Sunday, April 26, 2009

Il Latini

On a small side street on your way to the bridges that connect Florence to its Tuscan countryside, you will find a slice of heaven here on Earth.  I can't believe I lived all my life without tasting the immense pleasure that is the cuisine of Il Latini.

My genius friend and fellow blogger at Piccante Dolce had the great privilege of once living in this gem of a city, so naturally I asked for some suggestions of where to eat.  Let's be honest, that's my first question when I'm planning to go anywhere.  You can call me obsessed if you'd like, but I want to explore other worlds through food.  Doesn't that sound more fun than a museum? (I did go to several of those too.)

Jen gave me a great list of restaurants and sites, but something about Il Latini jumped off the page and into my brain.  I saved it for my last full meal in Florence and what a finale it provided!  When I arrived casually strolling up to the restaurant for lunch, I noticed about 35-40 people were waiting outside of it.  I must be in the right place, I thought.  Immediately followed by panic, Oh no!  Do they only take reservations?

Side Note:  In Florence, several restaurants take reservations only.  The restaurants are usually small and often it is difficult to secure a reservation for dining out unless you've made it weeks in advance for some of the more sought after less touristy places.  My hotel wasn't exactly great at securing reservations either, so I thought that maybe Il Latini and I would never meet.

I waited with the others, hoping against hope that I too could take part.  Then, they opened the doors, and shattered my dreams.  A man with a piece of paper in his hands began checking off names.  I knew that this was the end...

I sighed a deep sigh and walked around the area for about 15 minutes trying to find some comparable fare but nothing even came close to what was drawing the mob of hungry patrons. Something inside me told me to go back to the restaurant and at least ask if I could wait a couple of hours.  I went back; the mob had disappeared, now being satisfied by slices of salami and ham.

Scusi?  Inglese?  Which was the most overused phrase of my trip by far. The waiter spoke English.  Sigh of relief number one.  Do you have any room for me?  Sola?  Of course, he said. Of course!  I sat at a table with eight chairs, all of them full but one.  That was my chair in the corner, across from a delightful local who very clearly loved two things: food and talking.  Next to me and next to him, a lovely couple from Venice. Everyone spoke Italian, as expected, and I listened politely understanding a good 40% of what was being said.  The waiter spoke to me in English (I guess I was easy to spot among the true Italians) and I ordered a caprese salad and a fillet of beef, senza glutine (GF.)  

The gentleman across from me kept gesturing to everything he was eating trying to get me to have some, which in half Italian, half-Spanish I tried to explain I couldn't eat most of what he was eating.  He began to understand, then shoved the large bottle of red table wine towards me, and my journey to greatness continued.  

Two glasses in, my caprese arrived, fresh and bright and delicious, as a caprese should be.

While each piece of mozzarella dissolved on my tongue, I really gave the restaurant a good look.  It was warm and full of people, the bustling waitstaff running frenetically with plates of sliced meats and cheeses and bowls of pasta. Locals who clearly dined here regularly playfully yelled at the staff and the owners from across the room, getting the same banter returned to them.  I was in a large room full of boisterous strangers, but I felt like I was with family.  

That's when the Florentine Steak that my neighbor ordered arrived.  I actually gasped.  It was probably the size of a grown man's torso, and it was about 5 inches thick.  Up until that day, when I saw the special Florentine steak ordered at other restaurants, sure a large steak came out, but nothing like the cow that was spilling over one of the largest plates I've ever seen. After my gasp, my neighbor laughed and introduced herself.  Lo and behold, she spoke the inglese. She was very nice, very thin and ate her huge 1/2 of the steak with triumphant aplomb. Oh Europe, I don't think I would ever see someone that thin back in California dig into that steak. That person would be sucking on lettuce...

She told me about her life and her travels, every now and then the gentleman would chime in, in Italian of course, and we would all speak (me in English, he in Italian) and all sort of understand each other.  And with another glass of wine, we may just have understood.

Four glasses in and my steak arrives; it's huge.  It's probably the largest steak I've ever ordered; how many ounces was it anyways?  These are things Italians don't bother themselves with. 

Manga my stomach growled.  And I did.  I manga-ed the hell out of that steak. It was cooked about rare to medium rare, which normally I would never order, but I like to try food as it's typically prepared when I go to other places.  It was delicious.  With every bite, the steak wasn't even disappearing.  I had to take breaks folks.  Me, take breaks.  That's when the waiter put down a bowl of roasted potatoes for me.  Oh g-d, I get those too?  On a steak break, I tried a potato. Now reader, there was nothing in that potato except butter, oil, salt and parsley, but that was the best damned potato I have EVER had.  Simple, robust, flavorful and something I will dream about for years to come. 
I think I need a new camera.  Focus anyone?

Alternating the steak and potato and sometimes combining the two, I was in an edible marathon.  Maybe another glass of wine would help?  That's when the gentleman across from me got his steak.  The same Florentine steak my neighbor was sharing was his alone.  I was floored.  I had just seen him eat 3 courses previously.  How in the world was this thin, older man going to eat that entire cow too?  Impossible I thought, until I saw it with my own eyes.
I finally made it through my own meal, savoring the lingering dancing on my tongue as I swallowed the very last bite.  

My new Italian buddy across from me finished his steak the same time and proceeded to take matters into his own hands by ordering all four of us coffees and after meal spirits.  Yes, this is where I cheated and had a tiny cup of espresso.  I miss coffee and tea so much; that might be my least favorite thing about trying to keep to low-oxalate foods.  That and the potatoes were a bit of a cheat.  Come on; I'm on vacation here!

When I eventually left the restaurant, I was glowing, happy and full.  I had even made friends with the owner too.  He gave me the two kisses and told me to enjoy my last day as if we had known each other for years.  Three hours later, I left that restaurant with friends and a new perspective on life.  I love Italians. I love their appetite for food, their appetite for life and the love that they bring in their hearts and share with everyone they meet.  Some may say, you spent three hours of your last day in Florence eating?  But I say those people don't understand, may never understand, until they experience the simple elegance and warmth that engulfs you when eating in Florence.  Or that may just be the wine talking ;)

For the best meal of your life, go to Il Latini, via dei Palchetti, 6/R, tel: +39055210916, email:


  1. I'm so happy you went there and loved it! Typical Tuscan fare and oh so good. I'm just sorry you couldn't have the biscotti and vin santo to cap your meal.

  2. Wow, I wish I could have been there to share that steak with you. Sounds wonderful!

    Your trip sounds pretty wonderful too.