We took a train from Venice to Florence. One thing that has certainly changed in 25 years is that the trains run on time. Incredibly efficient. It is also a nice way to see the country side. It takes about 3 hours.
We stayed at Hotel Art in Florence which is part of the Lungarno Hotels Group owned in part or perhaps completely by the Ferragamo Family. Great group of hotels. We stayed in their hotel in Florence and Rome and would have stayed at the one in Tuscany but it had not yet opened. The hotel reminded me a little bit of of the Mercer Hotel. Small, intimate, comfortable and modern.
Our first stop after our hotel was over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to the Piazza Del Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio to get our bearings. It was pretty cold out that day so after a bit of lunch we journeyed back to the hotel to decide what plan of action to take. We bought new gloves on the way. Jessica and Emily were awesome guides. They were determined to go to the places we had researched particularly for food. We would walk an extra 10 blocks for the right pizza or gelato. We decided the key was to journey off to the Duomo Opera House since we were getting a tour the next day of the Uffuzi and stop by Vestri on the way.
We made our way to Vestri which is an unbelievable tiny chocolate shop located right near the Duomo. A huge wow. The hot chocolate is so thick it is like drinking pudding. The gelattos are rich and change daily. Even the chocolate melts in your mouth. A must go to in Florence.
After seeing the Opera House we walked back to the hotel and relaxed before dinner. The streets were all lit up for the Xmas season. Really pretty. Definitely gives the city a very different flavor than the summer, spring or fall.
For dinner we went to Fuor D’Acqua. They basically just bring it on there depending on what is fresh that day. Our meal was truly spectacular. We talked about this place for days to come, more than likely years to come. Great vibe, not touristy, and hip. We began with a raw sushi plate, Italian style. I love Italian crudo and the best place in NYC to get that is Esca. The plates had sliced of sweet shrimp, white tuna, mullet, and a variety of other white fishes. In the middle was celery drenched in olive oil which was the perfect accompaniment to the fish. A total wow. Our next plate was of chopped arugula, tomatoes and cooked calamari. Again, delicious and a simple salad. After that we were given a plate of slightly cooked swordfish served like carpacchio. This was my least favorite. Next was a puree of carrots and zucchini under five pieces of cooked red mullet. We all loved it particularly the puree of veggies. Next was 2 pastas. One would have been plenty. Spaghetti with clam sauce. All the clams were out of their shell and although there was garlic, it is not like the garlic in the states. Italians use garlic to enhance the flavor not to taste. The difference is huge. Our other pastas dish was a linguine with large shrimp. Another winner. Again simple with olive oil. The flavors of the fish is what enhances the taste not the spices. Our main course, even though we had all hit the wall already, was a salt encrusted sea bass with carrots and zucchinis roasted on the side. All our moaning about how full we were was unfounded because we finished the entire fish. Juicy and like butter. Delicious. Next was a real hit. We must attempt to make this at home. Lemon sherbet blended with vodka and prosecco in a blender. So light and a real palette cleanser. The amount of alcohol is minimal but it changes the taste. Really good. That with a plate of biscotti we were ready to roll into bed. A huge hit.
The next day we had a guide take us through the Ufizzi, Gallerie Acadamie (to see David) and the Duomo. Absolutely worth it in terms of insight into the art and history. I was actually impressed how much Jessica and Emily already knew from school. I am glad we did that. Fred was probably the most into it but I am not sure we would have gotten as much out of it with out the insight of our guide. It was quite chilly that day but here are the kids walking into the Duomo. I captured a lot of pictures of them trekking off to the next place.
After we finished, the boys went back to the hotel to chill and the girls and I shopped. What we found in general is that the high end stuff is fantastic and the low end stuff is generally shlock. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the middle.
That night we had dinner at Cibreo which is probably a favorite of Mario Batali. There really isn’t a menu but they come to your table and give you the options of the evening. Tuscan. They start you out with small plates of veal tripe, marinated carrots and zucchini, pecorni with walnuts, potato bread and rich liver pate. Our appetizers were mostly soups. Everything portion wise isn’t big. Minestrone, yellow pepper and fish soup is some of what we ordered. Our main courses were a cold veal escalloped with a red sauce, beef stew with wine, pork sausages with white beans and a spicy calamari stew. Although we could have ordered pigs toes, more tripe, brain, calves ears etc. They use parts of the animals that Mario loves to experiment with. The sides were mostly a variety of vegetables cooked different ways. A real foodie place. The service was excellent too.
The next morning we slept in before making our way over to the Mercato. This was a true treat. We had breakfast at Nerbone where the specialty is boiled beef served with a green salsa verde. Wow. We ordered two sandwiches (one beef, one pork) to split but believe me we could have each indulged ourself with our own. Then we walked through the market place up to the dried fruit shop which was recommended where we probably bought 40 euros worth of dried fruit. I also bumped into a woman who blogs. She is the Divina Cuccina. An American living in Italy. She recommended that we go to Siene across the way for the best pastries in Florence and a good cappuccino which we did. We also bought a few goodies in the shops outside the Mercato to take home for the kids friends.
After that we walked over to the Ferragamo Museum which is actually quite cool. The history of the Ferragamo family is interesting. The shoes are magnificent to say the least. We were noshing that day so afterward we walked to Il Fratellini which is a total hole in the wall that makes panninis and serves wine by the glass. We split a tuna pannini and a mozzarella tomato pannini. All good. Of course, what is better to wash that down but with a gelatto. Our friends kid spent last summer in Florence and told Jessica that Festival Gelati was his favorite so we tasted. Quite good. We walked around a bit afterward and opted for a chill at our hotel before dinner.
We had dinner at Taverno del Branzino. Very old school. I really enjoyed it. We were the only Americans in the place too. We started with a plates of Italian meats, deep fried artichokes, raw fish and a melted tomato mixture. Everyone really enjoyed their appetizers. We had 2 pastas to split. One was crab meat with pesto. Quite different. We also had cheese raviolis.
Our main courses were steak ( the kids loved it ), and veal chops grilled that had been stuffed with mozzarella and artichokes. Our dessert was a chocolate cake and a Florence specialty which is cherries and chocolate like a tisamasu. It was good but not great but I really enjoyed the whole vibe of the restaurant.
Next day we had a driver take us to the outlets. There are 3 of them. One if Prada only, the other is a mixture of stores from Marni to YSL to Valentino to Pucci, the other which we didn’t go to has Dolce and Gabanna. The boys were troopers. Josh basically hung out at the lunch place, sipped hot chocolate and played with games. It was worth the trip. We got a couple of great things and the prices were good. We actually bought the most there.
That night we had dinner at Cantinetto Antinori which is a mellow wine bar. We were going to go to another place but our guide told us it was only filled with Americans so we opted out. The food was good. We had the classic wild boar. I had it over polenta and Fred had it on a pappardelle pasta. Our starters were capressi salads and porccinni and mushroom salads and a black cabbage (only found in Italy that I know of) braised over bread. All good. The Antinori family owns wine vineyards and so we had their wines too. I really liked this place. We stopped by Grom, a gellato place on the way back to the hotel but we were all full and Fred was the only one who had any. He said it was really good.
We really enjoyed Florence. Jessica is returning there for live for a month this summer. She is very excited. So, we will all be returning sooner than later. This shot is one of my favorites because every time we walked by a store that had beautiful food inside, we stopped in to take a peak and give the ooh and aah. Here is a picture of a wonderful little salami store down a random street in Florence.