Posted on

Italy: The Last Supper

Three years ago on my last night in Florence I took myself to dinner. I don’t remember how I heard about this place, I think it was in one of my books. So I walked myself along the Arno river to dinner and when I finally found this little place, tucked into an alley, it was not open yet. I could see in through the big glass doors and the crew was in the middle of their ‘family meal’ that many dinner places do before service. I stayed a respectful distance from the door and peeked at them, remembering the family meals I had been a part of in my restaurant past, and knowing that this place was special. Very rarely in any restaurant that I worked in, was the crew allowed to eat in the dining room, never mind the entire crew. And the food and wine were both abundant, not little tastes of the daily specials. They looked like a real family, enjoying themselves, possibly passing on information, and being nourished by one another as well as the food. This was Il Latini.

This was a popular place. Soon there was a crowd of hopeful diners gathered in the alley and pressing against those big glass doors trying to be the first in line. My respectful distance from the windows made me lose my place in line, so I just watched. The man opened the door as much as the crowd made room for, and people began calling out to him: “I have a reservation!” or “Table for 4!” and on it went. The man made eye contact with each person and they held up their fingers to show how many in their party, and slowly he began letting folks in. He had made eye contact with me, I shyly held up one finger, and he gave me a smile and a reassuring look, as if to say ‘don’t worry, I know you are there’. I did not wait long before he ushered me in and to the front table!

I sat at one of the long communal tables, a Japanese couple sitting across from each other on my left, and a couple from the US sitting across from one another on my right. The chair across from me remained empty for only a few minutes. The waiter plunked down a jug of wine and told me to let him know how many glasses I had at the end of the meal. Allrighty then! He asked if I had preferences between this or that, or if he should just start bringing me the house courses. Yes, please! A distinguished man was seated across from me and introduced himself. He was Parisian, just in town for a while, as he worked for (are you ready for this???) THE HOUSE OF PUCCI! Ok, I may not wear designer clothes, or even think about them, but I know Pucci is one of the oldest, most established, best houses of fashion in the industry. Gulp. I poured him some wine. He was so nice, we ended up sharing the meal as if it had been planned. This was his ‘go to’ joint in Florence and we were dining a bit early (I had to leave very early in the morning and he was tired) so there were more tourists in the place than there would be later. And as we took our time dining we watched the atmosphere change as locals took the place of tourists, and the conversations got livelier and more… Italian. This restaurant has it’s own farm estate. They make their own wine, press their own olive oil, and cure their own prosciutto-much of which is hanging from the ceilings. They grow their own produce, raise and hunt their own meats, and on and on it goes. Every morsel was delectable.

Now, three years later, I got to share this place with my parents and Mark, which was a dream come true moment for me. This time we had reservations, though still early because of an early flight. We all saw the tail end of the family meal, and though the commotion at the front was more civilized than it had been before, it was still fun to watch. We got in, got our table and began to dine. They plunked a 2 liter bottle of wine on the table and we drank it all! Plus 2 or 3 litres of water. The antipasti was many things, from their proscuitto (THANK YOU GOD!) and the best chicken liver pate I have ever eaten on yummy crostini, other meats, little balls of fresh mozzarella, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and I don’t remember what else. It was a meal in and of itself! We had options for the primi piatti. Mom and I both got the ribollita, dad got the cheese and spinach ravioli, and Mark got the papperadelle with Bolgnese sauce. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!! We all shared and loved each bite.

We also had choices for the secondi and we had seen the portions on the other tables! There was grilled Chianina steak, the size of which is difficult to describe. Think of 3rd base and I think you will be close, but still not big enough! We could have roast chicken, pork, rabbit, or lamb too. We got one order of pork and one of steak. It was more than enough for all of us! Plus of course there were contorni, side dishes of spinach, farro, and beans. Oh and bread, of course! So we continued to dine. All of this followed by vin santo e cantuccini, and things we did not even order like another bubbly dessert wine, a small fruit tart (divine!) and another little tart that they brought us, and espresso! We were very glad for the walk back, which turned out to be not quite long enough. This meal in this place was absolute perfection. To be able to share such a special place with Mark and my parents was absolutely priceless and I am so happy even just remembering. They loved it to, and it was definitely a highlight for each of us.

