Food Adventures

Monday, July 16, 2007

La Giostra

As I am enjoying a quiet Sunday morning by the open window of my apartment, overlooking the cupola of the Duomo, I am still thinking about the wonderful dinner at La Giostra last night. This restaurant has been reviewed multiple times and all he reviews are glowing. But it one of those places to which no review (mine included) can do justice. It is an experience more than a place, something that has to be savored with all the senses.

After a long day of walking the hot, crowded streets of both Firenze and Bologna, I wanted a good dinner in a relaxing place. I was not in the mood for a loud trattoria with communal seating, which I usually love; I wanted a quieter meal. I remembered walking by La Giostra the previous night and thinking that it was a pleasant atmosphere with tables outside on the street (the street is closed to traffic). So, at 7:30, I called to see if I could get a table. The hostess said that unless I came over immediately, I would have to wait until 10:30. Not one to hesitate when it comes to good food, I said I'd be over right away. The restaurant is a 5-minute walk from my apartment, so I changed quickly and off I went. On the phone, the hostess had said that she only had a table outside, which I thought was perfect. It would give me a chance to people-watch, which is especially enjoyable when eating alone.

I was seated next to a young woman studying the extensive menu. The menu takes some time to study not only because of the extensive wine list and food choices, but also because it includes a brief history of the restaurant. I had already studied the menu online and knew what I was going to order. Still, going through the 15-page hand-written menu would require some time, so I settled in and started reading. In addition to the story of the restaurant, the menu includes a personal message from the chef/owner. I knew I would love this place, when I read the very first line: "Very Slow Food…! The Best!!!"

Five out of the 15 pages are dedicated to wine and one look at the list lets you know that this place is serious about wine. Unfortunately, no wine is served by the glass. When the waiter told me this, my face fell and my excitement about this dinner was somewhat dampened. He noticed that and said that he would see if he can get me a glass of red wine. "It might have to be Chianti," he added. I am not one to turn down a good Chianti, especially not when in Firenze, so I said that would be great. It turned out that Katie, the woman at the table next to mine, was also looking for wine by the glass. It also turned out that she is in the wine business, so she offered to order a bottle and share it. Even better, I thought, someone in the wine business ordering wine for me. I could go along with that! She told the waiter which wine she wanted and he was visibly impressed. Later he said that when someone orders Cabernet Merlot Insoglio, he knows they know their wine.

The wine list includes Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, San Giovese, Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, San Giovese Merlot, Cabernet Merlot, and Cabernet Franc-Sauvignon, ranging from 25 to 3,000 Euro, most in the 50-200 Euro range. There is also a selection of white wines, including Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and some bubblies. The menu consists of a number of appetizers (from land and sea), about 25 first courses (again, both from land and from the sea), as many second courses and a number of vegetarian and side dishes, and, of course, desserts.

I ordered the Tortelloni all Mugellana con Ragu' Toscano and a salad of arugula and tomatoes, a perfect combination. The tortelloni were filled with potatoes and the meat sauce complemented them perfectly—rich and flavorful, without being heavy or overpowering. The evening started with a complementary glass of prosecco and an appetizer which the chef himself brought out and explained. On a large plate, there was a piece of salami (as he explained, made of beef only, with no pork), a piece of buffalo mozzarella served on top of a slice of tomato, a Tuscan crostino with rabbit liver pate (my favorite piece), a ricotta fritter, a slice of marinated eggplant and some marinated roasted red peppers, a slice of tomato bruschetta, and a piece of stuffed zucchini. All excellent and a wonderful way to start the meal.

The evening was spent in conversation with Katie, who turned out to be very interested in food (and wine, of course!), sipping wine, and having a very slow meal, just as promised on the menu. Unfortunately, after all that great food I had no room for dessert. Maybe next time!

A three-and-a half hour meal, a great bottle of wine, and an interesting new acquaintance—the perfect Saturday evening in Firenze.


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