We are both fans of Italian food and wine — J. being especially addicted to good pastas — so we tried to eat well when we were in Florence, without entirely breaking the bank. Depending on where we went and how much wine we ordered, we were generally able to sit down to leisurely dinners for something in the order of 60-90 Euros. (I’m not sure exactly what the conversion rate is right now and at the moment I’d rather not know.)
A point of detail: it’s rare for a good Florentine restaurant to open before 7:00, and some of them don’t open till 7:30.
The challenge in Italian dining is not altogether unlike that in the Italian wines category — finding the right middle ground between traditional-but-not-very-good and creative-but-international-and-rather-anonymous. Some of our best dining experiences were with wine bars that were also apparently popular with locals: Coquinarius on the north bank near the Duomo, and Il Santo Bevitore on the south (Oltrarno) side (both of them, incidentally, located in former stables). Both offered interesting pastas and cold dishes (meats, cheeses, carpaccios, etc.). Bevitore also had warm main dishes (secondi) that were well-executed but perhaps not very Tuscan. We had some very good Tuscan wines at both places. Santo Bevitore has a very good wine bar two doors down which opens earlier than the restaurant per se — we spent about half an hour there waiting for the restaurant to open. Unusually, Coquinarius is open all day.
We were more equivocal about a similar type of establishment in the Santa Croce area called Baldovino — good pastas (including a porcini ravioli in truffle oil [or “truffle oil”? — we’re not sure] that J. returned to devour again on our last night), but the secondi are kind of weird Cal-Ital at best. We also had our worst wine experiences here — two rather anonymous international-style wines identified on their labels as DOCG Chianti Classico, both recommended by our servers. (Why did I ask for another recommendation on the second occasion having being disappointed by the first one? — I dunno — there were only 5 Ch Cl’s on the list…) I don’t know whether all their wines are international style or only the ones they recommend to tourists.
In the more traditional (though upmarket) Trattoria style, we had an excellent lunch at 4 Leoni in Oltrarno, and we would have been more than happy to return for dinner. Their menu is only in Italian which might make them a better candidate for a visit later in your stay, after you’ve learned a bit of terminology (we visited them in a jet-lagged state for our first lunch, before we even checked into our hotel). We also had a very good meal at Antico Fattore, which is a traditional Trattoria very close to the Uffizi (they apparently suffered considerable damage in the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi). We ordered mainly off their extensive daily specials menu. Also likeable in the traditional style though perhaps not as interesting was Trattoria Angiolino just down the street from Il Santo Bevitore in the Oltrarno.
We didn’t have any genuinely awful food experiences in Florence. Our worst experience was a place near downtown called Paoli, a cloth-tablecloth type of place that gave us serious attitude about I’m not sure quite what. Their food wasn’t all that good either — I had a good pasta (butter and sage…) but my main was uninspired and J. found both her dishes a trial.
Being in Tuscany, we generally tried to get our hands on a good bottle of Chianti Classico at dinner — it’s a style we both like, a moderately oaked red with some complexity and an earthiness and “meatiness” that goes well with food. We met with varying degrees of success.
Baldovino, as already noted, recommended two oaky international-style wines to us on the two nights we were there. The first started OK, became somewhat overwhelmed with oak as it opened up, and then was already starting to fall apart well before the end of dinner. J. essentially rejected the second wine so we both ended up leaving the restaurant with quite a lot of wine in our glasses — something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before… Antico Fattore led me astray by listing Villa Antinori as a Chianti Classico on their English menu — it’s not, and I confess I probably would have known that given more than a passing acquaintance of the leading Italian producers. It’s a perfectly likeable IGT Toscana, probably more likeable than either of the the Baldovino Classicos, but missing the characteristic earthiness-meatiness-not-overwhelmed-by-vanilla-iness of a traditional Chianti. We had very pleasant wines on both occasions at Coquinarius, and Santo Bevitore served us two very nice Classicos in the wine bar and restaurant respectively. The half-bottle of Classico we ordered at Paoli (Peppone, I think) was possibly the best part of the evening. Next time we go to Tuscany, we will go with some serious wine research in hand.