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2005
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Trattoria Mario, Florence, Italy, tasted on March 20, 2004 Since 1953 this boisterous trattoria has been serving great food at family style tables in the heart of Florence. I honestly can't remember if some research pointed us here, or if it was serendipity. But either way, I'm glad we went. After our trip to the market for pre-lunch and market perusal, we worked up an appetite checking out all the churches and Medici hangouts. We squeezed our way into a table at Trattoria Mario and recognized one of the waitresses as having been working at one of the stalls in the market. It turns out she was the daughter of the owner and was working in the market to learn about oils and vinegars. This family restaurant sent their daughter next door to work in the market to broaden her culinary perspective. And she returns to work at the family restaurant during the busy lunch hour. It seemed clear at this point, we'd come to the right place for lunch. When she later worried about whether we'd ordered enough food, we weren't just in the right place for lunch, we were in heaven.

Given that it seemed to be a pattern for the region, we didn't hold it against them when the awful bread showed up. As we expected it was completely devoid of flavor. No salt. Just terrible. Luckily the bread was quickly forgotten as we devoured our ragu. It was super beefy with an almost cinnamon flavor. Hearty and juicy. Good stuff. The "worm" pasta was fresh and slightly salty in a good way. A nice contrast to the ragu. The bean puree was super smooth. The savory beans were not heavy and were served with enough olive oil so they didn't come out mealy.

Florence is famous for a certain type of grilled steak served with a lemon. The steak is seasoned beautifully as well. Trattoria Mario's Bisteca Fiorentina was no exception. It was an amazingly juicy perfectly seasoned steak. It was cooked rare with white, tan, and pink spots all dripping with juice. The lemon made it perfect. The bitter greens in the salad were good as a complement.

Next up was the Piposo di Mauzo - beef brisket with an amazing sauce consisting of red wine tomato, olive oil, and black pepper. It was ruby red and warm in my stomach. The Fagioli Bianchi however was just ok. Peyman disagreed and thought it was very good. The potato dish was interesting - Patate in Umido - potatoes in a red oil sauce. The sauce was great. It started fresh and bright and got more complex and savory on the finish. The fries were soft but not limp. They were fresh tasting and perfectly salted. We also had the classic Osso Bucco. It tasted of red wine and cinnamon. Really good flavor.

We wrapped up with biscotti and vin santo for dipping. I'm not typically a biscotti fan as they usually come close to breaking my teeth. But this had a super almond flavor packed into a balanced crunchy/chewy cookie. Yummy.

In Florence, Trattoria Mario is wonderful. Outside of Italy it would be mind-blowing. Either way it's a definite stop for lunch (if you happen to be in Florence). Even if you've never been there, the combination of the food and atmosphere make you feel like you're home.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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