16 May Finding Sostanza: A Florentine Gem
Seek and You Shall Find
Our visit to Florence’s Trattoria Sostanza started somewhat inauspiciously with a search for the restaurant itself, as street numbers here are not in the order we are accustomed to. Sostanza is 25/R? Okay.
We finally arrive at exactly 8:50pm, but the restaurant is closed, sealed up, the ‘garage’ door pulled down. Could this really be it? The tiny spot entirely closed? Say it ain’t so!
However, as we stand outside, we can hear the phone ringing from inside–a good omen?
Now taxis are pulling up and Florentines are getting out and popping inside–a fortuitous sign. We let them know we’re here and we’re invited in. Phew!
Diminutive and Delicious
Once inside, the restaurant reveals itself to be wonderfully diminutive–the kind of place where strangers quickly become friends due to the intimacy of the space. Indeed, we have to back up against the wall just to let people pass. As we walk in, we’re met by a waiter slicing a huge slab of finocchiona right on the front counter. No space goes unused here!
Bistecca and Tortellini
We sit and order some water and wine. We’re here for the Bistecca Fiorentina of course, but we’ve also heard about the Tortino di Carciofi. To start, we order the Tortellini al Burro, which is essentially little cheese tortellinis in a bowl with a slab of Tuscan butter on top. Like little puffs of clouds, so delicate and so light.
The Tortino di Carciofa is like a nest of artichokes – crispy bottom with a bed of lightly sautéed artichokes and a touch of still oozy custard, surrounded by a ribbon of egg. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is like soft waves of egg that surround the sautéed artichokes – still slightly runny in the middle but with a outside wave of egg that holds it all together. And this is all done on the wood fire! It was utterly beautiful and we demolished it in seconds.
Wonders of a Wood Oven!
Next came the “Butter Chicken.” A sizzling hot little saucepan with 2 breasts of crispy chicken in a bath of slightly brown butter. We continued to spoon the butter over the breasts and then cut off a few nibbles to try. How can chicken taste this good? Pale yellow breasts and the tenderest bite you could imagine. Crispy on the outside, delicate on the inside and bathed in brown butter–impossibly good, and again, all done on the wood stove. In fact, everything here is cooked on the wood stove.
A Radicchio Experience!
We’ve ordered a 1kg piece of bistecca along with the chicory salad, which is truly a revelation. It is not the radicchio that we know, but slender, slightly bitter, green leaves dressed in a tiny bit of Tuscan olive oil, a spray of red wine vinegar and a sprinkling of salt. Of course, we ordered another.
Here’s the Beef!
And then the beef arrives! Trattoria Sostanza is known for it’s Chianina beef, which is why so many locals flock here. It’s a big slab of rare T-bone steak, slightly charred on the outside and like butter on the inside. I’m not typically one who enjoys my beef this rare, but after tasting it, I can understand why it isn’t cooked any longer. The flavour is so delicate, and with bites of the chicory salad, it’s perfection.
Unsurprisingly, we had no room for dessert, but the locals were eating bowls of wild strawberries (fregolina de bosco – or strawberries from the forest), bathed in Grappa.
We bought some of these tiny strawberries from the market while in Venice, and ate them as we wandered the streets. Gone in a few minutes. They are tiny little delights with sweet and intense flavour–so much goodness packed into one tiny bite!
A Night to Remember
So it is with full hearts and fuller tummy’s that we end our night at Trattoria Sostanza. Truly an evening to remember. But then again, every night in Florence is unforgettable!