TRAVEL

The Very Best of Intestines -Thank you, Fabio Picchi

Trippa at Cibreino.

My relationship with tripe has always been tough. As a child, I was overexposed to trippa alla romana by my Roman mom, who loved the recipe like I love chocolate. In my suburban town, it was not easy to find good (i.e. edible) intestines, but we lived on the edge of Philadelphia and my mom was on a first name basis with all the butchers in the Italian Market. Once in a while, she’d disappear for a morning and head to Esposito Meats where she’d chat up the Eposito brothers, talk with young Lou about law school, and peruse the counter until she found the very best tripe. Personally, I have no clue what the criteria was, but apparently Lou cut it well. Once home, my mom would hoist the bag high over all 5 feet and 3 inches as if a Templar showing off the Holy Grail. “Guess what we’re having for dinner….” And then she’d cook. Her trippa all romana smelled amazing - slowly browning in a very garlicky red sauce. My friends were bewitched by the aromas and always tried a little piece. And then no more, once it was explained that what they were eating was the very best of intestines. And thus ended my social life.

I stopped liking tripe. But no one really wanted to come over. Years later and living in Rome, I was secretly happy when the anti-social dish was disappearing from trattoria menus, which would make my mother drag me all over the city to find it only to order back-to-back servings of tripe assolutamente senza pecorino. No, I didn’t want a taste even if I used to like it as a child, I tell her, complaining that I was scarred from a childhood of tripe, boiled pig’s feet, anchovies and mozzarella, and foraged greens in a suburban world where kids were spoonfed Spaghetti-Ohs. Get over it, she’d laugh. But I wouldn’t budge.

Nope, I won’t eat tripe. Nope. Not unless it’s that beautiful trippa in insalata by Fabio in Florence.

Budino alla Curcuma- a tumeric-infused yogurt pudding.

Picchi’s pumpkin soup and Rorschach test

The tiny, no-reservations Cibreio Trattoria (aka Cibreino) is where I find myself liking tripe. For the culinary detective, Cibreino is the trattoria-side of Cibreo, Fabbio Picchis historic establishment. While Cibreo is reservations, lovely table settings, and cloth napkins and table cloths, Cibreino is walk-in only, wood tables and old school paper table mats. The menu is hand-printed, and the prices are deliciously economical. From what I am told, Cibreino’s seasonal menu follows Cibreo, and I’m pretty sure the two establishments are connected by a corridor which leads to Cibreo’s kitchen.

First, I order a budino di curcuma, a soufflé-like yogurt pudding infused with turmeric. It is savory and a forkful embodies the turnover between fall and winter. The trippa in insalata, traditional Florentine tripe, arrives and it is unlike my hateful, friend-losing trippa alla roman. The dish itself looks like a abstract collage. Thin, white strands of tripe dotted with orange, and green bits- Celery, onion, carrot and parsley lightly cooked in olive oil, garlic and vinegar. I take a bite and it is the very opposite of what I grew up with. And it is really good. I realize that I have to call my mom and apologize for years of eye rolling and complaining. I lap up a pumpkin soup whose (Tuscan) olive oil garnish looks like a Rorschach inkblot. And I’m hooked on Cibreino.

Fabio Picchi.

Reign of Terroir

Maybe it’s his eyes, or his food, no matter what, Fabio Picchi is captivating. He’s a standout- from his bombastic personality to his shock of white hair. It' s no surprise that he is Florence’s 21st century emperor, reigning over Piazza Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood with a firm wooden spoon. Via dei Maccio is his gauntlet, a busy residential street lined with boutiques, shops and Fabio’s restaurants. Google" “Where to Eat in Florence”, and the results will include any one of his Cibreo restaurants - the obvious Cibrèo, and Trattoria Cibrèo/Cibreino, the charming Caffe Cibrèo, the unexpected Asian-fusion Ciblèo, and the organic market/deli C’ Bio. Dig deep and you’ll find that Fabio even has a supper club mixing food and entertainment, something he definitely isn’t lacking.

