Just steps away from the bustling Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo leather market and the train station, Le Fonitcine has doubtlessly seen many, many changes in the years since its birth in 1939. Now the neighborhood is full of itinerant merchants of every nationality. But don’t let its occasionally seedy surroundings dissuade you from venturing through the doors, and discovering a hidden gem.
At first glimpse it seems a small restaurant with the half the space given to a glass counter that displays homemade pasta and enormous loins of T-bone beef waiting to be cut into thick slabs of Bistecca Fiorentina and opposite an open kitchen. But venture past the open kitchen with its massive grill and you will discover that the restaurant opens up, revealing a series of large and small dining rooms, and even a hidden patio oasis outfitted with shaded umbrellas. Dining room walls are lined with shelves of wine and covered with a panoply of paintings in every shade and style, interspersed with an assortment of books, ceramic plate collections and other odd paraphernalia. The effect is eclectic, but also warm and inviting, creating intimacy in the large space.
The menu relishes tradition, reviving lost classics and bringing new life to old favorites. Pappardelle con Cinghiale (Wide Noodles with Wild Boar) gets a light dusting of cocoa powder, paying tribute to a time when the wild meat was cooked with a bit of bitter chocolate. The meat is cut into large chunks, more stew than a sauce. Linguine con Baccala in Bianco is another Florentine classic revived from the past. Tender salt cod is cooked long until flaky and forming a flavorful light sauce enhanced with some diced onion and carrot and a dash of white wine. The flavors are pure and profound. Seconds are predominantly meat based (as was the custom in land-locked Florence) – with most of them coming of the busy grill. Bistecca Fiorentina frequently turns up on all the tables.
Prices run a little higher than your average trattoria, but then again so does the quality. One of the most obvious differentiators is dessert – something that few restaurants in Florence do well. At Le Fonticine they are all homemade, and more importantly, they are delicious. Tiramisu is far from the dull interpretations you find at most restaurants. It is served in a sloppy spoonful on the plate, but the flavor is spot-on with a lovely mouse-like creaminess. Even better yet is the chocolate cake. Forget the disappointing “molten chocolate soufflé” you see everywhere, this chocolate torte, served slightly warm, has a texture akin to a thick chocolate mousse – and a flavor which competes with the darkest flourless chocolate cake. It is covered with shavings of bittersweet chocolate that only enhance its flavor. Go for the overkill and get it accompanied with addictive thick creamy mascarpone cream. This is a chocoholics dream, and a dieter’s nightmare. It is also one of the most remarkable restaurant desserts in town.
Succumb to the efficient waiter, and let him coax you into one of the lovely grappas. The smooth floral flavors of pear mask the potency of the alcohol. Linger, let the moment last. Not every restaurant is so comfortable, or so accommodating. Not every restaurant expresses such a unique character or sense of self. You certainly never would have guessed it when you pass by it on the street.
Signature Dishes: Pappardelle delle Casa con Cinghiale e Cacao (Homemade Pappardelle with Wild Boar and Cocoa powder), Bistecca Fiorenitna (Grilled Steak for 2 or more)
Get It!: Linguine with Baccala in Bianco (Linguine with Cod and White Wine), Torte al Cioccolato (Chocolate Tart with Mascarpone Cream)
Via Nazionale, 79r, Florence. www.lefonticine.com; tel: +39 055 282106