Trattoria 4 Leoni,
Florence, Italy, tasted on March 20, 2004 — On a small piazza
in the middle of Florence that looks like it's straight out of a
movie set, sits
4 Leoni. Don't ask to me explain the weird numerological naming
as I don't get it and I don't speak enough Italian to have asked.
Luckily, math is not a requirement to enjoy the food there. Before I
dive in, I should say that Italy really is an incredible place. Much
like Japan (in my experience) the bar for food is simply higher. The
number of restaurants we ate at that we'd love to return to were
numerous. Trattoria 4 Leoni was definitely one of them.
Dinner peaks in Florence between 9:30 and 11pm.
arrived on this night at 10pm, right in the middle of the action. We sat
down to a few slices of the almost comically horrible
Florentine bread. I don't know whether this is apocryphal or
not, but the story I heard is that at some point in not too recent
history salt was an incredibly expensive commodity in this region of
Italy. The locals had to bake their bread without it. And when salt
became as common as... well... salt, nobody bothered to put it back
in their bread. The result? Bread so devoid of flavor it's like a
black hole eliminating flavor anywhere it can find it in the
universe. I've never eaten cardboard, but I would imagine this isn't
so dissimilar. You may wonder how a meal starting with such horrible
bread can turn out so great. The truth is that the bread is a just a
function of the region. This was clear as we had bread like this
almost everywhere we went. On to the good stuff.
First up was
an assortment of crostini. The tomato was bursting with flavor, oil,
and freshness though the bread was a touch soggy. The mushrooms had a
nice oiliness as well. And the ground beef had a livery quality (in a
good way) and was savory and juicy. A neat butter replacement in my
opinion. Next up was the
The saltiness built slowly and the strong
cool freshness of the mozzarella was a perfect backdrop.
We followed up the prosciutto with
Involtino di Melanzane - eggplant and ricotta. The eggplant itself
flavorless but was saved by the ricotta which was supple and subtle with
tanginess and a bunch of warm flavors. It was cool how the olive oil snaked through
the the dish. These were all just warm-ups for the pasta. Let me take a
moment to explain my obsession with pasta. It's amazing to me how
something as simple as a noodle and sauce can taste so incredible when
every variable is just so. When the pasta has a fresh quality and is
cooked just perfectly - not too soft, not too hard. The sauce is hot and
chock full of clean, fresh, and distinct flavors. The combination is
served at the exact perfect moment when the temperature and textures are
perfect, and I'm happy.
OK. First was
Fiocchetti di Pere Con Salsa di Taleggio e Asparagi - asparagus pasta.
The sauce was silky and creamy and the pasta had a surprise filling - sweet pear.
Strigoli al Pomodoro Piccante. "Worm" pasta with tomato sauce! So simple, fresh, and
delicious. The slight kick combined with the slitheriness of the pasta
makes it special. Simple and special. I could eat this every day of
my life. And finally we had
Risotto alla Zucca Gialla e Gorgonzola - saffron risotto. It was gentle, creamy,
and slightly cheesy with good flavor. That said, it was slightly boring.
For our post-pasta dishes we started off with
Baccalà alla Fiorentina. It was soft with a subtle flavor. Nice. The tomato
could be a bit brighter. The
grilled chicken was a favorite for me and
Alex. It was savory, juicy and with a
grilled flavor that enhanced the perfect seasoning. Yummy! The
veal chop was excellent as well. I really love all the Florentine
grilled items. And they're always served with lemon. Another great thing
about Florence. And finally we had the
Veal with balsamic
vinegar. It was very good and drippingly
put forth a theory that the bread was designed only to be eaten in
partnership with other foods - like mopping up the juice from the veal
with balsamic. In the interest of a full evaluation and investigation I
tried out Peyman's theory... he was wrong. The bread still sucked. I
could have mopped up the juice with cardboard and not been able to tell
the difference. The water policy however was great. Unpretentious
pitchers, always filled.
For dessert we started with the
It was quite good. But it would have been better had they not run
out of truffle honey. [Insert sadness here.]
Cheese Cake Fatto da Noi - cheesecake with chocolate was so very
incredible. It was made of a light ricotta and covered with a
bittersweet chocolate. It was kind of a mound of slightly sweet air and cheese
covered in a chocolate drizzle. The crumbly cakey base/crust
was great for texture and a different kind of sweetness. Delicious. I was so in love with the cheesecake
didn't try the
pear cake and the
Rest assured I managed to get at least one bite of each and they were
good as well.
Bottom line, Italy is full of simple
pleasures. This meal was a like a mini-representation of our eating
so far during our trip. A higher baseline of quality than many other
places on the globe, and a regular rhythm of simple and exquisite
pleasures. I can taste it now.