Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Firenze: La Maremma

We haven’t planned ahead. We have no reservations for the evening, and consequently we’re dependent on the kindness of strangers to get us a bit of dinner. After a long nap, we decide to make an attempt at La Maremma (Via Giuseppe Verdi 16r, 055-240-972) near Santa Croce.

After a slog through the wet streets across town, we arrive, looking a little like sad puppies left out in a storm. We step through the sliding glass door, and look for the hostess, who is pleasant, but when we sheepishly admit we have no reservation, she looks less happy with us. (Transaction: she speaking in Italian “Something, something, something prenotazione?” Us “Um…no…” and apologetic look.)

She indicates a table for two near the door and we look dubious. Does that mean we should sit down, or is she saying, Hit the road, gringos? A sympathetic looking couple sitting right beside the table motions at us and says, “Oh you have to eat here. This place is amazing. We’re just leaving – you can have our table.”

The hostess rushes over waving, “No, no, no!”—and I definitely comprehend this part, which amounts to, “Don’t you run off or feel rushed just because these two idiots didn’t know enough to call ahead. Please, we like you. They are merely wet puppies. Cute, but not that cute.”

She points to the table which is admittedly in the line of fire—or is that line of icy air—from the door, and given the other couple's assurances, we settle in. Tom and Darlene tell us that they’re from Toronto, and run a travel company called Venture Bound Tours. They’ve just finished a tour and are treating themselves to a little relaxing dinner.

“We’ve been here twice,” Darlene tells us, “It’s that good!”

The hostess actually smiles at us as she passes, and at that, we start to feel a little better, and warmer.
To start, we order a pecorino which arrives drizzled with honey and sprinkled with rosemary and toasted walnuts. It’s one of the dry pecorinos, maybe a sardo? But the honey is sublime – not sugary sweet, but perfumed delicately, and a perfect balance to the zing of the cheese.

This is a vast difference from Trattoria Anita—which was warm, and jolly, but not high cuisine. Maremma is the kind of place we love to go to in San Francisco. It’s local Tuscan cuisine, the pastas, risottos, meat dishes that you expect, but with a sophisticated flair.

For my main course – I’m still slightly in recovery from the bistecca—I order a risotto with porcinis. Simple enough, but the porcinis are melt-in-your-mouth. Not slimy, or goopy – just melt-in-your-mouth. The broth they’ve been cooked in is rich and not too salty, and the smell as it wafts up with every bite is just heavenly.

My Omnivore orders salsicce. When we look up “salsicce” in the Eating in Italy book, it says merely “sausage,” we are in the land of pork products, so sausage has a whole new meaning here. It arrives perfectly grilled and with melted cheese on top—and it’s so good he’s not even sorry he forgot to order the contorni of white beans that traditionally goes with it.

At this point, I look around. There are a number of Americans—or are they Canadians?—mixed in with a fair number of locals, but mostly everyone just seems happy. Good food, lots of guffawing laughter. I decide that even if we got off on a bad foot—through no fault of Maremma’s—I really like this place. It’s not fine dining, please-sir-let-me-fold-your-napkin-for-you-and-place-it-gently-in-your-lap. I gather that it’s a husband and wife team who run things. They bustle to and fro, bringing food from the kitchen, clearing plates and taking orders. They began to clear the table next to us, got about halfway and got distracted by other things, cleared a couple more glasses, got distracted, etc. I think it was finally bussed by the time we left.

Nevertheless, I found the hominess utterly charming and comforting, especially on a chilly, rainy night.

My Omnivore ordered a plate of amaretti biscotti and some vin santo to finish, and we make one more Americano gaffe by cheerfully requesting the “cantor” (singer) instead of the “conto” (bill), but now we get a more benevolent smile and a correction. Then the ridiculous puppies stumbled out into the cold, cruel world once more, but much happier for having been dried in a nice warm towel.

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