL gluten-free!!! I was shocked. The gluten-free coccoli fooled me. They were surprisingly good. Instead of pizza (which I did not order because I am a pizza snob) I had a Garganelli pasta with a pistachio sauce and pork cheek guanciale which sounded good on paper but way too salty. So salty I couldn’t eat even half of it. Honestly, I would not recommend this restaurant unless you were gluten-free. They also had amazing gluten-free desserts like tiramisù and cantuccini almond biscotti. Very impressive for iconic Italian foods without gluten.

La Raccolta- This is a great market for stocking up on health foods and vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic, dairy-free foods and ingredients. They also have a little bistro in the back with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free foods. I go here when I want coconut milk, local raw honeys, organic soy products, tempeh, dairy-free substitutes, funny flours (like buckwheat)…you get it. It is EXPENSIVE but it is good if you need your west coast health food junkie fix.

Beyond Florence… We took a little jaunt to Cinque Terre and we ate at this wonderful restaurant in Vernazza, with the terrace table (what can I say, I’m a romantic date;);) overlooking the ocean just in time to watch the sun set over the cliffs. And they just happened to have gluten-free pasta. This restaurant is in my bag of travel agent tricks so I knew I could trust it for having mind-blowing gastonomic fare and not some rip-off tourist trap fare in Cinque Terre.  I mean, don’t get me wrong- it was not cheap. But it was definitely worth the splurge. Enjoy the views!

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Tender, octopus potato and olive salad- da-lish!

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the view from our meal- swoon!!!

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Gluten-free frutti di mare spaghetti!

 

In your gluten-free trust,

Curious Appetite