Florence is not only magical for its art and architecture, but for its fabulous food. Its robust specialties include wide pappardelle noodles in a rich, meaty sauce, wild boar, rib-sticking ribollita bean soup and a show-stopping steak, Bistecca alla fiorentina.
Such hearty fare is perfect for a Canadian winter, but you won't find it at Florentia ristorante on Mount Pleasant. Though the owner, an artist, hails from Tuscany and the young chef is from Milan, home of saffron-tinged risotto and oss
o buco, someone has decided that Toronto needs more pizza, pasta and salad.
In fact, there are only three robust main dishes to choose from on Florentia's entire menu, roast chicken, grilled salmon and a 10-oz rib steak.
Our waiter saved the evening with his friendly, intelligent service. Within two minutes of seating us he had handed us a menu, poured the water, delivered a basket of (horribly boring) bread and told us the day's pasta and soup.
The penne strascicate turned out to be the evening's highlight. The menu describes it as "dragged" through a fragrant ragu of ground beef and tomatoes with a touch of prosciutto. Like all the food here, it arrived steaming hot from the nearby open kitchen.
Less satisfying was the lacquered roast chicken and potatoes. Though its skin was crisp, its meat moist and infused with rosemary, and the well-roasted potato chunks were tasty, half the square white plate was covered with mixed greens. What were they thinking?
Everyone seemed to be ordering the Bufala pizza, and the smell of the thin, crisp crust was tempting as it arrived fresh from the oven. Yet the over-abundant tomato sauce had absolutely no taste. The only flavour came from the dollops of mild, creamy buffalo-milk mozzarella melted on top.
While we ate, the face of a world-weary man with his head in his hands stared from the pointillist painting that covers one wall and is reflected in giant mirrors on the other. Is it the artist-owner himself, personifying the stress of owning a restaurant on an already-crowded strip?
To me, Florentia is a missed opportunity. But there is hope. If the chef were free to cook the food he knows best, or at least food that better reflects the restaurant's name, it just might become the perfect place to keep warm this winter.