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Florence Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations


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#1 mogsob

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 05:16 AM

After six days of Rome's endless array of pastas and pizza, we were looking forward to Florentine cuisine. And Florence did not disappoint.

Il Ritrovo
A recommendation from the other board whose name may not be spoken.

Simply put, Il Ritrovo is the kind of restaurant everyone wants to find in Florence. Located in the heart of the city (4 via di Pucci, which is two blocks directly north of the Duomo), but undiscovered by tourists. Marco and his wife run the restaurant themselves and serve up some of the best classic Florentine food in the city. I invited Marco (the most charming and accomodating host/chef I have ever had the pleasure of meeting) to join eGullet -- hopefully he will post something soon. Located two blocks from our hotel (the lovely Il Guelfo Bianco), we ate here three times.

Florence means beef, and more specifically, the divine chianina beef. For those who have not had the pleasure, chianina beef is the most succulent sweet beef in the world. Florentines serve up mammoth portions of this rare treat at a song -- and when it is at its best, chianina beef erases all memories of New York and Buenos Aires. True, the fine minerally taste of well-aged American beef is absent in aged chianina, but the unique sweetness of the beef more than compensates. It's like Mantle vs. Mays -- both perfect in their own ways.

Recounting three meals would be repetitive, so I will condense. Marco makes the best (and I mean THE BEST) tagliata di manzo in Florence. Each element stands out, yet melds perfectly in true Italian tradition. The beef, grilled perfectly rare, is so sweet and tender. The ruccola was extremely fresh and the pecorino -- well, I've never had pecorino this good before. This is my perfect meal. I could eat this every day of my life.

Parmigana di melanzane. First, there is Marco's pomodoro to consider. For those that have been to Rao's -- imagine Rao's sauce, but even sweeter and more tomato-flavored at the same time, lighter but more intense. The melenzane was sliced extremely thinly, the cheese was deelply flavored and worked in perfect harmony with the vegetable and the sauce. Best of breed -- worldwide.

Bistecca. Just the name gets me salavating. The heart pounds a bit harder. This is steak for real meat eaters. Huge and blood rare. Like the best Florentine restaurants, Marco prices his by the 100g (a remarkable 3.50 euros per). Let's put it another way, for some of the best beef in the world, perfectly prepared -- $16.70 per pound at current exchange rates. Unlike most restaurants in Florence, Marco serves a bone-in rib steak. Perhaps not as costly a cut of beef, but I personally love the cut. And, it has more beef on it per pound than a T-Bone, especially in Florence where the cuts are not trimmed as finely. Perfectly cooked, deeply flavored. A bistecca to remember for sure.

Wine. The usual suspects. A great Rosso di Montalcino for every day, and a very good Vino Nobile for the bistecca. Marco's freshly baked cantuccini were some of the best we had on our trip, and for our last meal, Marco poured a very fine vino santo from Antinori for us.

A few practical notes: Il Ritrovo is located in the basement of the Palazzo Pucci. There is only a small opening with steps descending to the front door, so it is easy to miss. Their menu is inside the opening and is the only suggestion that a restaurant lies within. At the bottom of the stairs, the door is generally locked -- ring the buzzer to your right to get in. The restaurant is rarely crowded, and reservations are not needed.

Sostanza
The main event.

Located down a narrow street, you would not think that this humble storefront (looks more like Katz's deli than a steakhouse) was the gateway to a carnivore's paradise. It is populated by Italians (exclusively on our visit) and everyone sits a communal tables. A real test for both my Italian language and diplomatic skills. As a rejoinder to Steve P.'s comment about Italian cuisine, I said in an earlier thread that haute cuisine is particularly French, and thus unfair to subject the sovereign cuisine of Italy to its mandate. Haute cuisine might be the best expression of the culinary arts, but the communal table at a real Italian trattoria is the perfect expression of the dining experience. There is a sense of community and a true spirit of hospitality that is unique to Italian restaurants. Let's call it "ospitalita alta".

