Feasting on Bistecca alla Fiorentina | Trattoria Mario, Florence

Sunday, September 04, 2016

If there was one thing I was dying to do on our trip to Italy, it was to dine at a noisy, authentic, family-style Trattoria. There are a few different types of eateries in Italy: the trattoria, a casual, modest and often family-run eatery, the more formal risorante, and the rustic ostaria. Trattoria Mario is an iconic Florentine trattoria known for serving some of the best Bistecca in the city. 
Trattorias are the best places for sampling fresh authentic regional Italian specialties. Taking the advice from our Air BnB host, we've arrived at Trattoria Mario near the San Lorenzo Market at the strike of 12pm, with our hearts set on trying one thing: Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Florentine steak is an iconic colossal, thick-cut T-bone steak served to an almost bloody rare, cooked over a hot grill or coals and served naked with only salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Authentic Bistecca alla Fiorentina is cooked using  Chianina beef, although there are also other breeds of cow that can be just as high quality.

Trattoria Mario has been operating under the same family since it's opening over 60 years ago. Many a travel guide will point you towards Mario for a true trattoria experience abuzz with a kind of lively, spirited energy that funnels through the warm service into the honest, no-frills food.

An old school trattoria as such, it is only open for lunch from 12pm to 3pm, Monday through to Saturday. Popular with both locals and eager tourists alike, the best way to avoid disappointment is to turn up just before opening to score yourself a place at one of the many communal tables in the small but dense homely restaurant.

As soon as you step in, there is an immediate wave of energy and excitement that hits. Through a clear partition you can see into the open kitchen, where seasoned chefs man the mammoth pieces of meat on the grill and poke their spoons into large pots simmering away on the stove.

Hang your coats on the hooks that line the tiled walls and peruse the short but sweet menu that is full of Tuscan classics. You'll find it handwritten onto pieces of paper stuck to the wall, and also plastered onto a teetering stand at the front of the restaurant. It's all written in Italian, with some sections translated into English. The kind Italian woman, who looks to be running the floor, notices our excited, befuddled faces as we try to decide what to order, and warmly points out a favourite few that we must try.

As well as Florentine classics, certain days feature special menu items. The day we visit happens to happens to be seafood day, much to our delight. 

Risotto seppie, calamari e arselle (7)
This was the best risotto I've ever had the pleasure of eating. Cooked with white wine and parsley, it's tossed with rosy pink cuttlefish, calamari and small vongole. The rice is just perfect and not too heavy or gluggy at all, each grain is separated and swims in fragrant seafood juices. Absolutely out of this world.

Tortelloni alla cernia (7.50)
Rough handmade tortelloni are stuffed with ricotta and spinach and slick with a sauce of soft, fleshy grouper. It's a rustic pasta that is packed full of flavour, and leaves us with a heart-warming grin on our faces. The serving is quite filling, and the soft, unctuous ribbons of pasta are delightful.

Ribollita (5EU)

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan bean and bread soup that is thick and comforting. The addition of bread might be unusual, but it lends a creamy texture to the soup that enhances the earthy flavours and gives it body. Although some Ribollita are cooked with tomato paste, this is not, but we don't mind at all as it's so delicious.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina di pura razza chianina certificata (48EU per kilogram)
Cooked using pure certified Chianina beef, this is one monster of a steak. The chefs in the kitchen are lovely enough to let me come in and watch as they expertly char and flip each steak as it's cooked to order. Although this is traditionally cooked to a deep pink, we request for it do be more on the medium side (a rookie preference, I know), and they happily oblige. After the meat has had its grill time, it's placed on a large plate and expertly cut into to make for easy sharing.

Eaten simply with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, it's utter bliss. The meat is tender and is as soft as butter, with a slight fattiness and smoky char. This, is enough to feed all five of us, when shared with the other dishes we ordered. 

Fagioli all'uccelletto (3EU)
A classic recipe of white beans cooked in a tomato sauce laced with sage, this is delicious, wholesome Tuscan cooking. Mop up the sweet, rich tomato sauce with any extra bread and eat as a side to your bistecca.

Fagioli all'olio (3EU)
Tuscan white beans are served humbly with only a slick of oil. It is surprising how comforting these beans are, and how well they also go with the rich meat.

We ate our most memorable meal in Italy here, and it's no wonder the restaurant is a favourite among both locals and tourists for an authentic trattoria experience and the best traditional, home-cooked Tuscan food.


Read more about my trip to Italy here!

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