Ristorante il Paiolo
Day 2 | Part 3 of my adventures in Florence brought me to a restaurant in the touristy section of the city. Since I was still eating dinner at my early American hour, I called the restaurant in advance to see if they were open.
“Hi, are you guys open for dinner already?”
“And do you seat one person for dinner?”
“Awesome, I’ll head over now. Thank you.”
“See you soon.”
Happy that the man on the phone was friendly, I plugged the address into my GPS and made my way over to Ristorante il Paiolo.
A Central Dinner Location
I followed the street past the Cathedral and Duomo. The storefronts in this part of the city had name-brand watches and clothing displays. I passed mannequins in holiday displays with Christmas lights.
Only pedestrians were allowed within this shopping plaza. Concrete planters sat in the middle of the cobblestone streets. People lounged on the concrete edges eating gelato.
Ristorante il Paiolo
I passed the Timberland storefront as I turned left down a side-street. The front of Ristorante il Paiolo was ahead on the left.
I stepped through the wooden doorway. The restaurant was long and narrow like Le Cappelle Medicee. The same dark wooden tables lined either side of the room to create an aisle. An archway divided the front and back of the restaurant.
The waiter, presumably the one I spoke to, was leaning against the bar on the phone. A table of 5 was finishing their meal across from him.
I waited near the table of five. They made eye contact but didn’t say hello. “Do I seat myself?” I asked them.
“Wait for him.” One man answered, gesturing with his head towards the waiter.
The waiter finished his phone call and greeted me.
“Hi, I called before? Table of one.”
“Yes, I was expecting you.” He motioned towards the front of the restaurant and I followed him. He placed the menu at the first table, facing the front windows.
“Thank you.” I was happy to have a good table. It was a four-top table, but a wooden divider split the tables into two-tops. I thought that was a clever use of space — but also helpful when serving the bistecca alla fiorentina.
Starting the Meal with Wine
I forgot my waiter’s name, but he was personable and spoke fluent English. Ristorante il Paiolo offered a large wine list, but I only needed a glass, so I asked him to select one.
He recommended a medium-body red wine. I preferred this wine to the one I had at Le Cappelle, since it wasn’t as bitter. I also ordered a sparkling water, but this time I received flat.
Before I left Florence, I wanted to sample Tuscan cheeses. Ristorante il Paiolo offered many traditional Tuscan entrees as well as a cheese plate appetizer. So I ordered the selection of cheeses with acacia honey.
The waiter brought a brown bag of sliced Florentine bread while I waited. I also received balsamic and olive oil to dip in.
Ristorante il Paiolo’s olive oil was decent, but their balsamic was to die for. It was almost like a dessert balsamic. It tasted like black cherry. That balsamic was so delicious, I didn’t even need olive oil for the bread.
What’s impressive is that this is il Paiolo’s own brand of balsamic. I would’ve loved to see where they source the ingredients from — as balsamic is another famous regional product.
Tuscan Cheese Sampler
Unfortunately, I am as skilled at describing cheese as I am wine — so I hope my photographs do this justice.
This appetizer offered three types of Tuscan cheeses. All three seemed dryer to me and reminded me of the texture of Swiss or cheddar. They were not as dry as Pecorino Romano though not as hydrated as mozzarella. The spreadable cheese in the middle of the plate was similar to Brie.
Two teaspoons on the plate balanced honey — one clear and one dark. The other two teaspoons had marmalade. My favorite was the light orange one.
I was not a fan of the spreadable cheese in the middle. It had a strong aftertaste and a texture like peanut butter. At one point I put it on my slice of bread and dipped it into the balsamic and oil. That was a better flavor combination than on its own.
For one person (and the fact that I’m lactose intolerant) — this was a generous amount of cheese. I finished one whole triangle of cheese and most of the honey before wrapping the rest.
People on the sidewalks stopped and looked at the outdoor menu. It was still an early hour for Italians to have dinner, so no one came in. I drank my wine while I waited for my entree.
Since I was sitting facing the door, I didn’t notice as many details about the room. I did note a 3D display of the Ponte Vecchio on the salmon-colored walls. Wines rested sideways on the top shelves going down the length of the room. A different waiter lit the tall candle on my table. I liked il Paiolo’s attention to detail.
Ossobuco alla Fiorentina
Il Paiolo listed ossobuco under their traditional Florentine dishes. The menu mentioned bone marrow in its description — which I never had before, so I decided to order it as my entree.
When it first arrived, I thought I received the wrong entree. My father always described the bone marrow as a vertical bone split down the middle, where you used your spoon to drag out the marrow.
My dish was a Filet mignon-sized piece of meat, which pulled apart like short ribs. In the middle was the cut of bone that cradled the bone marrow. Over top the dish was chunks of stewed tomatoes and whole garlic cloves (my favorite).
I tried the bone marrow first. It was richer than butter. The texture dissolved in your mouth — it was spectacular. I had about half-dollar sized amount of bone marrow in my entree.
My entree also came with a side of al dente, large grain rice (which I guess is the Florentine equivalent of potatoes). A few lines of the sweet balsamic were also drizzled along the side of the plate.
Dessert in the Plaza
I finished my entree (rice and all). It was a hearty and familiar dish to me, and I could see myself making it at home.
I decided to skip ordering any dessert from Ristorante il Paiolo, despite the impressive meal, and venture into the plaza for dessert.
The Search for Gelato
On my way to il Paiolo, I remembered seeing gelato ice cream cones. As I walked back towards the Duomo I kept my eyes open for anything that looked dessert-related.
And that’s when I saw the open doors of Venchi Chocolate and Gelato.
Venchi Chocolate and Gelato | The Modern Willy Wonka
Three lines stretched out onto the sidewalk. A velvet rope and sign directed you to each doorway — one for gelato, one for crêpes, and one for picking up your order.
I stood in the middle line. The room to my right had built-in displays of chocolate. This side of the room had the line for the chocolate-filled crêpes.
I watched several workers from my counter scoop gelato and top the cones with chocolate or nuts. The standing-room to the left of my line was packed with customers straining to take photographs and collect their treats.
Luckily, my view was perfect — and influenced my decision to order hot chocolate instead of gelato.
The back wall of Venchi was a chocolate waterfall, which piped into the silver coffee-pot looking container on the right.
So when it was my turn to order I asked the woman, “Can I have a plain hot chocolate?” I read from their menu that you could order caramel or hazelnut flavored.
“Sure, what size?”
Why not? I was pushing my luck with the dairy this evening. “Sure.”
The girl took a small, clear plastic cup, and went to the silver canister. She pulled the tap like an ice cream machine, and the dark chocolate poured into the cup. She dropped in a dollop of whipped cream and handed it back to me.
If I remember correctly, I think the hot chocolate cost me €8.
Hot Chocolate with a View
I didn’t want to get in trouble for wandering around with an open-top hot chocolate, so I quickly walked from the shopping plaza over to the Cathedral and Duomo. I took a concrete bench in front of the bell tower and ate my hot chocolate like soup. It was thick like hot fudge and velvety warm. I only ate 1/3 of it.
Several soldiers stood nearby their hummer-style trucks, observing the area. This square was still buzzing with tourists. It was about 9:00 pm. Groups posed in front of the architecture, with the men kneeling on the cobblestones to get the full height of the Cathedral in the frame.
The wind had picked up — and despite the illumination from the spotlights on top of the buildings, there wasn’t anything else for the day that I wanted to see.
I headed back to my room to plan my Sunday adventures of Day 3 in Florence. You can read my morning and lunch review from Day 3 here.