Ciao from Firenze, the city of the Italian Rinascimento, the city of vibrant art and violent politics, the city of Michelangelo and Machiavelli and the Medici dynasty. Florence has a breathtaking, almost painful amount of beauty within its borders and traversing the city itself is equally breathtaking and almost painful, especially if you’re walking uphill in the hellish heat of summertime. From our jaunt in Rome, we took a wonderful train ride to the Santa Maria Novella station and began our arduous journey through Florentine sightseeing.
In our short two-and-a-half days in Florence, we overdosed on architecture, art, culture, and skylines. We climbed our thousand-and-then-some steps to see the city from both the campanile and the duomo of the great Florentine cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, trudged through halls and halls of art at the Uffizi, stood stupefied before Michelangelo’s David, and finally, blinked in the late afternoon sun as it set over the Ponte Vecchio, both golden and glittering. Such a quest, so saturated as it was with the treasures of time, required that we complete our descent into decadence with a meal at Zà Zà.
Trattoria Zà Zà is happily situated near the heart of Florence, only a short walk from the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Although the line was long and we had no reservation—for those of you who prefer reservations, please know that Zà Zà does accept advance bookings—the hosts in charge of the seating process kept assuring us, “only five minutes.” While it was closer to perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, the wait was not upsettingly long, and the hostess led us to a cozy table in their cellar dining room, surrounded by draconian wall sconces and literary decor.
Our waitress was so lovely as she brought us bread—dairy-free, don’t worry, I walked that line for you—and walked us through the menu in lilting English. Florentine cuisine is famous for its T-bone steak known as bistecca alla fiorentina, and Zà Zà serves it grilled to perfection by the kilogram. (read: 1 kg is approximately 2.2 lbs.) In addition they have a wide variety of tartare, antipasti, primi, secondi, and of course, an extensive wine menu. Note that at Zà Zà the prix fixe menu is also known as the “tourist menu,” so we did our best to avoid ordering anything off that list, particularly because we hoped to experience the flavors of Tuscany rather than succumb to the basics.
For my own plate, I chose the veal served “Grandmama Ines style” with the truffle potatoes. Our waitress double checked on the plate and also triple checked to make sure I could steal a few bites of bistecca alla fiorentina off another person’s plate. She declared, “For you, it is all perfect!” A decanter of house Chianti and a large drum of bread graced our table until our dishes arrived.
The veal was remarkably similar to a chicken-fried steak, or what I imagine a chicken-fried steak would be if Americans didn’t put buttermilk in all their batters and I were actually able to eat a chicken-fried steak. Topped with a tomato garnish that looked and tasted remarkably like pico de gallo, the crispy, thin-cut veal was juicy and rich in flavor. The truffle potatoes, for all the hype about truffles, tasted remarkably like corn chips to me, but seeing as they were combined with the not-salsa-but-suspiciously-close tomato garnish, the whole concept reminded me so much of my beloved California cuisine.
The bistecca alla fiorentina might be Zà Zà’s crowning glory, and I see now why it is a hallmark of Florence’s culinary scene. Served medium rare, the meat was perfectly tender and reminiscent of the all the robustness of the Italian Renaissance itself. Seasoned minimally with just a hint of lemon juice, the steak also complemented the truffle potatoes enticingly. Although I am not normally a fan of red wine, the house Chianti—perhaps because it is the local wine region of Tuscany, perhaps because I finally ate proper red meat to accompany it—was delightfully smooth and allowed me to enjoy my Florentine feast to the fullest.
The name “Florence” or its native Italian name Firenze means flowering, flourishing. Indeed the rustic charm of Trattoria Zà Zà showcased the hustle and bustle that comes from a city constantly overflowing with culture and creativity. The famous Florentine poet Dante Alighieri wrote of an imaginative and introspective journey traveling from Hell all the way to Heaven in his Divine Comedy, and the masterpiece firmly established the Florentine dialect as the Italian standard and Florence as the center of the Renaissance. While our own whirlwind wanderings through Florence were nowhere near hellish, our fine at Trattoria Zà Zà was rather close to Paradiso.