Let me repeat that: artisan chocolate festival. And it was exactly 1 block from my hostel. Win. La Piazza Repubblica was filled with around 20 tents of different chocolate companies offering samples of their products, showing off how each was unique in their own way, and selling chocolaty snacks to excited consumers, such as myself. I sampled some of the truffles, gourmet chocolate spreads of several varieties and flavor infused chocolate bars. The chocolate covered banana rolled in chopped peanuts was my favorite snack, although the cup of strawberries dowsed in chocolate was a close second. And, of course, the hot chocolate was fantastic. The dark chocolate kind was as thick as pudding. Needless to say, several of my meals while in Florence were topped off with a chocolate treat.
My next meal ended up being my absolutely favorite dining and overall experience in Florence. Better than chocolate!? It seems impossible, I know, but it is true. Chocolate could not quite stand up to my evening at a private (members only) club featuring a two hour, buffet style gourmet Italian meal cooked by a famous Italian chef in a restaurant/performance venue featuring a post-dinner entertainment act... all for 30 Euro.
We read about this place in my friend’s travel book and made it a must on our list of places to go. We lucked out because most nights require reservations for the dinner service, but it was not necessary the night we went. We paid the 5 Euro membership fee (which is good for a year) and the 30 Euro for the meal and performance and were told to pace ourselves (on both the food and the unlimited house wine) – yeah right.
We walked into the dining room (giddy as ever, I might add) to see an almost medieval looking room with stone pillars reaching from the wooden floors to arched ceiling under which several wooden tables were situated, surrounded by red velvet armchairs accompanied by candle light. We seated ourselves at a table on the far right side of the room close to the stage with a view of the kitchen through large glass windows. The entire dinner service we could see the food being made and we watched it get passed from the kitchen to the buffet table as the chef yelled in Italian what the dishes were. Never did we understand him, but we loved the energy created by the echoing voice of a passionate chef who clearly loved what he did.
As far as the food was concerned, it was wonderful. The first items that came out were all vegetable dishes of some kind. There was a broccoli puree, spiced carrots (served cold), roasted potatoes, an eggplant puree, and a beet and radish salad. In addition, there was a cauliflower gratin and a dish which was referred to as gnocchi, but was cut in a block instead of formed into puffs of dough. Regardless, it was fantastic.
The next dish was a “special salad” of warm chickpeas, mussels, faro and an assortment of other veggies. Then there was a whole roasted fish, which looked and tasted like a large sardine, a veggie stew with Moroccan couscous followed by mussels and broth. In addition, there were homemade rolls available with every course, and let us not forget about the wonderful house wine.
Finally came dessert: a thin rolled cookie shell with freshly whipped cream, a moist chocolate brownie, and café. Not too sweet, super rich, and unbelievably satisfying.
After the dining portion was over, the furniture was quickly moved around to have the chairs positioned in front of the stage for the performance that was to come. The acts change regularly and feature musicians, actors, poets, or any other type of entertainment you can think of. We were going to get to listen to the chef of the restaurant himself speak about food. It would have been absolutely perfect had it not all been in Italian. I could catch the general idea of what he was saying, but it took a lot of concentration to keep up with him and focusing that intensely for 90 minutes straight was difficult to do after consuming so much food. Nonetheless, I enjoyed hearing how he talked about food. The passion came through yet again and I felt happy to be a part of his club.
We ended up returning the next morning for the 7 Euro breakfast buffet. It was not quite as much food as the evening before (which was probably a good thing), but the fresh fruit, warm toast, and plethora of butter, cheese, and fruit spreads was simply perfect. I wished I could eat every meal here. We would have returned for dinner again, but they were already fully booked the rest of the nights we would be in Florence, so we were forced to eat elsewhere… To be continued.