The food almost everywhere in Florence and Tuscany is good, really good. However, it is very repetitive. The steak, the bread soup, the tripe, the ragu pasta, the tiramisu and so on are great, but they are served everywhere in a similar traditional manner. For all the good, there is little creativity. I realize that America might seem this way to a visitor from abroad, but no, our tourist destinations have a variety of food choices and the best places highlight creativity. Here the best is simply the same, prepared the best manner. We have eaten well, we have enjoyed, but have not been amazed.
Two meals have stood apart from the museum-ish food personality of Florence. We ate both this week. The first was simple in the best sense. The food spoke for itself. We were invited to a "new season of eating" dinner. And because the meal was going to be vegetarian, the menu relied almost solely on what was fresh and grown. Yes, there was the traditional meatless bread and bean soup, Ribollita. It may have been the best we have eaten, unashamedly using largish hunks of bread to replace flesh. As well, we enjoyed a positively delicious pumpkin soup and another delicious bean and kale creation. Yet, the meal's real stars were uncooked. We enjoyed sliced raw onions, and sliced raw fennel and sliced raw tomatoes and so on. The brightest star of the feast was sliced raw! artichoke. All of the above we dipped in real first press olive oil from the family grove of one of the guests, washed down with Vino Novello, Italy's version of a fresh wine, similar to the better known Beaujolais nouveau.
Dessert was part of the shared Tuscan fare and yet very much exceptional. The tiramisu, served plain out of a large baking dish, was just spectacular. Then I helped hand whip lots and lots of heavy cream to top a modest layer of fresh chestnuts cooked and transformed into a sweet base layer to make Monte Bianco, white mountain. This was a meal of the ingredients.
Then the next night we went by ourselves to a vegetarian restaurant. I was a little skeptical for two reasons. First, outside of a few "traditional" meatless foods like ribollita, this is meat eating region with its own breed of beef and its own breed of pig and its love of tripe. Second, I often find vegetarian restaurants to be shrines to the idea of vegetarianism. Their palette of spices is so predictable, they often smell the same. Not so this past evening. This meal was the best prepared food we had eaten in over a month. We loved the hand made fresh spaghetti, with a breadcrumb, sun-dried cherry tomato, chili pepper sauce. I could have eaten bowls of the stuff, but we had ordered a "unico" special that put three dishes on our single plates. I also needed to eat our way through an extremely tasty, perfectly dressed fennel and orange salad and a delicious potato filled soft flat bread roll-up. We were eating real creative cooking. And loving every bite.