The only dish worthy of discussion from our meal was, of course, the bistecca. Sostanza is a very long and narrow restaurant, with one isle leading from door to kitchen. I sat right next to the kitchen door, where I could witness the chef butcher each bistecca to order. I was entranced, and he noticed and we joked a bit before our meal began. When it came time to butcher ours (we specifically requested one steak, again at a remarkable 34 euros total), I kept moving his mark out. The final product was about 3 inches thick, post grilling. The beef was by far the best I had in Florence. The most deeply flavored and the most perfectly cooked. The seasoning was note perfect and the charred exterior approached and even passed Luger's (depending if you ask me or my wife). If you force me to choose one steakhouse in the world, I would still choose Luger's -- nothing I have had matches their beef for flavor or texture. But only by a hair. And Sostanza could correctly be summarized as "twice the beef and half the cost."

The Branacci Chapel used to be my favorite thing in Florence. No more.

Latini
Latini is an experience.

We made a 9:30 reservation through our hotel, but when we arrived, there were about 60 people pressed up to the door as if the Pope was having dinner with David Beckham and the Queen. I made it to the front bar and said I had a reservation. By the time I got out (barely in one piece), I realized that I (a) had spoken to the wrong guy, and the (b) ten minutes, please wait outside line was just that, a line. Following a group of well-dressed Italians, I grabbed my wife and our dining companions (a Russian art student and her 10 year old son) and braved the crowd once more. Summoning up my best Italian accent, I secured our table much to the displeasure of the marauding masses left outside.

Our Russian friend (who, btw, endured thirty years of Soviet rule) described the Latini staff as Stalinists. She was right. Again, everyone eats a communal tables, and while you may be seated at a table at which diners are still eating, no one gets served anything until the entire table is cleared again. Our wait was about 30 minutes, after which time they were either going to serve me or I was going to eat the tardy diner sitting next to me.

Then the going got good. Linens were replaced. Silver set out. Glasses appeared. Water poured. A huge bottle of red wine (house vineyards in Chianti) was placed before us (at least a magnum, with the straw covering) -- drink as much as you want, it's all included! Then some bread. And a waiter.

"Prosciutto?" Si. Four more than generous servings appeared at our table. "Is it still shabbat?" asked Benjamin, whose adolescent views on religion are quite advanced. No, said his mom, and he dug into the cured meat with gusto. Very good stuff.

"Crostini?" Si. Plates of crostini groaning with pate or tomato appeared. Much better than the soggy mess at Sostanza.

"Pasta?" Si. Four bowls of ravioli were set before us. Pretty grim, I would say. Skip that.

Time for the meat. Half chicken for Ben, a huge veal chop for his mother. And, of course, bistecca for us. The meat was not nearly as good as Sostanza (or Il Ritrovo), and a bit overcooked -- more medium rare than my preferred "bloody as hell." But it would be best of breed in London, so I wasn't complaining.

To be fair, we were pretty much stuffed at that point, but our captors refused the bring the bill. First, cantuccini and vin santo. Then a bottle of sparkling muscato. Then, the bill.

Now I have to say that up until the time we got the bill (from a mountain of a man, I might add), I was pretty peeved at the staff. We were pushing 12:30am at this point, and poor Benjamin really needed to get to bed. He barely ate anything post-antipasti. My wife was also very tired (although as that had resulted in me getting the lion's share of the steak, I was a bit conflicted). More to the point, our waiter had only spoken to us in English, which was particularly annoying since I was making the effort to speak Italian whenever possible. But when he brought over the "man who writes the bill", he leaned over and spoke to me in Italian (it appeared that he was speaking English for the benefit of my wife and our two Russian friends) -- "the boy didn't eat much, I'm only charging you for three."

So the bill arrived. 104 euros including taxes and service. :blink:

[More to come]

#2 Craig Camp

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 07:04 AM

the communal table at a real Italian trattoria is the perfect expression of the dining experience.  There is a sense of community and a true spirit of hospitality that is unique to Italian restaurants.  Let's call it "ospitalita alta".

A spectacular observation and perhaps the creation of a new eGullet phrase 'ospitalita alta'. The concept of dining is a complete experience blending the quality of the food and the culture where you experience it. The only other variable is you and how open you are to the experience.

Congratulations on finding Italian restaurants in Italy - many don't. Great posts - thanks. Questions to follow.
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#3 Craig Camp

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 07:16 AM

Some questions:

How did you discover Sostanza and Latini?

Were the crowds outside of Latini Italian?

Why do you still prefer Luger's if Sostanza is "twice the beef"?

Did you ask Marco at Il Ritrovo why he chose the rib steak instead of the t-bone? Is it a cost issue or a flavor issue?
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#4 mogsob

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 02:17 AM

Some questions:

How did you discover Sostanza and Latini?

