If you are in Italy, you probably are expecting to do some pretty good eating, right?! I mean, you don’t travel however many miles away for some hamburger helper and beefaroni! So, if you are like me, you spend a ton of time researching the best restaurants on all the travel sites, you pack your stretchiest eating pants, and you head to Italy.
Well, I’m going to be real honest here: even with all of my research and planning, out of 3 days in Florence, I only remember two of our meals. One of those was a treasure imparted by Frommers, and the other we found thanks to a local.
Ristorante Buca Mario was the restaurant that we had planned on visiting. I had found it on a travel site, vetted it on Tripadvisor, and stored it in my mind as what would surely be an amazing dining experience. And, well, it was! When we got there, we had to wait in line outside–usually a good sign of a great meal to come. Once in, we were escorted down into the cellar dining room with linen table cloths and waiters in waistcoats and bow ties. This place was charming, right off the bat!
The menus are separated by starters, first courses, second courses, and so on, a reminder that in Italy meals are enjoyed at length. This is the first place that I remember making a conscious effort not to just say, “pasta, yeah, gimme some of that!” Instead, we were sure to order a starter, a first course, a second course, and dessert. Admittedly, we were not wholly up to the task, so we shared most of our courses, but still, a solid effort in some real good Italian eating. Mangiare Bene!
For our starter, I believe we had the Caprese salad. I wish I could say for certain, but ten years seems to have wiped it out of my memory. I can say it was probably just fine since we did not throw down our napkins and storm out in disgust! 😉 Our first course was the fettuccine alla buca mario. I mean, who can help but order the restaurant’s namesake dish?? And it was very delicious. After our pasta, we had a steak that was equally enjoyable. Finishing it all off, we had one of the restaurant’s handmade desserts and a cappuccino with Buca Mario dusted on top. This meal was close to perfection!
Il Latini was the restaurant that was NOT on our original list of Florence’s essential eats. We happened upon this trattoria after a harrowing trip up Brunelleschi’s Cupola (Okay, okay, “harrowing” is maybe just a little bit of an exaggeration. It was closer to a cartoonish version of a panic attack, see here: Freaking Out in the Duomo) So anyway, after visiting the Duomo and some shopping at the Loggia del Porcellino, we realized that it was past lunch and we were pretty darn hungry. My brother-in-law decided he would ask the nice leather jacket salesman if there were any good local places for lunch. Whaaaaaat??? I thought, Don’t you know I have trattorias and ristorantes galore right here on my nerdy little notepad?? What are you doing straying from the plan???? But it was too late. The nice signore had already directed us to Il Latini.
Before he could even say ciao, we were out the door and headed for lunch. We followed his directions as best we could, but must have gotten ourselves turned around at some point. It seemed like we would never find it. My stomach growled loudly as we rounded a final corner into what seemed like a deserted alley. This was it, my stomach assured me, this was when we would die, sad and starving in an alley… But wait, what was that we saw? It was… IL LATINI! We stepped in to see a very packed dining room, but were relieved when the host determined to find us a table right then and there. As we followed him, we were surprised to find there were more dining rooms and a corner table waiting just for us!
The waiter quickly advised us of the best starter, and without even glancing at a menu, we agreed and were soon served a beautiful tray of meats and crostini to temper our raging appetites. I wish I could tell you what else we ate, but I can’t. I think the hunger had taken over the part of my brain that stores away beautiful food memories. I can however tell you with 99.999% certainty that it involved pasta and meat. I also remember that we basically deferred to our waiter’s suggestions and we did not regret a thing.
Travel Tips and Lessons Learned:
- Don’t be afraid to ask a local where to eat! I have always had a sneaking suspicion that certain locals, like say taxi drivers, have a vested interest (cough, cough, a little kickback perhaps, cough cough) in specific tourist
trapsrestaurants. But I think that asking a local who is not in the tourism industry is a safe way to find the best places to eat. Case in point with Il Latini!
- It’s not a bad idea to let the waiters direct you in your ordering. I am typically a safe orderer and I tend to get the same or similar meals fairly often, but some of our best eating in Italy was when we let the professionals do the thinking for us!
- If you are like me and like to remember all of the details of these restaurant experiences, keep notes and take pictures at meals. I wasn’t doing that at this point in our traveling, and I wish I had been.
- Enjoy every meal while traveling. Local food is such a great way to get a little taste (haha! pun intended 😛 ) of local culture.
Florence, Italy: An Easter Surprise