Friday, June 10 saw us back at Villa I Tatti for a fascinating day-long series of lectures on Italian Renaissance subjects. The morning session focused on current research projects by visiting scholars past and present, and the afternoon session on future and on-going work at I Tatti itself. In between, we were treated to a wonderful lunch buffet of classic Tuscan delights: white beans in olive oil, fava bean salad with tiny shrimp, baked stuffed tomatoes, marinated seafood salad, an overwhelming selection of Italian meats and cheeses, risotto salad with olives, pate in puff pastry and more. It was hard to resist being a glutton and going back for repeated platefuls of the wonderful food. I envy the lucky students and professors who get to enjoy lunches from I Tatti’s kitchen on a daily basis!
As we indulged quite heavily for lunch, dinner could easily wait until later in the evening, after a final farewell concert at I Tatti performed by a delightful early music ensemble, Le Poeme Harmonique. Being midway between the two cities, we decided to take a taxi to the beautiful, ancient city of Fiesole for the evening. Fiesole was a powerful Etruscan city founded in the 8th or 9th century B.C., dating back even further in time than Florence and with a rich history all of its own. Today, Fiesole is mostly visited by those captivated by the scenic views of Florence below and to escape the tourist throngs that can overrun that more popular destination. An ancient Roman amphitheatre, other ruins, and historic churches are all worth a visit during a day in Fiesole.
We knew precisely where we wanted to dine that evening, even for just the light meal we had in mind: Ristorante La Reggia Degli Etruschi. We had stumbled upon this restaurant five years before while spending the day in Fiesole and enjoyed a fantastic meal on their terrace, watching the sun set over the hills and city of Florence below. The only bad thing about that previous visit was that I had been suffering from a terrible migraine attack all day, so my memories of Fiesole past were tainted by that pain which didn’t abate. So we were determined that this second time around we would both be able to enjoy the experience of an evening in Fiesole more. We partly succeeded, although our return visit was not completely perfect.
La Reggia degli Etruschi is the sole restaurant located on Via San Francisco in Fiesole, a winding, steep path that leads up to the ancient San Francisco monastery, a beautiful and peaceful sight to pause for rest and contemplation. We climbed the path to commemorate the return visit, myself posing for a photograph in the same place I had five years before. Ah, but that was about twenty pounds ago as well – eek! But no worrying about such matters until after returning home. On our ascent, we’d passed La Reggia degli Etruschi and noticed all of their tables along the terrace edge were full. The restaurant does have interior rooms but it just wouldn’t be the same if we couldn’t enjoy the open air and beautiful view. So we savored the scenery of Fiesole for a time before descending partly back down Via San Francisco to see if better tables had become available.
Excitedly, I noticed now two empty tables right along the terrace ledge. Yet when we asked for one of them, we were instead offered another table – outside on the terrace, yes, but away from the ledge and with only a much more limited view. I was disappointed but supposed those other two tables perhaps had been reserved for later diners, so we took what we could get. More annoyingly, I watched all throughout our dinner – which was over the course of about two hours – and no one else sat at those two tables along the ledge all night, making it clear they had not been reserved for anyone after all. We were supposed to tip the host or do something else in order to claim one of those better tables? I’m not sure, as five years ago it had required nothing but pointing and asking if we could have the table we’d desired.
This put me in a slightly off mood from the start of our meal at La Reggia degli Etruschi. The very long wait between when we were brought our menus and our waiter returned to even take water and wine orders did not help either. I don’t expect overly fawning, attentive service in Italy but I don’t like feeling ignored right from the start, either. Perhaps I just needed a glass of wine. We decided upon the Pomino Bianco by Frescobaldi, which was delightfully light and refreshing. It paired well with our choice of antipasti, the Chianina beef carpaccio and the Smoked Tuna carpaccio. Both were plated beautifully, flavors accented by light dressings, slivers of mango, arugula and parmesan cheese. The menu is rather limited at La Reggia degli Etruschi, with about a half-dozen choices each for antipasti, primi and secondi. Prices are a bit above average as well – if I recall correctly, a bit higher than as currently listed on their website.
As we were indeed not feeling full hunger that evening, we both chose to skip a meat or fish course and only do a primi. I chose to try their Vialone risotto in wild mushrooms and grotta pecorino cheese sauce, as I’d been thwarted at several restaurants so far in attempting to order anything with porcini mushrooms. The dish was precisely what I’d been craving – a nice creamy plate of risotto, rich with the flavor of earthy mushrooms and salty cheese. My companion went for the Pici pasta in garlic and tomato sauce. These handmade noodles, a thick kind of of spaghetti, worked well with the fresh sauce which I only tasted a little of, because of my occasional issues with garlic.
I’m fairly certain we shared a dessert but to my regrets I did not photograph it to recall what we had. Our total was 89 Euros for wine, two antipasti, two primi, one dessert and coffee.
Overall, I’d give Ristorante La Reggia degli Etruschi a good recommendation, but with just a few hesitations. Service is not their strong point, and perhaps if dining with a view is an absolute must, try to make reservations in advance for one of the best tables (there is a reservation form on their website). We are never that organized to do so while in Italy, nor do we like to be tied to a set schedule of when and where we must dine, so I know we can’t be that particular about always getting the table we want or a seat at the restaurant we most want. The food here is quite good quality, if a bit pricier than average. Certainly the location is hard to beat for dining with a view and a romantic setting while in the Florence area, so La Reggia degli Etruschi should be worth consideration if you will be spending any time in Fiesole.
As a final note to those who may be “day/evening-tripping” it to Fiesole from Florence: the Number 7 bus will get you from San Marco in Florence to the city square of Fiesole on a regular basis, but in the later evening hours the bus only runs once an hour. Also, all the Tabacchi shops where you can buy bus tickets close by the early evening, so get your return ticket in Florence before heading up – or else end up taking a risk of being fined if an inspector shows up on your bus and finds you ticketless. Not that this seems to be a danger most Florentines take seriously, but I’m not going to be one to promote illegal behavior to other tourists!
Ristorante La Reggia degli Etruschi
Via S. Francesco 18, 50014 Fiesole, Italy
+39 055 59385
Hours: Daily 11am-3pm; 6-11pm.