Thursday, June 14, 2007
La Dolce Vita in Firenze
I love waking up in a new city. Before I even opened my eyes yesterday morning, I knew I was in Florence. Some sounds and scents are just unmistakable: church bells ringing even though it’s not Sunday, the wail of a distant, Italian siren, the subtly foreign pronunciation of the word “taxi” shouted out on the street below, the insistent call of the hoards of rondine, or swallows, that dive-bomb the city each morning, the scent of lemon blossoms from our terrace outside, and then the bubble of espresso on the stove.
After a long day reacquainting myself with Florence and shaking off jet lag, a friend and I headed to Dolce Vita, an after-work favorite with the locals on the Piazza del Carmine in the Oltrarno. The Oltrarno (literally “beyond the Arno”) is the district that spans the width of the city center south of the Arno.
The Dolce Vita’s tables in the piazza outside are shaded from the late afternoon sun by giant canvas canopies, and large couches are strewn with pillows next to the more classic tables. I recommend the bar to any who shares my compulsive affection for people watching.
Designer shades and impossibly short skirts are not exactly my scene, but who can resist the elegant preening and stylish machismo of the impeccably tailored Italian man?
The men's display of effortless grace, or sprezzatura, is actually an important and admirable cultural remnant of the Renaissance, when man was entirely focused on cultivating and improving himself.
The vespas parked outside Dolce Vita are draped with 2 or 3 of them at any given moment, posing and lighting their cigarettes in time with the Brazilian band playing over in the corner. A chance to watch real Florentine life unfold in the midst of tourist-swamped June is a true treat.
But Dolce Vita is an institution in Florence for another reason - the incredible and ever-changing buffet of antipasti laid out on the bar, free for anyone who buys a drink.
Each visit inside brought new delights: house-smoked tuna carpaccio with parsley and fruity olive oil, jet-black tapenade (heaven on the narrow wedges of pizza and bowls of fennel, celery, and carrot crudité), fried shellfish and rice balls, tender chicken legs, slow roasted in white wine, garlic, and thyme until they fall off the bone, spinach, chive, and goat cheese mousse tart, Crostini Toscana with the traditional and deliciously rich chicken liver spread, saffron zucchini frittata, and tiny soppressata sandwiches on salty schiacciata (the Florentine answer to focaccia and a true treat after all the unsalted pane toscano, which I’ve never learned to love).
I can’t help wondering what came after we left, but, for 14 euros (the price of 2 glasses of the vino rosso della casa), we were stuffed and reluctantly sauntered home across the Arno.
Piazza del Carmine (055 284 595)
Open: April – October, 10am – 2am daily; November – March, 6pm – 2am Tuesday – Sunday.