After some quick sightseeing in Pisa, we were back to Florence and ready for a meal at Il Latini. We had walked by it earlier in our trip, and I took that opportunity to snap this picture of the unassuming daytime facade. Il Latini is a well-known destination that is prominent in all the guide books. Generally speaking, it's kind of a touristy place, and as you can see below, the people definitely come out at night. Apparently, there is always a line the door trying to eat here. Does this qualify as a line? I'll go with "mob" instead - if I learned anything on my trip, it's that people in Europe don't like to line up single file.
Luckily, they do take reservations, so we didn't have to wait in the giant crowd. We met up for this meal with newlyweds Charmaine and Saul, who were also in Florence on their honeymoon, and are certified ultra-foodies. Il Latini is famous for its bistecca alla Fiorentina and its lively, family-style atmosphere, so we figured it would be a good place for our bigger group. My dad reported a very good rendition of bistecca here in 2007, and Kathy and her brother also had a delicious one just last year.
I think the vibe at Il Latini is most easily summed up by the first thing that arrives on every table - this crazy 2 liter jug of house wine. The place itself is a bit of a zoo, with tons of people (an equal split of tourists and locals) packed into crowded, paper-topped tables, with hams hanging from the ceiling like a rustic countryside basement. It's a fun, casual atmosphere designed for family dining, and the very drinkable house Toscana Rosso certainly helps. Friendly waiters swing by to discuss the menu (no printed versions in sight), and you pretty much just build out a meal together with them. We opted to get some antipasti, skip pasta, and go straight into the bistecca. Prices are murky, but ultimately very reasonable - we ended up paying 48 euros per head, tax/wine/everything inclusive.
Immediately, we were served a very generous portion of house prosciutto, presumably the result of the hams hanging around us. Nice flavor, but leaner than the best Parma prosciuttos. Still, it was a perfect match for the environment.
Next came these pieces of chicken liver crostini. The spread was hearty and quite livery, which I loved.
My favorite of the cold meats was this finnochiona, a typical Tuscan salame with fennel seeds. It came in large slices with seemingly no casing, and had a great fattiness to it with a subtle fennel flavor.
We also got some sun-dried tomatoes - not my favorite. I found them a little overpowering when eaten whole and alone.
Finally, after some dramatic pause, we got to the main event. We technically got 2 steaks for 5 people, but my photo fails to capture how large these bad boys were. Take my word for it when I say they were awe-inspiring when they came out. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the most famous dish in Florence, and the headliner of Tuscan cuisine. It's essentially a T-bone or porterhouse cut from a Chianina cow, a pure white Italian breed of cattle known to be the largest cows in the world.
Il Latini's preparation was absolutely stellar - perfectly cooked with an earthy flavor and an unmatched savoriness. It was a definite step above the version we had at Il Guscio 2 nights before. Fat lines the outside of the cut, but there isn't much marbling going on, so it has a very different mouthfeel from Japanese beef. I'd say it's closer to American dry-aged beef, but it's leaner still. The meat is very rare at the center but has a nice char on the outside, and despite being somewhat lean, is still soft and tender. It really is a steak of its own, and simply must be eaten on any visit to Florence.
We got a token vegetable in the form of fried zucchini blossoms. These were cheeseless, pretty heavily battered, with a steaming hot inside. A good accompaniment to the steak.
We finished with a plate of assorted desserts - a panna cotta with chocolate sauce, a chocolate custard tart, an almond tart, a tiramisu, and some cream puffs. All were actually pretty tasty, and it was nice to have a variety. I remember the tarts being surprisingly good, with a well-done, flaky crust.
We were completely stuffed at this point, and we had skipped a potential pasta course. In retrospect, we probably went a little too heavy on the meat-based apps, given that we had the steak coming up. Looking around the room, I saw a few dishes that looked quite interesting - something with octopus, along with what I would later discover was a famous rendition of ribollita. I will definitely make a return trip to try those and perhaps some pasta.
If you're looking for a fun place to eat in Florence, give Il Latini a shot. It's a little touristy, yes, but the atmosphere is jolly, and the steak is worth it. Just be sure to make a reservation.