I am back in Florence after my stint deep in the Brunello hills, slightly daunted by city choice and broader cultural observations. As I navigate through the hordes of Tourists and repeatedly past the looming Duomo my focus inevitably turns to my first meal…
I have had bad luck with “first meals” upon entering Cities I will soon call home. My anxiety about wanting to feel in touch with local cuisine at affordable prices brings on moments of jealousy from fellow diners and confusion on where to begin and end my meal. In the case of Florence I want to see past the typical plates of familiarity and into the minds of the chefs who not only have to prepare quality food, but also impress tourists with minor flair and diversity.
I chose Cibreo; an intriguing monopoly of a single corner consisting of a Trattoria, Restaurant, Cafe and Theatre. The Trattoria was my destination of choice. And what will unfold is indeed a very good review. To be clear there is a science to my specific food touristy goals; an exact arrival time which will leave me in their hands just after the rush (not dissimilar to my knack for being “the last in the club”).
I had sworn off Tripe ever since allowing my favorite restaurant in NY to have once disappointed in its preparation, but it is a typical dish that I knew had to be tried at least once in Florence. For those who do not know, Tripe is usually taken from one of the first three of four Stomach chambers of a Cow (and in some cases Sheep and/or Pig). What arrived was a salad like, tepid bundle of translucent tender flesh in a marinade of Carrot, Celery, Parsley and hot Pepper lightly bathing in dreamy Tuscan Olive Oil. It was simply as good as I could imagine any single starter. Perfectly light, subtly spicy, tender and small portioned.
I could tell the staff was warming to me and could see my eyes begin to swell with curiosity. As a solo diner it is in my interest to win over the front of house who are my only connection back to the kitchen. This and they are the only ones able to answer questions I may have about the menu…in Italian of course ;), my distinguishing “I am NOT a tourist” recently acquired weapon.
For my second course I ordered a simple soup of Zucca, “Passata di Zucca”. I wanted to ease into the meal and I too often opt for Pasta even when Soup is prominently represented as a primi. As other pasta dishes exited the kitchen I began to grow weary of my choice. That is until it arrived. A sweet broth of smooth Pumpkin perfectly whipped (and likely strained repeatedly) into a light broth. Had it been embellished by the addition of cream, I wouldn’t have known. Atop was a carefully applied drizzle of Olive Oil which gently glided above the soup’s surface forming a beautiful shape. Next to it a sprinkle of Cinnamon sugar, a combination not only smart and appetizing but more than “presentable”. This duo of garnish allowed each bite to take on just slightly different characteristics. I hate nothing more than to tire of dishes before completion.
To be clear, I have a three squash soup recipe that verges on perfection, so my opinion about this soup was formed with near impossible standards. I explained to the chef that I made a similar dish, but garnished with shaved sharp cheddar and Walnut Oil. I think he wanted to give me a hug, but instead brought out a free dish for me to sample. Yes, folks I had arrived!
What came next was a dish I had seen prepared just two days ago in Montalcino, "pappa al pomodoro". A paste of day old bread blended into a Tomato Sauce where Basil takes on the role of ingredient. It was a dish I found intriguing, but not overwhelmingly tasteful, until it appeared in front of me at Cibreo. It managed to be light and sweet and the Basil’s minty finish was complex. However, I was beginning to get full and knew a main course was on its way.
Enter Chicken neck stuffed with chicken alongside Mayonaise; a dish I wish I liked but couldn’t stomach. I have always been honest about when I think a dish is good (ie. well executed) but that I do not like. The fact is I just couldn’t get past the texture and almost rancid after taste. That combined with the presentation put me in a difficult place. I didn’t want the staff to lose interest pleasing me, but I wasn’t going to eat something I simply didn’t like. So I let it be known. When asked if I liked it, I said the following “Io capito e il presentazione e bellisimo, ma…solo no piache molto. Forse il sapore e non per me” = “I understand the dish and it is presented beautifully, but I just don’t like it. Perhaps it is not to my taste”. She understood and returned with another Secondi of her choice to bring me back to a point of happiness.
My final dish (um, I was full) was reconstituted Salt Cod stewed with Potato. A stringy Crab like mesh of deep flavors stewed slowly. It was a comforting homey dish to end my meal.
I chatted about my journey thus far in Italy, finished my wine and said graciously that I would return for dessert when my friend from NY had arrived. For now I was just too full to continue.