Monday, September 28, 2009
FEASTING IN FLORENCE - RISTORANTE ENOTECA PINCHIORRI
As Richard ended his producing duties for the Food Network we headed for Florence, the legendary Tuscan city, for a little R and R and more delicious eating. Driving into the ancient part of the city where our hotel was located, we found ourselves in a maze of narrow one way streets jammed with smart cars and Vespas, We drove up and down those streets and alleyways for what seemed like hours until we found our hotel. I was more than cranky by then, and as I got out of the car and saw the old, cramped, worn-out buildings on our street and the New York City flop house marquee marking our hotel, I burst into tears. Dozens and dozens of Vespas careened noisily by narrowly missing us as we unloaded the car while I sobbed quietly that this wasn’t the Florence we always dreamed of visiting.
I got it together, however, as we walked under the old, ugly marquee and into the tiny lobby of our hotel. Inside, I began to feel a little better. It had a charm that belied the outside. There was some lovely Italian pottery on display. We checked in and made our way upstairs to our room which was very simple, but had an artistic flare. I sat down on the plush duvet and let out a sigh of relief. A few minutes later we were out doing the sightseeing thing, marveling at the city’s beauty.
When we got back to our hotel, I showered and put on my black DKNY traveling pants suit, a cream-colored silk blouse and strands and strands of Coco Chanel pearls… we were going to one of Italy’s finest restaurants: Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri a member of the Relais & Chateaux group – Relais Gourmand. Richard had discovered it on-line when he researched the sites in Florence and had made the reservation. Since it was in the old part of the city, we (my husband, the director, the associate producer and I) decided to walk the narrow streets to the restaurant.
As we approached the restaurant we were greeted by a plain door to a building with an unremarkable façade. I didn’t react. I learned my lesson when I misjudged the outside appearance of our charming little hotel. We entered and walked up a short flight of stairs to a small foyer. We were greeted by the maitre’d who led us to our table in a stunning garden atrium with colorful flowers in huge stone urns and tall carved statues of what I assumed were Roman gods. The tables were dressed with ‘aged’ pink cloths and the walls were a pale yellow. Through a doorway on the other side of the atrium I could see another dining room in the same pink and yellow theme with vases filled with brightly colored flowers. An old world landscape in a gilded frame hung on a wall. Our waiter brought us menus and a tiny little chair that he placed on the floor beside me. I hadn’t a clue what it was for until he unhooked my Vuitton bag hanging on the back of my chair and placed in on the chair. A purse chair! Who knew? But it was then that I knew we were in for a memorable evening… no detail was too small.
Our food ordered, the sommelier chose a bottle of rich red Italian table wine (the only one we could really afford even on an expense account) from the restaurant’s cellar that houses about two hundred variety of wines.
We shared the appetizers: sea scallops with herbs and bell pepper, lobster ‘gratinated,’ and an endive salad dressed with hazelnut oil. We talked about the past three weeks and all the ‘shoots’ they’d done and the meals we’d eaten (some of which have been reviewed here – Lyon, Beaune) while the waiter replenished our wine glasses. He really didn’t understand English that well, but he did understand “Food Network” and began asking us all sorts of questions… Who were we? Why were we in Florence, etc? By the time we finished the delicious appetizers and answering his questions, the wine was gone. But, sadly, “our” cable show budget didn’t allow for another bottle – the food prices alone were going to put our per diem in shock.
However, when our waiter returned with our entrees, the sommelier also returned with a second bottle of wine, compliments of the chef, explaining that the chef couldn’t allow people from the Food Network to eat his creations without “complementing” it with wine. I wanted to cheer, but restrained myself. This bottle of red was far more complex than the one we had just finished and went beautifully with each of our entrees. We shared a handmade tagliatelle pasta filled with ricotta and basil served with chanterelle mushrooms, mozzarella and capers. Richard and Charlie (the associate producer) had the duck cooked two ways. The breast came separately – tender and juicy – followed by the legs which were served up in a confit. Jason (the director) had a lamb shoulder with asparagus and sesame seeds and I had the pigeon with thyme and garlic, squashed potatoes with a black pepper and chicken liver sauce. I had a taste of everything. Oh my!!!... This Tuscan food the chef made using French techniques was amazing. We couldn’t eat another morsel… well, except the cheese wheeled in on a cart by the chef. Not as extensive a selection as the restaurant I reviewed in Beaune, but filled with some of the most delicious cheeses I’ve ever had.
We paid the tab, we thanked the chef, telling him that this was one of the greatest meals we’d ever had and walked back to our hotel. Tomorrow was another day in Florence. I couldn’t wait.