Last night, to celebrate the dollar’s dramatic comeback against the euro, Kristin and I scoured Florence for the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. Made from a unique breed of cow, Chianina, the steak is served in huge slabs of between 1.5 lbs and 3 lbs, and traditionally cooked al sangue, which means “bloody.” I say “scoured” because the prices of bistecca alla fiorentina vary, and I was looking for the best combination of price and quality. I discovered that most restaurants charge 45 euros per kilo (2.2 lbs); the cheapest I found the steak for was 30/kilo, and the most expensive was 55/kilo.
We ate at Gusta Osteria, and the meal was excellent. The house-made pastas are authentic and inspired. The bistecca alla fiorentina was excellently simple: a very, very thin cut of beef, cooked to a succulent crisp on the outside, barely warm on the inside. I’ve only eaten raw beef that tender once before, and that was a porcini carpaccio in Puglia. Gusta Osteria is an impressive restaurant. During the day it operates a panino bar that serves cheap and delicious panini (3-4 euro) to go. It’s called Gustapanino. Right across from Chiesa di San Spirito, it’s a good way to grab lunch on the go.
Another traditional Tuscany dish is a soup called ribollita. So far I’ve sampled it at two restaurants. It is a rustic soup composed of bread, fava beans, black cabbage, and other vegetables. The bread makes the soup very light. Certainly a good example of a dish from Italy’s culinary past that’s still alive today. I highly suggest sampling it for yourself.
I’ll leave you with a tip for finding cheap accommodations in Florence. Online booking sites do not include many of the cheaper hotels in Florence. This means that, if you’re willing to roll the dice, you can shop around upon arrival. There are probably 30 hotels just around the train station, most of which are respectable, offer free WiFi, and cheap. Go door to door and get the best price. We found ours for 40 euros/night with WiFi. Not bad for peak season. However, I don’t recommend trying your luck during July or August.
Tomorrow I’m renting a car and heading for Tuscany’s wine country, where I’ll taste the latest Chianti wines. I can’t wait to hit the road.
Via De’ Michelozzi 13/r
Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpCLose.com