Featured image: Discover where to eat in Florence, Italy, like the famous Rivoire | Photo by Freepenguin via Wikimedia Commons
Why the low season is the perfect time to discover new restaurants
by Carolyn Ray
On a sunny New Year’s Day in Florence, I spent the morning luxuriating in macchiatos and biscotis at the Rivoire on Piazza della Signoria. Seated on a pink scallop-shaped chair, I felt like a princess, being served by waiters in tuxedos, surrounded by Renaissance art. The Rivoire was founded by Enrico Rivoire in 1872, who was King Emanuele Filiberto I’s master chocolatier. In the evenings, it becomes a cocktail bar.
I wouldn’t have known about the Rivoire without going on a New Year’s Eve aperitivo tour with the Curious Appetite, a culinary tour company founded by food writer and sommelier Coral Sisk in 2012. On our afternoon excursion, our small group of eight visited historic restaurants and bars across Florence, enjoying drinks and appetizer snacks, artisan Tuscan cold cuts and tasty Italian cheeses. It was the perfect way to start 2024.
What to eat in Florence
Originally from Seattle, Sisk has spent years in Florence developing unique itineraries, teaching aspiring foodies like me to about wine, negroni, street food, local markets and artisan gelato.
The low season is the perfect time to discover new places, she says.
“Apart from the thinned-out tourists: the ease in getting dinner tables, better service from less stressed management and seasonal holiday foods, especially during the Carnival season,” Sisk says. “Usually people don’t get out of the city center to some great food shops on Via Gioberti, or they miss out on the monthly Fierucola organic artisan market in Santo Spirito.”
During my time in Florence, I didn’t need to book one restaurant in advance. On New Year’s Eve, I had a delicious meal with no reservation at Trattoria 4 Leone for steak and pasta on the outdoor patio. The low season offered me the opportunity to wander along streets and pop into places that looked appealing. In my two weeks, I became a connoisseur of homemade pici pasta in tomato sauce (try Il Latini) and Florentine white bean soup, and learned why you’re given a small glass of water with your coffee.
If you really want to understand Florence, Sisk says you need to try local specialties with few ingredients but lots of flavour. She recommends lampredotto (made from cow’s stomach), cucina povera (which literally means ‘poor kitchen’) like ribollita (a white bean soup with bread) or pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup). She also suggests a well-made Negroni or local wines that aren’t from commercial makers, like Frescobaldi.
Originally from Seattle, Coral Sisk is living the life of her dreams in Italy / Photo credit Curious Appetite
Two Florence essentials: wine windows and Negronis
I’m told there are almost 200 wine windows (buchette del vino) in Florence. Apparently, these were created in the 1600s during the time of the bubonic plague, creating a safe way for shopkeepers to sell wine and food with minimal contact. Today they’re a fun way to enjoy a glass of wine with new friends in the street.
One of the most popular is Osteria Belle Donne, which has surrounded its wine window with flowers and plants. Along with other tourists, I stood in line for a few minutes, waiting while everyone took photos. When it was my turn, I knocked on the window and ordered a chianti. A few minute later, the door opened and a hand passed me a glass of wine. After sipping it on the street, I went inside for a delicious dinner. You’ll easily find wine windows everywhere in Florence (there’s no need for a tour).
Pici is a traditional Tuscan pasta noodle, rolled by hand / Photo by Curious Appetite
Our New Year’s Eve foodie tour with Curious Appetite / Photo by Carolyn Ray
Testing a wine window – so fun! / Photo by Carolyn Ray
Fancy a Negroni?
The original Negroni was created in Florence in 1919-20 at the Giacosa Café, previously known as the Café Casoni (sometimes referred to as the now-closed Café Cavalli, due to its association with the famous Italian designer’s flagship boutique located next door.)
As the story goes, frequent visitor Count Camillo Negroni asked the barman to make his regular Campari and vermouth with gin, instead of soda water. He also garnished it with orange instead of lemon. Made up of one part gin, one -art semi-sweet vermouth rosso, and one part bitters (traditionally Campari), this drink quickly became very popular.
There are now several variations, some of which I tried on the Curious Appetite aperitivo tour. I sampled some made with Japanese vodka, Alkermies di Firenze liqueur, red wine, Cynar (artichoke extract) and smoky ones garnished with cinnamon. If you’re not a fan or wine or negroni, try Franciacorta, a sparkling wine unique to Florence, which you can sample at Tartufi, which is also known for its truffles.
Where to eat in Florence
For less-known restaurants, Sisk suggests that women try: Club Culinario da Osvaldo in Santa Croce, Trattoria Da Burde in between the airport and the city or Casa Ciabattini in the Porta al Prato area.
2021 JourneyWoman Award winner Alessandra Alonso, a Florence native, shared her favourite places. I didn’t get to all of them, so invite you to try them!
- Mercato Centrale: The covered Mercato Centrale is worth a visit – outside the stalls are no longer as genuine and traditional but inside on the first floor there is now an excellent mix of street food, food stalls and drinks.
- San Ambrogio Market: The most genuine market however and where we shop regularly is San Ambrogio just a short stroll from the main centre. It is a food market in and outside with lots of still genuine sellers and wares. If you like steak go inside and ask For the butcher Luca Menoni. They have a terrace above the shop and you can order some wonderful meat for lunch!
- Il Pizzaiolo: The best pizza is at Il Pizzaiolo
- Caffe Cibreo for coffee or aperitivo
- Ristorante Cibreo is known worldwide (although the original owner and chef died a few years ago)
- Procacci: a traditional sophisticated yet understated place for aperitivo in the middle of Florence
- Gucci Garden: stop for a truffle panini and a white wine… superb!
- Rifrullo: another excellent place for a drink or to pick something to eat especially if their garden is still open, it is very lively at night.
- SE·STO on Arno rooftop bar at the Excelsior Hotel: 360-degree views of Florence. Superb at night!
Support a woman-owned business and learn more about the Curious Appetite and Coral’s tours in Florence, Tuscany and Bologna here!
New Year’s Day at the Rivoire / Photo by Carolyn Ray
What is better than this? / Photo by Carolyn Ray
A smoky Negroni / Photo by Carolyn Ray
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