These guys are getting so much publicity right now, they hardly need any from me. But the thing is, my own experience at La Cucina del Garga was so great that I couldn’t not write about it. No wonder the whole world is all over them right now! Already a local favourite, this restaurant was recently featured on the Food Network USA‘s television show “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives” on an episode when Guy Fieri trekked over to the boot, rented a Ferrari (not really sure how much fun he had trying to park that thing in this city), and cruised around on the search for authentic Italian cuisine. He found it at Florence’s La Cucina del Garga.
I was amazed by so much. Let’s talk food first. Dishes here do maintain Florentine tradition, but are infused with international flavour. This concept isn’t something very widely embraced here, but it’s certainly going well for La Cucina del Garga! Head Chef Alessandro spent a number of years in New York, cooking up a storm in swanky SOHO area’s restaurant “Mezzogiorno.” Now back in his hometown of Florence, Alessandro brought back with him some refreshing eccentricity to Italy (and also his lovely American wife who also contributes uniqueness to this Italian cucina. You see photos of the chef’s beautiful bride and their adorable children on the wall at the entrance, publicly proclaiming that this is a family affair, if it’s not already obvious). With a Tuscan touch to each bite, the food at La Cucina del Garga has out-of-this-world tastes that break the boundaries of what you’ll find on typical menus in this food mecca, Italia. Start salivating now over their menu, which changes seasonally, here.
Here are a couple of pics of the secondi we ordered. You can get the usual bistecca fiorentina (which is delivered straight from a local butcher store on the Oltrarno), but we were wanting to go a little lighter and try these interesting-sounding chicken dishes.
We got so ravenous over the delicious primi made-from-fresh pasta that we didn’t pause for photos. oops! If still in season when you go, definitely try the trofie al pesto di pistacchi con pomodorini freschi and the tagliatelle del “Magnifico.” The antipasti were also very good. One had polenta – I usually don’t even like polenta!
The restaurant has what I’ll call a classy-casual type of atmosphere. Again, a merger of backgrounds is exposed. Alessandro’s father originally ran a traditional trattoria in Florence, which you can still have a sense of in the vibe here at La Cucina del Garga. While Alessandro’s father is Italian, his mother is Canadian. Naturally when this canadese heard that, I was thrilled and even more curious about the stories behind the scenes of this kitchen. It turned out that the woman who brought us our primi piatti just so happened to be Alessandro’s Canadian mamma herself. In true Canadian style, Sharon was very friendly (before she knew I was Canadian too). She humbly informed us that my curiosities about the cucina’s background stories could be satisfied, because she jotted down anecdotes, recipes, and tales of the restaurant business between Italy and North America in a book called Once Upon a Tuscan Table. I’ll have to get my hands on it!
The young gentlemen who served us, Andrea, and another youthful male server, charmed us all evening with their hospitable nature. Admittedly this seems to be lacking in the service industry in Florence, particularly. Andrea politely made attempts to speak in English with us, but we enjoyed using both languages, as the lovely ladies whom I had the pleasure of sharing this memorable evening with are expats too, and speak Italian well. Each employee was glad to share menu suggestions with us, read our ‘needs’ before being asked (like how we needed share plates because we all undoubtedly wanted to taste everything everyone ordered) and about how we really did want dessert even though we said we “might be too full”….Andrea obviously realized that women can be sorta silly like that, and he knows well that the desserts are divine. You do not want to pass on mamma Sharon’s rich chocolate cake with sea salt, rosemary and extra virgin olive oil (there are those traditions made modern again!) and their cheesecake is something special too, also made in house.
We were not allowed to leave the table until Alessandro himself had a moment to come out and say hello. Meanwhile, in true Italian fashion, we lingered a long while with the company of limoncello at the table. Our little glasses somehow kept refilling! But having you sit at the table is also part of the experience, even an expectation when you eat here. You’re not rushed out. You don’t even see tables turning over to seat new guests. The family wants you to know appreciate the whole experience of Slow Food.
When he was finally freed up from the busyness of the kitchen, Alessandro didn’t seem phased at all by the full house that night. He was more than happy to interact with guests of multiple walks of life. A couple was there who had just got engaged, a large party of Italians, a couple visiting from America, he connected with all of them in a mixed seasoning of Italian and English. His enthusiastic character in person only further clarified why the food and atmosphere here has something special.
It’s evident the restaurant family wants to accommodate all their guests, but offer special treatment to students with a student special of 20% off, every night of the week, and they have a deep appreciation for artists. Obviously the family genes have been passed down to Alessandro and he’s an artist with kitchen utensils already, but you can put a paintbrush in Alessandro’s hands and he will work some magic there too. He told us he only does it for the fun of it, and went back to talking about his great admiration for other artists, local and not well known, who put so much passion into their work. He appreciates it so much, he’s covered the walls with it. He tours us around his “gallery” while explaining that some patrons have paid for their meals with their works, which he rotates like a sort of exhibition in the restaurant. I remarked that I particularly liked the apple tree mosaic, to which he revealed that it was a project that he and his wife did together. If you feel inspired to get a little artsy yourself while in such surroundings, you can use the fabric markers provided to draw right on your tablecloth if you so chose!
If you are a local wanting to refine your cooking skills with a woman who is proficient in the kitchen as well as with English and Italian language, “the mamma” Sharon provides cooking lessons right in the restaurant during morning hours. Or maybe you’re visiting for some time and want to take the flavours of La Cucina del Garga back home with you; Sharon will guide you in how to recreate their plates with passion! If you can’t stay a while for cooking lessons, you can check out the episode complete with recipes on the Food Network where Alessandro demonstrates how to make the delicious, truly unique pasta dish, “Tagliatelle del Magnifico” by following this link here.
A restaurant with such heart in all that it provides: the food, the art, the service, right in the heart of the city. Go and enjoy the experience!
Open 7:30pm-10:30pm Mon-Sat. Call to make reservations: 055 475286,Via San Zanobi 33R, http://www.garga.it