Italian vs French
Specifically, Tuscans vs Parisians.
Having been to an authentic Italian cooking class and good Italian restaurants in Sydney, not to mention people who have raved about Italian food in Italy, I do have a high expectation of foods that I’ll have in Italy.
Trattoria Coco Lezzone – Via Parioncino, 26r, 50123 Firenze, Italia.
Tripadvisor (as recent as Dec ’09 at least) has an entry that voted it as excellent with 5 stars. It appeared in Lonely Planet (2008 Ed., and still on its website). So, of course, one wouldn’t hesitate much to go into a restaurant which also happens to be on a secluded and quiet street.
I, however, rate this restaurant -1/10 (that is right, a negative number). It was a really disappointing foodie experience; not only did it take us a while to find, it was expensive and not worth the money. The food was definitely not up to any standards and should not be served to customers.
My first instinct (usually) is to take photos of food served in front of me. However, I was so appalled by everything that I’ve actually shot only the soup and the dessert. My friends on the table couldn’t be bothered as it wasn’t something that they’d like to remember. We were in and out of the restaurant within 30 minutes, and that’s including poring over the menu and deciding what we were going to order, translation of the menu by (we suspect) the owner, who was extremely unfriendly, and toilet break. Well, it wasn’t that we stormed out of the restaurant. No. We actually finished the whole 3-course meal (“degustation” as printed on the menu). The entrée, you can see it for yourself in the photo. The main, I ordered for pork chop; it was overcooked and overly salty. The dessert, as you can see, consists of biscotti and dessert wine; t’was the lowest quality wine (I’m not an expert on wines and I don’t drink much, but I’ve had really good dessert wines and none of them being red in colour), and the biscotti…I’ve had much better ones. “Food” was served within seconds of placing our orders. Indeed, it took 2 seconds for the order to go from the waiter to the kitchen, 3 seconds into a bowl/plate, and 5 seconds later, to land on the table, right in front of us.
I would never go back there, but hey, it could be an interesting experience, if you do want to try it out. Also, things might have changed; I’d definitely want to know if it did. P/s: While we were in there “enjoying” dinner, the only customers we see entering the restaurant, were tourists. Tourists only.
Vivoli – Via Isola delle Stinche, 7r, 50122 Firenze, Italia.
The only highlight of the day was the incredibly good gelato (so far, the best thing that happened in Florence, food-wise), from Vivoli. I didn’t go around Florence eating gelato to decide on that. We asked a local tour guide where we could find nice gelato, and he recommended that place, and mentioned that as a local, that’s where he would go. Of course, having in our minds that touristy spots wouldn’t have awesome food, we went in search of Vivoli. It proved not to be disappointing, as all of us started taking photos, and I actually had a happy smile on my face: it was really good gelato, and the customers that we see coming into the shop were, wait for it…locals! Nice. The gelato was very smooth, creamy, full of exploding flavours, and not too sweet; just how I would have loved it.
I rate the gelati 9.5/10. €3.20 for three scoops is pretty cheap. Size small cup, but enough.
FrancescoVini – di La Brusco Fabio Borgo dei Greci 7/r – Piazza de’ Peruzzi 8/r – 50122 Firenze, Italia.
Day 2 was slightly better: the weather was a bit cooler, and after 10 hour’s of sleep, my friend and I spent hours shopping (mostly for leather). My favourite streets are Via Panzani and Via del Giglio. I find the maze-like streets interesting; it’s actually quite fun trying to get to where we’d like to go and just be lost in the maze, but sometimes, getting lost without a sense of direction can be quite frustrating.
It was also the day I tried Florentine steak for the first time; a true Florentine steak I’ll call it, and finally, someone (a pretty waitress at that) who speaks perfect English. The steak was ginormous – it was 1.2 kg! Well, we thought that it’d have a huge bone on it, but it didn’t. I’d say the bone was probably only 100g. We’d need two sits to finish it. Literally. Which was what my friend did; returning to finish the steak after a round of shopping. The spinach mash wasn’t one of the best I’ve had, but it was truly green, much needed after all that meat! I just hope that we wouldn’t suffer from an iron overdose. Other than the size and the price of it, the steak wasn’t anything special, although it was tender, juicy and definitely cooked on a smokingly flaming hot grill; I could feel the smokiness and heat coming out of the steak. No dinner that night, partly due to the late lunch steak that took us more than 1 hr to finish, excluding coffee time and the fact that we’d not dare risk another bad food experience.
