Food Adventures

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

La Pentola dell'Oro

Every day, I think I'll be able to write about my classes and the things we're cooking, but then I discover another restaurant and have to write about it. These days, I am not easily impressed with restaurants. Not only am I in Firenze, where there are four restaurants on each corner, but I am also cooking a lot and tasting some great dishes. Sometimes, even when I eat at good restaurants, I realize that I could make those dishes myself and it's hard to be impressed. So, the list of restaurants I return to more than once is short. But last night I found a place I would definitely revisit, and soon.

I have a list of restaurants I have made over the years and this year I added La Pentona dell'Oro ( What I didn't write down is what I had read about this restaurant that made me want to try it. So, I might not have gone if I hadn't gotten an e-mail for Ryanna, an e-friend of mine who spent June in Firenze and highly recommended the osteria. She was right—this place is wonderful!

It's on a quiet street in the Santa Croce neighborhood (via di Mezzo 24-26/r), a short walk from the church. The minute my two dinner companions and I walked in, we knew we were in for a treat. One look at the place lets you know that your food will be prepared by people who care about tradition and quality. The stone walls are decorated with art and various objects from past centuries in a way that is tasteful and not done simply to please the tourist. Everyone, from the women in the open kitchen to the owner and the waitress greeted us kindly, with a smile, and the service throughout the evening was excellent.

The basement dining room with vaulted ceilings is peaceful, cool, and relaxing. There was music playing and that helped drown the noise of the conversation from the other tables, but not to the point where we could not hear each other. So, we settled in for a most pleasant evening and great food.

The menu is well composed and the descriptions of the dishes show the same respect for tradition as the rest of the restaurant. For example, one of the first courses, Crema de' Pomi d'oro, is not described, but rather explained with a quote making a reference to how much good this dish does to the stomach and health in general. Several of the recipes are described as being Etruscan, descendents of the ancient people inhabiting Tuscany. Others, such as il peposo del Brunelleschi (Brunelleschi's beef stew) also uses an old recipe where the beef is stewed with three types of peppercorns and pears. Many of the dishes make references to the Medici and other noble Florentine families and combine flavors in a way typical of those times. A true surprise for the palate and a reminder of the rich history of this marvelous city.

We started with Ouverture Pentola dell'Oro, the house appetizer that includes several typical products: Tuscan salami, finocchiona (the fennel salami typical of this area), Tuscan prosciutto, thinly-sliced pecorino cheese with zucchini salad, and four crostini (with chicken livers, olives, tomato paste, and herbs).

My pici di Montalcino were served in a sauce of cinta senese, the tasty heirloom pork that is making a comeback in Tuscany because of its exceptional quality. The sauce was full of flavor without being heavy and the raw cubes of tomato served not only to make the dish more pleasing to the eye, but also to cleanse the palate.

One of my dinner companions ordered the lasagnole al savor di noci, flat noodles about an inch wide in a sauce of ginger, fennel, and other spices, masterfully blended to give the dish sweetness without making it taste like a dessert.

The list of second courses (16-18 Euro) looks very good, but we had no more room. Maybe next time. Peposo (beef stew), porco cinghiale in dolce-forte (wild boar stew with pine nuts), cosciotto di agnello in coppo (lamb in aromatic spices), and pasticcio Mediceo (veal with aromatic herbs and fresh peaches in green ginger sauce) all sound very intriguing.

The wine list offers a number of choices and we enjoyed our meal with a bottle of Chianti Classico. The restaurant also has bottles of the house wine, both white and red.

The waitress spoke great English, explained the menu well, and was gracious to answer any questions. She was also the most pleasant waitress I have seen in a while: nice and attentive without being overbearing, with a smile that never left her face. She joked around with us in a way that made us feel like regulars. The finished the meal off with some lemon crostata and limoncello (on the house), both great.

On our way out, I told the owner that this was one of the most pleasant meals and promised to return. I will keep my promise.


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