Sophisticated modern Italian cooking at a decent price. An Italian “bistronomique”
The Scene: Hip, cool and minimally elegant for the industrial design loving foodie.
Good for: Food lovers, hipsters
Personal. Passionate. IO Osteria Personale is a sophisticated and ambitious modern Italian restaurant. A casually hip “destination” restaurant inserted into funky up-and-coming neighborhood more typical of San Francisco or Brooklyn than Florence. It’s exposed brick walls with chalkboard drawings, a narrow galley like space with glass front and illuminated wine bar at the back; minimal industrial chic.
A four-course menu for $40 offers the most value – ordering a la carte, prices run high. The only catch is the entire table must select the same menu, so choose your companion wisely. The food has creative flare, illustrated on the chalkboard drawings on the walls – these are the chefs’ designs, the blueprint of the food to come.
The food starts in Italy but relies on a global pantry to provide unexpected bursts of flavor in every dish. Sautéed scallops come with creamy celeriac purée and bright green apple purée, a classic combination encountered often in top restaurants in San Francisco, Portland and New York, but not so common here.
Incredibly tender tagliatelle come tossed with raw red shrimp, mushrooms and sesame seeds. The crunchy seeds provide contrast to the delicate nature of the pasta and the sweet shrimp. It’s excellent in its execution if only perhaps the sesame is a bit over-domineering and the portion a tad too small. Roasted octopus, instead, is meaty and satisfying, with a slightly crispy burnish to the edges, and offset by creamy cumin scented chick pea purée. There are also plenty of meat options including a deconstructed veal tartar or roasted pork loin.
A detailed wine list offers one of the best selections in town, for reasonable prices. It runs from a page or two of sparkling wines and champagne, before heading through France and Austria before delving deep into Italian whites, and finishing with Reds, once again with a focus on France and Italy with a few Spanish reds thrown in. Bottle price start in the 20s, with most falling in the 30-40 range. While this is definitely more expensive than what you find in the majority of Florentine trattorias, the selection is matched only by starred restaurants where both the menu and the wine list starts at twice the price. Take full advantage and “splurge” on lesser known Italian varietals rarely encountered outside their region, which offer great value.
Desserts are perhaps the only real disappointment, like the rest of the menu they are highly conceptual, but they lack the pure pleasure factor of the best desserts. One can hardly quibble with the Beer Ice Cream with Coffee Custard Sauce, Pistachio Meringue and Torn Cake. Flavors were good, strong and pure. But a few bites suffice. Likewise the Between Cheesecake and Strudel, where the extra soft “cheesecake” was stripped from its crust and served with an apple strudel flavored foam. Both desserts work, in concept and in execution, but they don’t drive desire or provide indulgent satisfaction.
Nevertheless a meal here does satisfy, and most importantly it adds excitement to what was once a lagging culinary scene. IO was embraced by tourists and foodies, seeking out something new, with whom it has become a favorite. Unadventurous Italians will balk at the price and the non-traditional flavor combinations. This IS a touristy restaurant. But it is also a restaurant that takes itself seriously and is leading in modern innovation without sacrificing service or quality.
Get It!: Tagliatelle con Gamberi Rossi Crudo, Funghi e Sesamo (Noodles with Shrimp, Mushrooms and Sesame Seeds)
Borgo San Frediano 167 red, Florence. www.io-osteriapersonale.it; tel: +39 055 9331341.