I rate the restaurant 8.5/10, as this place would be the best deal one will ever get in Florence; the staffs were friendly, service was good, it was almost like a fine-dining experience, and I had a smile on my face. A smile of happiness and satisfaction.
Well, that was food. What about the attitude of the locals? It was definitely my fault for not researching more on the attitude of the Tuscans before going to Florence. Not sure if I should blame myself for that as I don’t know many people who’ve been to Florence, and those who’ve been loved it there. I actually wondered why when I was there; the weather was hot (it didn’t help that it was the destination after the cold crisp air of Switzerland); the air was polluted (not as bad as Rome), the food was horrible, and we haven’t found anyone who speaks fluent English (most don’t) nor have been very kind to us. Although, by now, we’ve learned, parla inglese? (good to know before blabbering in English) and dove? (and point to words or pictures). Sometimes, I even had to resort asking if they speak French or Spanish. Simple universal sign languages would definitely help; don’t forget pen and paper to draw what you mean~!
(Note: I could be biased, but my feelings for Florence are just not there. Rome was a little bit better with its friendliness, but definitely hotter and with much more people around! I liked the Vatican City. I absolutely adore Venice for its uniqueness and the gondola ride which melted my heart and increased the hope for my Italian experience, especially after Florence and Rome. Verona’s the place to go – it’s near Lake Garda and the people are friendlier. Plus, I’ve had good and interesting food there, but all these are “another story”).
Stories about snobbish and unfriendly Parisian people are what I’ve heard a lot about before my trip. It’s everywhere. Is it true? I asked myself. No. Comparing it to Florence, my answer is a big and clear no. These two regions have snobbish unfriendly people, but I survived better in Paris, and was happier in Paris. With parlez-vouz anglais? most replies were a yes. Definitely more “Yes” than “No” as compared to Florence/Rome. I don’t know if this means that Parisians put more effort into learning English or pleasing the tourists. But, of course, I didn’t start blabbering in English before asking if they do speak English. 100% of the people will begin a conversation in French, bonjour.
One little experiment that I have tried was this: In Florence, there were many times that I’d have to ask for directions, one time, I’ve decided to ask, “Parla inglese?” to this lady who was selling ice cream at the train station. She said “No” and ignored me. What she didn’t know was I’ve heard her speaking English to a customer a few minutes before I approached her. One time, I blurted out in English to a person, asking for directions, and I got a reply in English, saying, “I know little English”. A little. That’s all I needed! So, a little push makes them speak English and respond. In Paris, when asked, “Parlez-vous anglais?“, I’d usually get a “Yes, I speak English”, “A little”, or “Non, desolé/pardon“, with an apologetic look. But, when I spoke in English straightaway, I’d get a response in French, which would probably mean that they either don’t speak or speak very little English. Ironic.
(Note: there was once, in a train station in Rome, the guy at the counter couldn’t speak English, but he got his colleague, who speaks a little, to help us).
I wouldn’t say that it’s all good in Paris. The first French word spoken to me (excluding Customs officials, and without me approaching them first) was, “Desolé!” by a young boy whom I bumped into when getting off my first metro ride, with my backpack and all. I, of course, didn’t know how to respond at that time.
The first meal I had in Paris wasn’t at all incredible nor cheap; we were tricked to a €6 “home-made” lemonade. Well, should have guessed, the owner greeted us in English before inviting us in! Menu was in English, too. But, we were too tired and hungry to give another second’s thought before entering the restaurant. Portions were big, so I’m happy with that, although the food was so so. (By the way, for €15, one can get a whole full meal for lunch, not just a salad. I once had a good café au lait and decent pain au chocolat eat in, near a tourist hot spot for €2.90).
Momotaro – 310 Rue St Honoré, 75001 Paris, France.
Being a country famed for its fine cuisine, would one expect or find a good Japanese restaurant? Well, the first evening in Paris, we didn’t have enough time to indulge in a proper meal, so we opted for a quick bite: sushi. Indeed, we come across a Japanese restaurant. Hm…it looked decent, so we went in. We were greeted in traditional Japanese “いらっしゃいませ!” with a little bow, and later discovered that the owners are Japanese!
It was definitely good sushi, and I was amazed. Who would have imagined an authentic Japanese restaurant in Paris, in the first arrondisement? It wasn’t me.
I rate this place 9/10. I’d go back for a second time, and I did go back for a second time. Same quality.
For the rest of the good/great French restaurants that I’ve been to, they’re “another story”.
Side Note: Talking about Italians vs French, how many hot guys/girls would you expect in either country? Would there be more in Italy or in France? Perhaps you already know my answer.