So, if you’re looking for traditional Florentine food, you’re going to be disappointed here. However, if you’re a true “foodie,” looking for the art of the cuisine, you will be delighted. Chef Francesco and his team create dishes, pairings and meals that take the freshest ingredients from traditional Italian fare and present guests with a magical dining experience.
Antonio, the food service manager at the Villa Tolomei, referred us to La Bottega del Buon Caffe. We asked him for an upscale restaurant with a great chef, fresh ingredients, a respectable wine list of boutique labels and a place where we might be the only table speaking English. The team, including Chef Francesco himself, greeted my family warmly at arrival with a sparkling, crisp glass of Prosecco and offered us our choice of tables. We sat and perused the menu while enjoying a “liquid pizza,” a sensational, sweet tomato water shot full of crunchy bread crumbs and a small, fresh mozzarella bite on the side.
We chose to forego the set menu in order to try as many dishes as possible. Appetizers included the beef tartar topped with olive oil ice cream, three preparations of foie gras, and lightly steamed shrimp atop an avocado and fresh tomato “guacamole.” The precision and attention to detail of the presentation is impeccable. For example, the shrimp were tightly aligned on the bed of tomato and the underlying avocado and all were arranged in a perfect circle positioned in the center of a dark gray slate serving tray. The stark contrast of the bold colors against the almost black serving dish was beautiful.
Next, the pastas arrived. After having pasta everyday for a week, I passed on pasta but my family would never skip this course. Both a ravioli dish dressed with grilled octopus and a chickpea flour spaghetti dressed with cod fish were delicious and meticulously prepared from scratch.
Finally, the main courses were served. We enjoyed grilled duck breast, prosciutto- wrapped pheasant and, the piece d’ résistance, grilled octopus on a thick, scrumptious section of grilled eggplant. This was arguably the best octopus that I’ve ever eaten. And, given my propensity to order octopus when it is offered, there was some pretty stiff competition for that type of commendation. Boiled before broiled, it was tender and seasoned to perfection. Delicious!
Although we had a wine in mind when ordering, we tapped the expert to recommend a bold red from a local, small volume vineyard wine to try. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do but when in Florence, drink as the Tuscans drink! We ordered the 2007 Testamatta, Italian for “hot headed,” from Fiesole. Wine maker Bibi Graetz has been identified as a fast up and comer in the region and the winery sits just about 8 kilometers outside of Florence. The wine was lovely. It started big, bold and robust but mellowed throughout the meal leaving us with a beautiful satiny finish. We enjoyed it so much that we asked about whether it might be possible to visit the vineyard on the following day. By the end of the meal, Chef Francesco came to inform us that he made a call and everything was set for us to visit at our leisure. Try to find attention and service like that from a restaurant full of tourists in Florence!
My son cleared away a dark chocolate flan so fast that we didn’t get a bite but, as he’s not a fan of vanilla, he left the rich, creamy homemade gelato that was intended to complement it. My husband and I each tasted it and then turned our attention to the two local glasses of Grappa that sat before us. Both local distilleries, Grappa represents the best way to close out such a gratifying dining experience in Italy.
There are several reviews that indicate the restaurant is too expensive, too small and takes too long to serve its customers but I would beg to differ. We are from California and the prices were not different than those we find at fine dining in the US, roughly $100 per person. With respect to the time required to finish a meal, this is about the Italian experience. Why would you want to rush it? Sit back and enjoy. If you don’t have time to dine, then don’t try to do so. Grab a quick dinner at any of the 100s of wonderful bistros, pizzerias, and tourist restaurants that line the streets in Florence. There are many excellent ones from which to choose.
A beautiful evening of fabulous food, excellent service and enjoyable conversation – life really doesn’t get better.
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