Wow. Time flies. Not too original a beginning, but truth is truth.
All kinds of things happen to me and I think "I have to write about this!" and then I get distracted (easier than you might think) and suddenly it's a week or more later and then it doesn't seem relevant and well....you get the picture.
So I'm slowly going to catch up with all the things I had the must write thought about. Starting with our trip on Tuesday to Livorno (the seaside) with our friend Simone.
Simone is the husband of one of Leif's Swedish friends here in Florence. He travels for his work and sometimes when he's going somewhere interesting he invites us along. We don't have a car and so the opportunity to go places is really exciting. He drops us off somewhere central, goes off to do his thing and then picks us up again for lunch. He always takes us to the Italian version of the truck stop because he says they're more authentic. He's right. These are restaurants that cater to working people and the food is typical to the region and plentiful.
He took us to one of these on Tuesday after our very windy tour of downtown Livorno, which features a fortress turned into a city park, numerous statuary attempting to look dignified while covered in pigeons and seagulls, and the harbor itself with water stretching into infinity.
The restaurant is sort of the Cheers of suburban Livorno. Every time someone walked in the waiters threw up their hands and exclaimed loudly "insert name here! Welcome back!" Well, not for us of course, but Simone and everyone else totally got that kind of welcome.
The room was set up with long tables that everyone shared. We managed to snag one of the few tables for 4. The decibel level was pretty high, the waiters were sweating as they ran (really) back and forth while shouting questions at the customers and orders at the kitchen. The menu was posted on a chalkboard on the wall. One flat price for a first dish, second dish, side and dolce. Extra for house wine.
They specialized in seafood so that's what we had. Pasta with seafood and for a second mixed fried things. It's always an adventure to order something al mare or misto because not only is there a great variety of seafood put into these dishes, but the degree to which they are cleaned is often far less than I'm comfortable with. Remember, I grew up in Minnesota where shrimp are little pink crescents that come hermetically sealed in plastic from the freezer. I don't believe an octopus crossed the state line until a few years ago.
The shrimp were slightly breaded and fried but still wearing their skins, legs, antennae and eyes. Wow. The little fishes were simply gutted, then fried so they had a lot of extra stuff like fins and yes, eyes. One was a pretty reddish gold color. Simone looked at it and said that they were very good, that they come from aquariums. I looked at Leif (I'm sure my eyes were as big as the plate) and said "I just ate a goldfish?" Once I was over the shock of it all I had to agree it was pretty good, but still. A goldfish. Bleh. I won't even go into how ugly the baby octopus are once they've been fried. The calamari was the least shocking part of the whole fritto misto experience. It was also the least tasty. Nuff said.
While the chaotic dining room was a fantastic dip into the experience that is Italian family style dining, the relative calm of the cafe bar at the front was just as exciting for me. The barista, whose name was Barbara, was making these very interesting coffees and I couldn't stop watching her make them. And it seems that the other customers (regulars, I'm thinking) couldn't stop watching me watch her. I was mesmerized. One of the men sitting behind us asked if I wanted one, that I should have one. In fact, he'd have one with me if it would make me feel better. So of course I said yes.
Barbara carefully showed me each step in making this drink (because naturally I have a big ol' espresso maker at home) and explained as she went along. First the sugar in the bottom of the shot glass. Lots of sugar, like a packet and a half. Then a small slice of lemon peel. Yes, peel. Then fill the glass halfway with with the Ponce alla Livornese which is a pretty strong liqueur then she steamed that a little bit (to 40C. Leif actually asked) before adding espresso to the whole lovely mixture.
It's a drink that packs a bit of a punch (pun intended) and definitely should be had only when there's an opportunity for a nap or at least a little quiet time while you pull yourself back together. But according to everyone in the bar this was an experience I should have, totally unique to their region, and they were right. Our trip would have been outstanding without the punch, but it became unforgettable once I enjoyed my Ponce alla Livornese with the guys at the bar.
The name of the restaurant? I don't know if I should share this little gem with the world, then again, you'd have to know your way around town to find it. I could never find it again. It's called Il Deserto and it's on a one way road heading out of town. Whether that town is actually Livorno or a suburb I don't really know.
I actually went online and found the place. Here's a link to their Facebook page. Enjoy!