Counting Kilos

“I’m searching for saints”, Fabio tells me as we sip coffee at C’Bio, his chic bio market just around the corner from Cibreo. C’Bio stocks artisan breads, olive oils, pastas and more along with Picchi’s signature sauces, confits and other gourmet delicacies. This is Fabio’s showcase, a line up of food items hand selected by him, along with some other kitchen-adjacent items like bags, aprons, clothing. It’s all about the chilometro italiano, Fabio stresses, the Italian kilometer where products (whether Tuscan olive oil, Mugello beef, Sicilian capers) are from local culinary artisans. And by local, we mean reared, raised, farmed and produced in Italy. As he tells me all about how he chooses producers (which includes a long discussion on repeat visits), an olive oil producer walks in with two 5-kilo barrels. It’s time to try and as we sip, I find myself listening in on a heated discussion about Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former PM and political upstart. For Fabio, the personal relationship is just as important as the quality of the product, and he seems to know every thing from production and farming detaisl to personal lives.

I get back home and I’m counting kilos, too.  Not grams but meters. I am watching where I eat-  as in where it comes from, who is bringing it to the table (and how) and what it means to me and Italy.  Fresh produce is practically constitution law in Italy and every social scene is tied to food, whether religious and secular.  Italians love food- where it comes from, how it raised and how it made.  And to Fabio,” it’s not about creating monuments, but mentalities. It’s about respect for the territory, creating a life-lasting gift that will pay it forward to the next generation”.

CIBREINO

via de’ Macci 122, Florence

Lunch from 12.50
Dinner from 18.50

A Florentine Trippaio, tripe stand, in Sant’Ambrogio.

Fancy some tripe?

You don’t need to sit down at the table to enjoy some tripe. Epic Trippaio, tripe kiosks, are in key locations all over Florence, where my new favorite dish is served up sandwich-style. The culinary connoisseur knows that another storied offal is the more tender Lampredotto (the fourth and final cow’s stomach), boiled in a broth of herbs and vegetables, then finely sliced and as served inside a sandwich. Traditional toppings are salt and pepper, green sauce and hot sauce. Tip: Ask for your panino “bagnato”: sandwich bread soaked in the broth.

For the culinary explorers, here’s a great map of all the tripe kiosks in Florence.

The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

There's Something About Florence

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A version of the article appeared in Forbes Travel, October 2017.

There’s something about Florence.  Birthplace of the Renaissance, Dante’s hometown, font of the Italian language, and constant ranking in the top three places to visit on the Grand Tour, or better yet, the Bucket List.  Florence has had it going on for centuries, and it relishes in its rep as the Cradle of Modern Culture for nurturing homegrown artists like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as earning the title as the fifth fashion capitol thanks to bi-annual Pitti Uomo and several pioneering tech meets fashion/luxury summits. Maybe it's the proud Roman in me, but for years, I've written off Florence as a "mausoleum" or "cute tourist town", a necessary stop on your whirlwind Italy tour and a great place for a photo op, giving it only a bit of cred for its awesome art collection. Lately, however, I''m thinking otherwise-  Florence is fabulous. 

What changed my mind? Well, a little bit of handholding by local champions Georgette Jupe-Pradier, GirlInFlorence and Coral Sisk, CuriousAppetite, and here I am,  celebrating the town the Medicis built because of its, here we go, 21st century incarnation.  To the visible eye, nothing has changed in Florence but what is makes the city so invigorating is its community of artists, makers, creators and entrepreneurs who are putting a new perspective on a charming town.  According to Jupe-Pradier, who dedicates her blog GirlInFlorence  to the city’s contemporary stories and makers, there is a palpable city revival the “celebrates the past with a willingness to evolve and inspire especially in new contemporary spaces and artisans”.  Is it a 21st century Renaissance? I don't know but I'm liking the vibe.

