Flowers for Lunch
It’s the classic wedding question: “Would you like chicken, fish, or beef?” The restaurants in Florence offered some different choices, including some we had never had before. Like wild boar. Or octopus. Or rabbit. No adventure is complete without trying something new, and we were determined to try some meals we had never eaten before. Irene Firenze provided that variety for us.
While Pensavo Peggio’s dishes embodied the traditional Italian menu, Irene Firenze in Piazza della Republica presents a modern vision of classic Florentine food. Surrounded by high-end chains and boutiques, Irene Firenze aims more for a business casual atmosphere compared with the intimate feel of a family-owned restaurant.
Below are some of the twists on classic Italian dishes that we tasted at Irene Firenze. Their dishes included familiar ingredients, but in different forms.
Eggplant Not Parmesan They did not make eggplant parmesan, but their lamb chops were served over a roasted eggplant and olive oil puree. I couldn’t positively identify the herbs that went into it, but my guess was thyme.
I Was Craving Avocado I did not expect to find a dish with avocado. It was an ingredient absent from the menus at every other restaurant we visited in Florence. But the Irene Salad made our day by combining hearts of palm with pieces of avocado and whole cilantro leaves.
Tartare Means Raw I was looking forward to having real Italian risotto, so on my second visit to Irene Firenze I ordered the risotto with shrimp tartare and crushed pistachios. It wasn’t until the dish arrived at my table that I realized tartare meant raw!
Mini Veal Milanese The veal milanese was “mini,” consisting of medallion-sized cuts of tender veal covered in a perfectly seasoned crust of breadcrumbs. Instead of a heap of rice spooned onto the side of the plate, the chef had formed it into a little cake.
Fried Calamari and What? Everyone knows what fried calamari is, although if you come from Brooklyn you might pronounce it a little differently. But unless you know a first or second generation Italian over 60, chances are you’ve never been served squash flowers for lunch! Butternut and yellow squash, zucchini and similar vegetables produce large yellow flowers that can be battered and fried. At Irene Firenze, the flowers were beer battered and fried to make a crispy appetizer.
Irene Firenze also provided a variety of great freebies with our lunches. In addition to the standard side of breads and olive oil, Irene Firenze offered a plate of fresh grape tomatoes before the meal, and a cup of sweet roasted pecans and miniature biscotti afterwards.
On our first visit, an observant bartender noticed the moment we finished our meals, made eye contact with our waiter, and subtly gestured towards our table more with his eyes than his head. The waiter nodded and immediately made his way to our table to offer us a dessert menu.
Irene Firenze was a slightly more formal dining experience than we were expecting. The service was excellent, and the staff made us feel so so comfortable that we returned three times. On subsequent visits, we were recognized and greeted like old friends. After each visit, the staff invited us to sign the guestbook.
Tomorrow I’ll share a little bit more about another restaurant we visited multiple times and the surprise the manager had for us on our last visit!