Were the crowds outside of Latini Italian?

Why do you still prefer Luger's if Sostanza is "twice the beef"?

Did you ask Marco at Il Ritrovo why he chose the rib steak instead of the t-bone? Is it a cost issue or a flavor issue?

1. Sostanza and Latini were both eGullet recommendations!

2. The crowd outside Latini was mixed, with a lot of Italians.

3. The beef at Luger's is the best, for both flavor and texture. If Sostanza were in NYC, it would get a large share of my dining dollars, but if I wanted "the best", I'd still go to Luger's.

4. I didn't ask about the rib steak, as I didn't want to offend (by implying that he served a less expensive cut) or imply that we were disappointed (which we were not).

#5 Gary Marshall

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 08:16 AM

mogsob

any idea if any of these are open on sundays? (i see now latini in michelin is open)

its the only night i'm there and it tends to be a poor night for dining.

cheers

gary

Edited by Gary Marshall, 22 April 2003 - 08:28 AM.

you don't win friends with salad

#6 mogsob

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 08:45 AM

I don't. I think Frommer's has Sostanza listed and Il Ritrovo is generally closed Sun, but you could have your hotel call.

For our part, we met friends at a trattoria they found -- pretty grim stuff and not worthy of a mention here.

We did, however, have a fantastic Sunday lunch at a trattoria out past the Porta Roma. I'll try to locate the name and post it here.

#7 wgallois

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Posted 04 August 2003 - 03:34 PM

Thanks Mogsob for the great tip on 'Il Ritrovo'. The food is fantastic and, as you say, the owners are exceptionally pleasant people who clearly care a great deal about their food and their guests. The Parmigana di Melanzane is indeed a real winner, as is the tagliolini with rocket pesto (made with almonds and pecorino) and the white beans in a tomato and rosemary sauce.

We arrived at the restaurant at 7.15 and were served even though they didn't actually open until 7.30, and were then slightly saddened by the fact that we were the only diners until 8.30. Fortunately a large group then arrived, and we chatted to the owner about business and he was pleased to hear about the good press on egullet, as he felt that this site and others were driving new business his way. He was also very excited about the visit of Rick Steves, who apparently loves the restaurant and will feature it in a future TV show.

#8 Sweet Willie

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Posted 05 September 2003 - 12:36 PM

After six days of Rome's endless array of pastas and pizza, we were looking forward to Florentine cuisine.  And Florence did not disappoint......

[More to come]

Possibly traveling to Florence this spring, seemingly great suggestions, I look forward to them.

Is there more coming?
"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"

#9 Bill Klapp

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Posted 05 September 2003 - 01:33 PM

I'll fess up. I recommended Latini. However, it is not a place for reservations and expectations of normal restaurant protocol, and if I suggested otherwise, I apologize. Instead, the fun of Latini is lining up when the doors open and piling in with everybody else. It is too much food, some great, some indifferent (passing on the pasta is always a good strategy, as I believe that Tuscan pasta dishes in general are heavy-handed when compared with the rest of Italy), but the communal tables and the zany antics of the staff and management is usually the best part.
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#10 paulbrussel

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Posted 08 September 2003 - 02:38 AM

Il Latini is indeed a very nice and good place to eat, and cheap as well. But they don' accept reservations, as is more often the case in simple trattoria's; I was told, when I went there, to be there about 30 minutes before it opens and then you don't need to wait too long to get in, although there was already a line of about 20 people. Most of the people lining up are Italians, I thought.
However, I heard that the other bib gourmand's in Firenze are better / more interesting [Del Fagioli and Trattoria Cibreo-Cibreino]. I can't judge, I am afraid, but I would like to get more info about them.

#11 Gary Marshall

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 06:48 AM

a good friend is staying in siena for a week on honeymoon,

any suggestions for good value dining?

thanks

gary
you don't win friends with salad

#12 homer1

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 09:12 AM

Try La Torre which is on Via di Salicotto - if you are in the Campo facing the Palazzo Pubblico it is the street just to the left of the tower. The restaurant is 20 m down on the left. A small room , casual, great food - homemade pasti, roast meats very straightforward but terrific. No menu - the slightly soup-nazi-ish owner recites the days offerings. Pick from fresh pastas on the table by the kitchen and choose the preparation. Nopt expensive at all.

