Thursday, March 29, 2012
I’d been meaning to go to the Gucci museum in Florence for a while. And when I say ‘go to the Gucci museum’ of course I don’t mean the actual museum. I’d been to the museum itself a few weeks after it opened, when I was in town updating Eat Florence. As you’d expect, it’s Gucci times ten. Fun. Especially if you are a fashion addict.
Unfortunately when I visited I was running to catch a train back to Rome, and so didn’t have time to sit down in the extremely cool caffe/bookstore that is on the ground floor facing directly out onto Piazza Signoria. Yes. The most innovative and elegant restaurant opening in Florence in the past year is located on the most historic piece of property in town.
Florence can be so smart sometimes.
But don’t worry. From the outside Palazzo della Mercanzia, where the three story Museo and Caffe are located, is still exactly the same. Michelangelo’s David and Ammannanti’s Neptune still lord over the square. But inside? That’s a different story. The sleek and modern Caffe and Bookstore stretch out over the entire ground floor, enjoying some of the best views in the city.
When I was up for Taste last week I finally had a chance to return, and this time for dinner. As I mentioned, during the food fair Fuori di Taste takes over the city, with restaurants offering special menus featuring products from the fair. Gucci Caffe chose wisely, by inviting Palagiaccio, a farm located outside of town, in the Mugello, to wrap their multi-course dinner around.
While Palagiaccio is one of those farms that produces just about everything, what they are famous for are their cheeses. As I settled into the large communal table that feels more like a library (and you know I love eating in a library) the dishes began to arrive.
While the chef could have chosen to work with ordinary pecorino or one of their other excellent aged cheeses, he chose the really yummy fresh, lesser known, fresh cheeses that Palagiaccio is known for. Produced to be used on the day they are made, these cheeses rarely travel off the farm. There are no ‘traditional’ recipes to follow, since the milky, rich cheeses are usually eaten as is. This didn’t stop the chef from working them all into creative - yet refreshingly straightforward and healthy- dishes that I hope to recreate at home.
As we chatted across the communal table, tiny whole wheat bruschette arrived, topped with robiola - a type of slightly sour cream cheese - that had been livened up with chopped chives and sea salt.
The problem with writing about these cheeses is that there is often no English translation. If anyone knows what raveggiolo is, I’m all ears. It’s made from cow milk, cultured briefly and then the loose curds are drained. Dat’s it. Incredibly milky tasting, as you’d expect. We had ours dolloped atop a green tomato with a crispy crouton to scoop it up.
Farro soup was next. Earthy, hearty and piled atop a mess of broccoletti. A spoonful of stracciatella (think mozzarella, but torn into raggedy bits) floating on top. A drizzle of bright green Tuscan olive oil pulled it all together.
(I know this is seeming like a lot of food, but the portions were tasting size. Just in case you were worried about me fitting into any Gucci outfit I might have been contemplating in this setting. )
The next dish was able to work in not one, but two cheeses. Tender ravioli were filled with creamy ricotta and spinach, then topped with melted stracchino. The flecks of saffron weren’t just pretty. They melded the two fresh cheeses into something much more complex.
Ok, even I admit I was pretty full at this point. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the grilled hamburger (made, of course, from beef straight from the farm) topped with Mugello blue cheese.
And what Gucci meal could be complete without a logo? Ok, there were lots-o-logos going on through out the meal. But the logo I liked best, of course, was the one I could eat. Dark chocolate entwined ‘G’s”, perched atop a perfect scoop of ice cream.
And that logo? That was as 'designery' as the food got. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but in such an extremely stylish setting I was worried that the food couldn't possibly compete. I half expected silly and - well - 'designer'. What I got was well prepared, straightforward and delicious. So while I may opt for more traditional museums like the Uffizi and the Bargello next time I'm in town for my art fix, I'll definitely be thinking Gucci style when it comes to my next meal.
The Caffe is open all day long, 10-11pm. It's a great place to eat, but also to linger. Did I mention they have wifi? And iPads you can use?
The farm is located in Senni, near Scarperia outside of Florence. But if you can't make it out there, they have several stores in Florence, just check the list here.