15 January 2011

Wild Goose Chase

I showed up at the agreed-upon place and time to go enjoy a pizza with a small group of people ... and ended up going out with just one of the group, my friend "G'io."  

G'io is a Florentine who insists there is no good food to be found within the city.  I am no food snob, but I do agree few great restaurants reside within the city walls largely because the majority of the restaurants cater to tourists and, as such, is not especially great food. When I used to vacation here, people would tell me "You can't eat poorly in Italy," but that is so not true. That said, I do have a number of places within the walls that I love and frequent.

The night before G'io wanted to take me to dinner, which involved either driving or taking a taxi, where we could eat "well," but I had my reasons for not being adventurous and didn't go. Last night he conceded to my wishes to stay within the city walls and to go somewhere we could walk to -- well, that is, initially, he conceded. We walked to Piazza Santo Spirito and settled in at Ricchi, a decent restaurant. He wanted to have fish.

Nota Bene:  Understand that Florence is landlocked and as a result is a meat-eating city. Even though the sea is only an hour away, fresh fish is brought to the markets on Fridays and available to all.  Friday is the day of the week in Florence to indulge in fresh fish, whether in restaurants or at home.  Otherwise, if you want fresh fish, chances are it will be frozen, even though it may have been frozen as recently as the day prior.  Oh, you can get fresh fish here other days of the week in certain restaurants, but you will pay heavily for that day's catch.

Back to Ricchi.  We ordered a bottle of fizzy water. The waiter came to take our order even though we had not yet opened the menu.  "What good fish is on the menu today?" my friend G'io asked.  The waiter began to explain.  To each item the waiter said, my friend had questions and comments and poo-poo'd several of the waiter's descriptions.  G'io ordered what he wanted, exactly how we wanted each dish prepared for both of us, and none of it was from the menu.  I felt like I had just been dropped into a scene from the film When Harry Met Sally and G'io was Sally.  Remember, I am in Italy, where the custom is that there are no menu substitutions. It was comical. A little discussion pursued regarding just how fresh the fish was. The waiter ran off to consult with the chef and promptly returned. Next thing I knew, G'io asked to pay for our bottle of water, which the waiter refused to allow him to pay, and to call a taxi for us, and we were out the door and on the street awaiting our taxi's arrival.

We took a 10 Euro taxi ride to just barely outside one of the city doors to Trattoria Vittoria.  We could have walked there in under 15 minutes.  I enter to see a large aquarium that I don't think is intended to be decorative followed by a very long display of fish and seafood of many varieties, big and small.  It is obvious everyone knows G'io.  He is greeted with handshakes, hugs, and kisses, and lots of "Mi dispiace," (I am sorry). At this point it is still early for dinner in Italy, but the restaurant is full.  G'io frequents this place regularly and dumps a lot of Euro here.  There were two very large parties that filled the restuarant, and G'io felt the restaurant made a grave error by not squeezing a small table for two in a corner somewhere for us to sit.  (It was Friday night.  We didn't call in advance, rather just showed up.)

Back out on the street.  We discuss where to go next...  He calls for another taxi.  Having selected our next stop, I convince him we can walk to the next viale (boulevard, avenue) and at the same time work up an appetite.  I tried to convince him, unsuccessfully, to start a charity fund in my honor after seeing how much he is willing to spend, frivolously, on taxis.

We arrive to Fuor d'acqua, and it is packed liked sardines. Again, he is greeted in the same manner, i.e., handshakes, hugs, kisses, and "I'm sorry." Again, no place for us.

Out on the street again and still outside the city walls, we walk next door to Via Vai, chic and also packed. The usual greetings again. I watch the maĆ®tre d' shake his head "no" as he studies the 14x18 piece of paper full of reservations. Eventually, he finds a table for us. We're hungry, it is no longer too early for dinner in Italy, and we are finally sitting down. Again, G'io goes through the exercise of drilling the waitress about what good food is on the menu tonight, and then he proceeds to order for both of us what he wants, the way he wants, not according to the menu.  

Dinner was excellent.  We began with an appetizer of burrata. (Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from bufala mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name "burrata" means "buttered."  It is served with lightly fried mozzarella and small mozzarella balls and prosciutto.)  Our primo piatto (first plate) is fresh, homemade spaghetti with porcini mushroom sauce served wrapped in foil.  Our second dish consists of a gorgeous fresh vegetable salad, and the most delicious, perfectly grilled Chianina filet mignon I have ever tasted with mashed potatoes.  I still had food in my mouth when suddenly he was ready to go, and we abruptly left.  It happened so fast that once we were on the street, I couldn't help but think I left something behind in the restaurant.  My experience of eating dinner out in Italy is you "buy" your table for the evening and you leisurely enjoy one course after the other over several hours' time.

We walked back into town and back to Santo Spirito where we sat outdoors and took coffee and continued our conversation.

Oh, I am not complaining.  It was a dramatic, exciting, and fun evening, full of great conversation. Started out with the intention of having a pizza, which turned into a mission for fresh fish, and ended up eating the best filet.  I learned about a few restaurants (all in one night) that I hadn't previously known about that are off the tourist maps and places I would love to return and actually eat at.  I ate well. For a simple girl from Southern California, the entire evening was entertaining.

After many hours of speaking and listening intently and intensely only in Italian with a person that has a thick Florentine dialect, speaks quickly and not often clearly, doesn't cater to my language inadequacies, I came home exhausted but with several new words and phrases added to my Italian lexicon, a belly full of excellent and yummy food, and a deeper friendship.


  1. Sounds like a fun evening. But where are the pictures??

  2. That is a novel-worthy adventure! If he was Sally, were you Harry?