Mangia! Mangia, bene!
As the central stop on the Italian trifecta of cities most tourists visit on their “once in a lifetime” trip, Florence will undoubtedly forever be inundated with countless sunburned, pushy vacationers that have ‘never seen anything so beautiful’. Once the destination for scholars and artists and a center of trade and finance, it was THE place to be in the Renaissance.
But with the tourist hot spots aside, Florence can be a splendid place for a short period of time. And if time is limited, then you certainly don’t want to waste it by having a meal in the piazza that is double the price and half as good simply for the view.
Trattoria 13 Gobbi, located on Via del Porcellana near the St. Regis Hotel along the Arno River, was recommended to me years ago, when I lived near Venice, by an Italian who just happened to love his wine and his steak. I have dined there many times and each time it has been a meal that I remember, I even traveled to Florence one night simply to have one of the House Specialties, the famous Fiorentina Steak - large enough for 2 people. Which is why, this last visit to Florence, I knew that I needed to go once more, not only for my own indulgence, but for yours…so you know where to go the next time you visit the Tuscan Capital.
A Table in The Winter Garden
With the advice to call ahead for a reservation and preferably not a weekend, we made a reservation for a Thursday night. Table for 5, at 7:30, ‘in the garden’ if possible, as usual. We were staying at the St. Regis – Florence, so we walked the short distance from the hotel rather than taking a taxi.
Rounding the corner, the line was out the door. and the tables that did appear to be available were reserved for patrons coming later. Unbelievable, but not totally unexpected. The restaurant opens for dinner service at 7:30…so I thought we would have been one of the first ones to arrive. I guess this was a testament to my love of the trattoria’s culinary prowess as well.
As you enter, Tuscan culture, history, and cuisine envelope your senses. Terracotta tiles were under our feet and wooden wine boxes from the most renowned wine producers of the region open up the room to a cozy feeling as we slalomed through the tight restaurant to our table and wiggled into place.
It seemed like the back wall of the restaurant never existed but being November, the Winter Garden was covered and heaters were in place if you were a bit chilly. With the amount of people inside, the need for the space heaters never presented itself. It was now clear that whether it be summer or winter, the open-air atmosphere is spectacular, and I was happy that I wasn’t being frozen out by the brisk fall air.
Don’t Look At The Menu
Well, you can if you want to, but from what I’m about to tell you there really is no reason, especially if you’ve got only 1 night for a dinner in such a place. The advice I received from my Italian friend is the same that I’m going to give to you, and he wasn’t wrong.
Perusing down the menu, there is a variety of items that you’ll want to order. The al dente rigatoni is a house specialty that never seems to disappoint with its amazing cheese sauce, and if meat isn’t your thing, then the Eggplant Parmesan will certainly hit the spot.
However, meat is our thing, which is why we were there. So, without looking at the menu we confidently placed our order, once again, for the Fiorentina Steak for 2, with a side of roasted vegetables and a bottle of Montepulciano, if you want to stay with the Tuscan Theme, then Chianti is the unique option. Everything else on the menu would have to wait for next time.
Our waiter was kind enough to explain that the steak would be served rare and wanted to make sure that this was ok. Please note that this is NOT required as rare is how the Fiorentina is traditionally served and depending on where you go you may NOT get this courtesy or option…so be prepared if rare steak is an issue for you. I have heard stories in the past of patrons being offended by the ‘rareness’ of the steak and sending it back. I advise you not to do this, as the repercussions will make the money spent for the steak seem pointless and you will end up being more upset when it comes back.
I’m not one for ‘blood’ with my steak, but was lucky to find our waiter to be unoffended when I told him ‘medium is ok, just no blood’.
The Right Cut
If you want to know why this steak is so special, you have to look no further than where you are; Tuscany. Florentine’s believe that the only cow suitable for such a spectacular cut of beef is the Chianina (Key-ah-knee-nah), which may or may not be right…all I know is that if you do get a Chianina cut, it’ll be spectacular.
The butchers of Florence, in my opinion, prevail the same artistic skill as their Renaissance sculpture and painting predecessors. The minimum thickness for a steak worthy of the name is 1.5 inches (roughly 3.8cm), but the perfect cut, any butcher will tell you, is not less than 2/2.5 inches (5/6.3cm). The weight of such a ‘beefy’ cut ranges also from 1.5 to 4 pounds (.7 to 1.8 kilos)…which is why it is recommended for 2 people.
No ‘Bistecca’ Regrets
The roasted garlic potatoes, spinach with Pecorino cheese, and Cannelloni beans that were ordered for sides arrived just moments ahead of the much-anticipated entrée. Slicing into the Fiorentina needed only a fork. It was cooked just as we had requested, and since it is required to let the meat rest prior to serving, all of the juices had reconstituted to the meat making each bite juicier and more tender. The wine continued to flow as we made our way through the high-caliber cut, and with so much to get through we weren’t about to make a rush of things.
Dessert almost appeared to be impossible after finishing all that had been laid out in front of us. Our waiter was there to assist in the choices, knowing full well that something light would be required. We met him half way. We ordered a slice of the apple tart, which was pleasantly light and helped to aid the end of the evening, but the slice of chocolate cake just made finishing off the wine that much easier as the complementing attributes of each matched seamlessly on the palate.
Just as before, I will say it again; “you’ll never have another steak like it.” Yes, it can get crowded with busy tourists, but one thing is for sure...you will walk away with an AUTHENTIC, Italian food, travel story that you’ll retell for years to come.
Hours of Operation:
Monday – Sunday
Lunch: 12:30 – 3pm
Dinner: 7:30 – 11pm
Via del Porcellana, 9R – Florence, Italy
Phone: (+39) 055-284-015
Email: Email for Reservations
Online: Book Reservations Online
Dave Soucy at A Photographic Memory
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