Ciao! I am back from two wonderful weeks in Italy, whereupon I had the chance to savor a delightful variety of Italian food from both the Tuscany and Lombardy regions. We traveled through Florence, Fiesole, Siena, Milan and also to the northern lake region, each stop giving us a chance to try local specialties – and no doubt come home about ten pounds heavier for the experience (I refuse to even look at a scale for a good two weeks.) I will be trying my best to review each notable stop along the way, today beginning with Il Cantinone.
Il Cantinone is located in the Oltrarno district of Florence, across the Arno river and not too far from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and high-cost shopping district. Yet it’s just far enough off the beaten track that it tends to be passed over by many tourists, who must be afraid to descend the stairs to this cellar-level restaurant which does little to announce its presence from the street, save a small rooster sign and posted menu. Yet those who take the plunge (and mind the low ceilings) and will find a delightfully cozy restaurant serving authentic, seasonal Tuscan food. We had discovered Il Cantinone on a previous visit to Florence in 2006 and were pleased to find little had changed there in five year’s time.
The menu at Il Cantinone is fairly simple, emphasizing meats, cheeses, pastas, various styles of crostini and seasonal vegetables. We chose to begin with a simple bottle of house red wine and two antipasti: artichoke flan with shaved cheese (Sformatino di carciofi su un letto di foglie di parmigiano), and a crostone with tomato and pecorino cheese (Crostone con pomodoro e pecorino). Both were truly excellent. The flan was richly flavored yet delicate in texture, delightfully set off by the salty hard cheese. The crostini was one large slice of Tuscan bread, topped with cheese and very ripe tomatoes and served with arugula. Delicious. Tuscan bread on its own is not much to write home about, generally very dry and flavorless, but it makes for the perfect bread for wonderful grilled crostini.
On our last visit to Il Cantinone, we had enjoyed an authentic Bistek Florentine for the first time and been treated to a huge, thick and so-rare-it-was-almost-raw steak in true Florentine style. Of course we had to order it again here, and tried to insist to our waiter that yes, we did indeed want it just barely cooked as a real Florentine would eat it, not “medium” as a tourist might insist. Our steak this time was not quite as thick as previously, so it did get more cooked through than perhaps we really wished it. However, closer to the enormous bone the steak had the proper rare (and delicious) temperature. We could have quibbled when the steak was first presented to us, before cooking, for approval and asked for a thicker cut, but honestly we weren’t overwhelmed with hunger that evening having just arrived in Florence that afternoon after a long flight. The seasoning was perfect and the quality of the meat itself quite acceptable.
We also ordered a pasta of pappardelle with wild boar ragu which was perfect – and a perfect example of how good Italian restaurants do pasta right and how so many Italian-American restaurants do pasta wrong. This modest-sized dish of quality, not overcooked noodles was dressed with a hearty, dry meat sauce rich with the flavor of meat: not too oily, not too heavy with tomatoes, and served with just the right sauce-to-noodle ratio. I also liked the unique touch added by small black olives cooked into the sauce.
We were too full, and tired, to go for dessert but two espressos were fine for finishing off the meal. Our total bill came in at just under 100 Euros – the bulk of that bill being from the steak, which was priced by weight and we had requested the minimum size, which generally ends up costing 40-50 Euros at most restaurants in Florence. Service at Il Cantinone was acceptable and conversation with the staff, in English and our very basic Italian, was without difficulty. I would absolutely recommend Il Cantinone to any visitor to Florence looking for a wonderful, non-touristy meal in a restaurant serving authentic Tuscan food. It will certainly remain on our list of places to visit each time we are in Florence.
Via di Santo Spirito, 6, 50125 Firenze, Italy
Phone: +39 055 218898
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 12:30pm-2:30pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm