Florence, the capital of Tuscany and the cradle of the Renaissance, is renown for its remarkable art, culture, and architecture, but I was really there for the food! While others queued up to see Michelangelos statue of David, the Duomo, and the Uffizi Gallery, my mission was to search out the finest gelato, lampredetto, pizza, cantucci, etc. Since I was only there for a brief visit I reached out to local foodies to get the inside scoop which resulted in 24 hours of blissful eating. 8:30 Kick-start your day with breakfast at the Hotel L’Orologio Firenze (details below) where the glassed-in, 4th-floor dining room provides eye-popping views of the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. I would strongly suggest that you resist the tempting continental buffet and opt for just a cappuccino and some fresh fruit. 10:00-2:00ish Stroll across the bridge to the hip Oltrano nabe aka The other side of the River Arno to join the aptly named Eating Italy Food Tour of Florence. After meeting our thoroughly delightful and extremely knowledgeable guide, Gaia, who proudly informed us that she was 100% Tuscan, I knew that my taste buds were in good hands. For the next four-plus hours, our small but hardy band of four was held spellbound by the plethora of unique flavors, textures, and tales that Gaia regaled us with. We crisscrossed the area, popping into about a dozen of Gaias favorite delis, espresso bars, bakeries, bistros, butcher shops and food trucks where we would meet the owners (usually second or even third generation), hear their stories and sample their wares. Our multi-course, multi-location feast began with a traditional breakfast of coffee (in this case, we were introduced to macchiatoni which was a macchiato served in a larger cappuccino cup) served with budino di riso, which can best be described as a Tuscan rice cupcake, and concluded with a cone at Gelateria Della Passera, which arguably serves the best gelato in town. I will never look at gelato the same way since Gaia taught us that those rainbow-hued mounds of gelato beckoning to you along touristy main drags have chemicals added to keep them stabilized. The best shops store the gelato in round metal containers covered with lids so although the gelato might not look as tempting, the flavor is so much better. In between, we sampled some mind-blowing, homemade fennel infused salami at a butcher shop where the locals have been buying quality bistecca ala fiorentina (the famed local steak made from humongous Chianina cows) for over 40 years. During a bakery stop, we put on disposable caps and gowns as we headed behind the scenes to watch Mr. Roberto roll out his famous cantuccini (like biscotti). Hes been working in the family bakery since he was 10 years old and he just turned 70. His charming nephew, who was helping him with for the afternoon, turned out to be a top designer for Prada. Next, we visited a popular food truck for their lampredotto, Tuscanys answer to the hamburger. One tip: it might be easier if you taste it before asking whats in it since after we learned that the soft bun was filled with tender bits of slow-cooked tripe (cows stomach) topped with salsa verde and red chili sauce, some of our group wimped out and wouldnt try it. Actually, it was quite tasty and surprisingly healthy. Check out the picture of Chef Simone holding up the cow innards for our amusement. 3:30 My poor but happy tummy was dying for a break so I decided to give it a rest while catching up on 2,000 years of Florences history (in just 40 minutes) at a new multi-media production, Incredible Florence. This fascinating show uses 24 laser projectors, 3-D reconstructions, animation, authentic footage and exciting special effects to take you on an engrossing historic journey that is little known by most Americans. 5:00 Somewhat revived, I ambled over to Mercato Centrale for a little pre-dinner pizza appetizer. I had read that this stunning cast iron and glass market building, from the 1870s, had recently morphed into a buzz-worthy, Italian-style food court. I was just going to take a quick peek but after I spied the pizza maker removing one perfect charred-edge pizza simply topped with tomatoes and melted mozzarella di bufala, I was a goner. It is now one of my top ten favorite pizzas ever. Note: The ground floor of the market, which is chock full of artisan butchers, bakers, cheese mongers, pasta makers, and farmers, unfortunately closes at 2:00PM, so if youre lucky enough to have another day in Florence plan a return visit in the morning. Per usual in Florence, come hungry, because theres plenty of samples offered, ranging from aged balsamic vinegar, cheese and sausage to a full spectrum of truffle products, including an aromatic truffle honey. Dont miss the Chianti wine booth that is run by the Chianti Classico consortium, who will be happy to ship your wine home. 8:00 Dinner is at Essenziale, a wildly exciting new restaurant that not only serves fabulous food offering a one-off twist on Tuscan classics but also provides an absolute blast of an evening. Chef and co-owner, Simone Cipriani, sums up the concept in two words, “Essenziale is creative simplicity.” The best seats in the house are at the Chefs Counter, where you can watch Cipriani (most enjoyable since hes a dead ringer for Adam Levine) and his team adds their finishing artistic touches. Interaction is highly encouraged, both with the chefs and the waitstaff, who will explain the different prix-fixe menus: a three-course Get to know us, a five- course The persistence of memory which features riffs on Italian childhood favorites, or you can opt for Together a seven-course experience where youll talk with Cipriani about what youre in the mood for .something fun and whimsical, outrageous, classic or ???? Headquarters Hotel The four-star, 54 room, designer Hotel L’Orologio Firenze, is perfectly situated on a quiet corner of the gorgeous Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and within walking distance to all the above foodie stops. The opulent yet exceedingly comfy rooms are an interesting mixture of dark polished mahogany accented by a stylish mix of soft leather, bronze, satin, and velvet, with artistic fresh flower arrangements generously strewn about. The trendy theme is time-keeping, with each floor of Hotel LOrologio featuring works of art dedicated to a different watch manufacturer. Spacious marble bathrooms have an integrated tub and shower, a heated towel rail, soft Egyptian cotton towels, slippers and luxury bathrobes. All include free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs with premium channels, plus iPod docks and tea and coffee making facilities. Cant miss view choices include the Duomo cathedral or the historic plaza. There is a 24-hour fitness center, a sauna and a happening bar with live music. The front desk help couldn’t be nicer, particularly Clara, who graciously helped me map out all my stops-even to highlighting the most scenic walks for me.
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