#13 tanabutler

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 10:19 AM

any suggestions for good value dining?

Yes!

As posted elseforum upon my return from Italy in 2001:

I had one of the best meals of my life in Siena, at a little place off the Piazza dei Campo, called Hosteria Carroccio. Do not miss the Tuscan bread soup, nor the chocolate dessert that is their house specialty. To find it, face the town hall at the Campanile: point out your right arm to one o’clock: head in that direction walk down the passage (Caseto di Sotto). Absolutely wonderful. You probably can just follow your nose; that's what led me there.


I discovered it when I was doing laundry at the lavanderia across the street. I went outside for change, and the proprietress opened the door to answer a man's question. It was like a cartoon where the smoke curls lift someone off their feet and float them to the food. The aroma was heavenly, especially on that cold April morning. The man she'd spoken to told me it was quite popular with the locals, and with Italians who visited Siena from elsewhere. He himself was a very well-dressed Roman, very well-spoken and kind.

It gets my highest endorsement for a lovely meal. Nothing fancy, but everything perfect.

P.S. The proprietress is gorgeous.

Edited by tanabutler, 22 September 2003 - 10:20 AM.


#14 Craig Camp

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 01:08 PM

Sotto le Fonte - both an osteria and an a enoteca with a very good wine selection.

Hosteria il Carroccio as Tana mentions is outstanding. Great pappardelle with either lepre (wild rabbit) or cinghiale (wild boar). Its fame is well earned and it is the place in Siena for slow foodies.

Marsili, Antica Osteria da Divo and La Tavera del Capitano are also very good and serve local style food.

I particularly like Osteria Doccino for good local food, no pretense and great prices. Be sure to try the pappardelle con funghi (fatta in casa).

La Compagnia dei Vinattieri is a nice wine bar with an good selection of salumi and cheeses.
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#15 tanabutler

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 02:38 PM

Wow, Craig, I guess I was in the right place at the right time to find my fantastic meal in Siena. :wub:

#16 rshorens

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 10:11 PM

Unless you're sick of pizza, the best meal I had in Siena a few years ago was at La Pizzeria di Nonno Mede. It is a small place across the street from the Sanctuario Santa Caterina on Via Camporegio. My daughter and I had a nice table outside under an awning on what we thought was a beautiful evening...until a tremendous summer thunderstorm with thunder, lightning, and drenching rain came out of the blue. Luckily, a large party of students celebrating their completion of a secretarial "temp" course took us under their wing at a table inside. The pizzas were all crisp and perfect, and the rest of the party had very tempting looking antipasti. Price was inexpensive and we had a lot of fun.
Buon appetito!
Roz

#17 Craig Camp

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 10:14 PM

Wow, Craig, I guess I was in the right place at the right time to find my fantastic meal in Siena.  :wub:

Very good luck - a really special restaurant.
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#18 cmben

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 05:21 PM

One rainy night this last April my wife and I had one of the best meals of our trip at Ristorante Mugolone, via dei Pellegrini, 8-12. Near The Piazza del Campo, the dining room is simple almost elegant, a very adult - untourtisty room. Antipasti of local boar products, a fantastic veal chop and a variety of contorni each beautifully done. Dinner, wine & service ran 97 Euros. :wub:

#19 tjaehnigen

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 12:21 PM

Il Ritrovo was a sublime and extremely enjoyable experience. We ate their twice while in Firenze. Marco and his wife, Rosetta, are the perfect duo to run this place. I would highly recommend seeking this place out. You will not be disappointed. I'll post details of the two meals when I get a chance.

#20 theakston

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 01:27 PM

Il Ritrovo: will I need reservations for a Saturday evening (for 2) or can one just show up?

#21 tjaehnigen

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 06:37 PM

Tourism is down in Italy, some say to the tune of 30% or more. While you wouldn't be able to tell that around the Duomo there, Il Ritrovo is seemingly not off the beaten path, but it is. We had no reservations both nights and had no problems being walk ins.

