Osteria La Cantinetta is hard to miss if you go anywhere at all outside of your Florence apartment or hotel room. On the street that
connects the Duomo (the biggest and most famous church) with the Mercato Centrale (the biggest and most famous) market, it has one of most well-traveled and convenient-for-a-meal-in-between-site-seeing locations in the city.
Formerly a self-service bar under the same name, the new managers have transformed the space into a full-service Italian restaurant and wine bar, bringing authentic fare from the Tuscan countryside to plates in the heart of the city.
Step off the bustling cobblestones and into a haven of hanging salamis, garlic strings and sprigs of basil. Ingredients are always on display here; the owners are very proud of the quality and freshness of what they serve, and especially of where it comes from. Pressing your nose against the glass display case, you’ll see golden pears hand-picked at Florentine markets, meats and cheeses from local farms, and tiramisu prepared this morning by an Italian nonna. And no, those typical jars of honey, bottles of olive oil and packets of biscotti aren’t decorations; they’re a little bit of Tuscany to take home at the end of your meal.
In the mood for some wine? Browse bottles from Milan to Sicily on the surrounding shelves. Having a hard time choosing one good label over the other? La Cantinetta organizes tastings with accompanying regional appetizers, and even has in-house sommeliers ready to guide you.
I settled in with a classic glass of Chianti and opened the menu to see all of my favorite traditional Tuscan specialties: garlic bread (served the real way, with a raw clove of garlic to be rubbed on each side,) Ribollita (famous bread and vegetable soup Tuscans have been making for about 800 years,) Cinta Senese (the pedigree of all Tuscan pigs,) and Bistecca Fiorentina (the most characteristic Florentine dish: a gigantic T-bone steak from the biggest cow in the world, the Chianina).
There were also new twists on time-honored ingredients, like a giant hamburger made with Chianina beef, topped with a fried egg on a sesame seed bun.
Uh-oh. Too many good things, and nothing’s really expensive so I can’t weed out choices that way. (Nice problem to have.) “Could you just bring me something special? I like everything. Well, everything good.”
A wooden block adorned with pistachio-studded pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), chestnut honey, finocchio (cold cuts flavored with fennel seeds), prosciutto crudo (cured ham), salami, and grissini (Italian breadsticks) promptly arrived. This was the “tagliere,” a platter of Tuscan meats, cheeses and breads, as the waiter described, “made to be eaten with a glass of wine.” As I sipped mine, alternating sweet-and-salty bites of honey-drizzled pecorino with some of the most flavorful, peppery salami I’ve had, I thought he pretty much hit that one on the nose.
Next up was a sampling of two pastas. The first was one personalized by the cook, “tortelli di pera e pecorino infonduta di pecorino,” was what looked like raviolis gathered at the top by all ends and twisted, forming little pouches of pasta stuffed with carmelized pear and pecorino, drowned in a rich, creamy cheese sauce. The second was a plate the chef invented himself, “linguine al pesto di cavolo nero con pancetta croccante.” I had never tasted or seen anything on the menu like it; soft noodles in a light sauce of pureed black cabbage, topped with crunchy Italian bacon.
My favorite part of the whole presentation was the little yellow rose on my plate. Upon closer inspection, I realized the delicate garnishment had been meticulously carved from a potato. (Too bad, as my initial plan was to take the little treasure home in my pocket).
I, of course, did what I always do, ate way too much and didn’t have room for the desserts I lie awake at night thinking about. If you could please do me the favor of going there and trying them for me, I’d really appreciate it.
Website (in English!)
Phone: (+39) 055 213525
Address: Borgo San Lorenzo, 14, Florence
Have you been to La Cantinetta or tried an interesting spin on Tuscan ingredients at another restaurant in Florence?