Window Shopping

It took me a while to learn that Florence is far more than Via Tornabuoni and the Ponte Vecchio.  Jupe-Pradier's favorite area of the city is her backyard-  the Oltrarno, the river Arno’s left bank.  Ever since she started her blog, she encouraged exploration of the literal “other side” and her Oltrarno love concentrates around San Frediano which she brought to the pages of Lonely Planet as one of the world's coolest neighborhoods. I tagged along as she made afternoon rounds, stopping in to personally talk with every shop owner and artisan in the area.  Favorites include & Company a beautifully curated boutique for design lovers where you can find vintage furniture, hand-crafted stationery, Blackwing pencils and original creations by calligrapher and co-owner Betty Soldi.  Officine Nora, a working studio for a collective of jewelry makers where I picked up a handmade silver necklace by Valentina Carpini whose filigree work is divine,  Il Torchio- bookbinder studio and shop filled with luscious handcrafted books, restorer Jane Harman's  eponymous boutique Jane H where she features her original wood designs , and Albrici, a decades-old antiques shop with wing devoted to vintage clothing and accessories.

Earthly Delights

Catherine de' Medici, the woman who upgraded French cuisine by introducing Italian, in particular Florentine,  recipes and the fork to France, would be proud of her native city.   A collection of sturdy stalwarts, including  Cibreo and the century-old Trattorio Sergio Gozzi, are stewed in Florentine tradition, as long as you can get a table.  Perennially positive Jupe-Pradier loves the family Trattoria Sabatino in San Frediano, Oltrarno for its sixty-year-long dedication to serving seasonal, local dishes. .

Tradition aside,  intrepid food writer and culinary guide Sisk says “the city is responding to a demand for a more dynamic food scene”.  Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo ranks high on her list of Florentine eateries for its strong ethos on ingredient sourcing and traditions. And she loves modern bistrot-bar Zeb Gastronomia for its daily home made pastas and cool modern design, while her contemporary/creative dining picks are Michelin starred Ora d'Aria and Cibleo, Cibreo's Asian-Tuscan fusion.

For a taste of Florentine luxury, Il Locale is the spot- a restaurant and bar in a Renaissance palazzo designed as a modern Medici court with decoupage walls and velvet damask, sandstone columns in sandstone, vintage design pieces and contemporary sculptures. (Note:  I had great drinks but service was delayed, so I opted out of dining.) Charming Bar e Cucina is modern retro.  Designed by Paolo Capezzuoli, (aka Zero T, who collaborated the  Rock Steady Crew!), the vibe is a Golden age diner meets Florentine caffè, the perfect pit stop during those days at Pitti Uomo.

Just desserts at Trattoria Sabatino.

Eye Candy

Along with the usual suspects (we’re looking at you, David), Florence likes to keep you entertained with exhbitions and museums that traipse between traditional and unexpected.  Opened in 2005, Palazzo Strozzi, a fabulous example of 15th century palazzo architecture is a dynamic cultural foundation whose exhibition line up includes the ongoing Radical Utopias (design and architecture movement from the late 1960s), as well as previous blockbuster ringers like Bill Viola, Ai Wei Wei.  A blast from the past and my personal meditation is Museo di San Marco, a former Dominican convent now museum with the most extensive collection of in situ Fra Angelico frescos, and Jupe-Pradier loves the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to 20th century Italian art.

Radical Utopias, courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

View from the Hotel Savoy.

Pillow Talk

Where you rest your head in Florence is just as important as what you do. For a stunning Renaissance-meets-modern stay, head to Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. This gorgeous urban resort complex features two refurbished buildings in which you can drift off to sleep — the 15th-century Palazzo Della Gherardesca or the former 16th-century convent, the Conventino.  For center stage its Hotel Savoy is Florence’s grande dame, whose timeless elegance yet au courant chicness redefines the meaning of “historic.” Savoy’s enviable Piazza della Repubblica location puts in the very center of everything.  Hotel Brunelleschi captures the best of Florentine architecture in a labyrinth of Renaissance-era palaces and medieval towers. And if it’s good enough for an overnight stay for Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s prolific The Da Vinci Code protagonist, it should be an adventure.