Tucked away in a small pocket off Fiesole’s main square, Vin Andro is an atmospheric wine tavern and restaurant. While a small sign in the entry boasts a birthdate in 1079, which is hard to believe, it is true that Fiesole is older than Florence, and one can well imagine an old tavern here dating back for a couple hundred years. The restaurant maintains a rustic feel, with a small limited menu and fair prices. The two small dining rooms are convivial and warm with tables knit closely together, warm honey colored wood walls and golden lighting. High shelves store the restaurant’s wine, and a glass case at one end displays homemade cakes and tortes. In nice weather there are tables outside with views of Piazza Mino directly in front of Fiesole’s medieval tower. Open all day, you can come for a glass of wine and a small snack or for a full meal.
The menu is grounded in historical Florentine classics. Crostini, Pappa al Pomodoro, Peposo and Trippa Fiorentina. Pastas are all made fresh in house, and the Pappardelle al Cinghiale, should it be on the menu, is truly exquisite, one of the best versions you’ll find. Bistecca Fiorentina is available only on reservation, where you will find it for 5 euros less a kilo than anywhere else in town. Made with Chianina beef, it is excellent; still tender despite its heft, and full of meaty flavor. Stick with the tried and true and you may well be charmed, there is a reason why these dishes have survived for over 500 years. Try the Peposo and you can almost taste the history. The copious use of black pepper takes you back to the times of the renaissance, when black pepper was used to mask the flavors of meat that hadn’t benefitted from the lack of refrigeration. At Vin Andro, it is a rich beef stew, full of meaty flavor and a strong undercurrent of black pepper.
At times the menu veers into modern territory, and unfortunately some of these plates although pretty to behold don’t measure up to the high caliber of the rest of the menu. Likewise filled pastas don’t have the same finesse as the fettucine or other flat pastas.
Housemade desserts however are definitely a cut above what you find at most other rustic trattoria, they range from the classic to the contemporary. Don’t miss the Chocolate Orange Cake, a cross between Grand Marnier pound cake and molten chocolate cake; two layers of cake sandwich a rich melted chocolate filling and plump with sweet orange that melts into the chocolate. It might not be traditional but it is very, very good. Other options may include an excellent seasonal Schiacciata all’Uva or a Chocolate Tart with Fennel and Chili, where you are hit first with the aromatic fennel with its suggestions of licorice and then you get the lingering flavor of chili heat, set against a backdrop of deep bittersweet chocolate.
A small wine list offers a selection representing each of Tuscany’s major wines, along with two selections from Sicily, either by the bottle or by the glass. Servers are young, friendly, and professional; they speak English well and are happy to answer any questions. Sadly this doesn’t carry over to the phone reservations, where they aren’t very accommodating. Try to make a reservation for 8 and they will explain they have two seatings for dinner, 7:45 or 9:30, even when the dining room isn’t full. It is a small drawback in what is otherwise a charming restaurant full of character.
Get It!: Tagliatelle al Ragu di Chinghiale (Pasta with Wild Boar), Bistecca Fiorentina (Steak), Torta Arrancia e Cioccolata (Chocolate Orange Tart)
Signature Dish: Peposo (Beef Stew)
Piazza Mino, 33, Fiesole. http://www.vinandrofiesole.com; tel: 055 59121. Closed Monday in winter.