We stayed that night at a fine hotel called Hotel Atlantic Palace, which was a fairly quiet, nicely appointed, and very well priced option not too far from the train station. We would have gotten breakfast included if we had not had to leave so early. I will not bore you with the hellish trip home and the details of cancelled flights and horrifying customer service. Instead I will now give in to random thoughts:

Random thoughts: 
The weather:
was great for the whole time: rained only a bit on only a couple of days. Very warm (wouldn’t want it ANY warmer) in Florence; a bit cooler in cortona, which is good, and the nights were even more so. Clear skies, sunny, gorgeous. Rained 2 nights, not during the day. Chianti it was even cooler, especially at night. Still gorgeous, some fog, mostly sunny, some clouds, rained when we went to the Maremma but only for a bit. Cinque Terre sunny, cooler again, last morning quite chilly. Florence very chilly, sunny, clear skies, perfect last day.

Online: at least I had a way to do it some of the time. In cortona I had to use Parco Fiorito’s, which is fine; in florence with the WIND internet signal was medium, and worked well enough. It worked best on the train! Not hardly any signal in Cinque Terre, though enough to get checked in for our flights and do a little email.

Cost for food and wine: Like any city you can spend a little or a lot, for anything. We researched and sought out low & medium priced places, and were extremely happy with the food and wine that we had in Florence. In the more touristy towns, like San Gemignano, the prices were higher and the quality was lower. We got the best deal, and perhaps the best meals in Cortona at La Bucaccia and in Firenze at Il Latini. Our last day in Florence we were wandering and revisiting a few places, and we stopped at a street cart and got 2 BIG pork sandwiches served hot (fresh ciabatta style bread, roasted pork pieces, marinated mushrooms & artichokes) and 2 glasses of wine for 9 euro. Morning macchiato or cappucino was under 2 euro each. A litre of wine with some snacks in a bar on the beach in Monterosso was 10 euro. Tips, or ‘cover and service’ are usually included and even if not it is not much like in the states. Groceries, too seemed reasonably, if not low priced.

The byob wine shop we saw in Florence with Rima e Francesco was super affordable, and the meats, cheeses, produce, etc at the San Ambrogio market were, too. You had to know where to look, or be willing to shop around a bit. Beautiful pagminas for 5 euro or you could pay as much as 20 for the same thing if you were not careful. Clothing was very expensive in Florence, but you are paying for major names like Prada, Pucci, Gucci, etc… and it is much less expensive to get it there if you are in the market for such a thing. Water at the train station was 2 or 3 euro for 1.5 litres! Train and bus tickets were around 5 euro each from Florence to Cortona, Siena to Cortona, Florence to 5Terre and back. Less than 2 euro for 5terre.

Hotel was 80 euro for one night, near the train station, very decent place. The 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment was 560 euro for 4 nights, between two couples, really not bad at all. The 5Terre apartments were 80 a night, stairs were free.

Terrain was so obviously different: Tuscany had many cypress, olives, grape vines, other crops, green trees that were turning color and some not; grasses, sun flowers, etc… Chianti (still Tuscany, though more Western) was more like home w/pine trees and more forested, rosemary everywhere, still olives though not as many and of course grape vines. Maremma (again, still Tuscany) had many sea grasses, still olives-about the same as Chianti, cactus, many grapes, different trees, more citrus trees, even more cypress. 5Terre was all seaside with lots more cactus & bouganvillea…

Bells! Church bells at all hours, especially 7 am and on Saturday. I loved them; Mark, not so much at night.

Do you have questions, comments, or anything else? Want to go with us next year? Our trip will start in Piedmont and end in Tuscany and will include the Slow Food Festival if we can help it. Drop me an email, come by the cafe, or give us a call if you are at all interested. We can talk about the rest!

Ciao Ciao!