Do remember that the entry leads you down a flight of stairs so it doesn't even appear to be a restaurant at first. It's almost a secret. Almost. heh heh

#22 RRainey

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 08:41 AM

I will probably be traveling alone to Florence in May(22-31). I will be on somewhat of a budget lets say 60/day for food. I would be interested in simple economical lunches and maybe two budget breakers. Not interested in outlying areas,no car and want to stay in the city. Restaurant Ricci was recommended (budget breaker)
Suggestions? RR

#23 Craig Camp

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 08:51 AM

here

...and here

and many others you can find by using the search tool.
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#24 JesseNYC

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 01:51 PM

I loved "Osteria Procellino", it's just off of a side street near the straw market. Great food, wonderful owner (Enzo), very friendly. I'll try to find and address and post it here again.

I was there during my honeymoon, and still consider it one of my favorite meals of all time.


Highly recommended.

Have a great time.
"I'll have the lobster...... stuffed with tacos"

#25 JesseNYC

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 01:58 PM

The official name is Osteria del Porcellino.



Osteria del Porcellino


Also from the wesite:


Restaurants. While in Florence this time, my daughter and I found this absolutely wonderful restaurant called Osteria del Porcellino. It is located just down from the Hotel Porta Rossa near the Mercato Nuovo (described below and located at number 2 on the map) on a small street to the right of via Porta Rossa a block long called via Val di Lamona. Walking down via Porta Rossa to the next intersection toward the Mercato Nuovo, you will come to via Pellicceria. Turn to your right there and a couple of doors down on your left is via Val di Lamona. Facing the Mercato Nuovo on this small street, they are located mid-block on the right, at No. 7/9r. The atmosphere is wonderful, they are open from 7pm-1:30am, they have a great menu with lots of good food, and their staff is very friendly. Among my daughter's and my favorites were Filetto all Aceto Balsamico (Beef Fillet with Balsamic Vinegar) and Tagliata di Manzo alla Birra Scura (Porter's Ale Beef Cut in Slices). They also have great pasta dishes such as Ravioli alla Caterina dei Medici and Pappa di Melanzane e Porcini (Eggplant and Porcini Mushroom Soup). We ate there practically every night during our stay. They are very reasonable. As I said before, their menu is quite large and varied, with Antipasti (Appetizers), Primi Piatti (First Course), Pesce (Fish), Carne (Meat), Piatti Vegetariani (Vegetarian Plates), Dolci del'Osteria (Desserts), and a large wine menu. If you want good food and a great atmosphere, I highly recommend this wonderful restaurant.



edited for content

Edited by JesseNYC, 30 October 2003 - 02:02 PM.

"I'll have the lobster...... stuffed with tacos"

#26 tjaehnigen

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 09:41 PM

Il Ritrovo. Without a doubt. Heck, I'd go twice in one week without thinking about it.

#27 tommy

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 10:11 PM

Il Ritrovo. Without a doubt. Heck, I'd go twice in one week without thinking about it.

yeah, i gotta jump on the bandwagon. and i *did* go twice in one week without thinking about it. i'll be posting notes on a few more places in the coming days. but that beef at Il Ritrivo is worth going to Florence for on its own.

#28 RRainey

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 12:23 PM

Regarding the bisteca do you need to order ahead? Il Ritrovo is on the definate list for this may, but Rick Steves recommending it may not be good news,won't it soon become overcrowded? RR

#29 theakston

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 12:45 PM

Il Ritrovo was suprisingly quiet on a recent Saturday evening (mid October). We didn't need reservations and the place was less than half full. So quiet in fact that the chef spent most of the evening out front entertaining us and giving us cookery tips. Although he said that he had been fairly busy all week. If we'd have had more time we would have gone again. He is certainly passionate about his food!

Latini on the other hand was mobbed. And if you don't have a reservation you won't get in (we made one that afternoon as we were passing) . Even with a reservation they go through the 7:30 and 9:30 mob crush, calling out the names of parties and ushering them in like nightclub bouncers. There were several large parties that could easily have been coach parties. I'd say they were all either American or English. Food was good, plenty of it and reasonable priced and it is an "experience".

I'd definitely go back to Il Ritrovo. Not sure about Latini.

Edited by theakston, 31 October 2003 - 12:46 PM.


#30 marcus

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 02:31 PM

My last dinner about 2 years ago at Il Latini was downhill from previous visits. I had heard that the brothers had split up acrimoniously, and the one responsible for the good cooking had opened a new restaurant in San Gimignano. Doesn't seem to have affected the crowds which are about 50% tourist and 50% Italian with more tourists at the earlier seatings. Does anyone know anything about this?