Tag Archives: Florence

Dining in Italy

Italian fare is one of the most influential and beloved cuisines worldwide, including — and especially — the place I call home. New Jersey is a haven for Italian-Americans (insert “Jersey Shore” cracks here), and I grew up dining at sublime local Italian restaurants. My trip to Italy was a chance to taste dishes I’ve enjoyed for years in family-run restaurants and my friends’ homes, back where they all originated.

Between bites of our first meal in Italy, my family and I recognized the genius of the country’s homeland cooking. It’s all about simple, focused dishes comprised of quality of ingredients, and that makes a world (or country?) of difference. The tomatoes were impossibly sweet, the olive oil pungent in the best way possible and the pasta always cooked to al dente perfection.

Since a trip through Italy is as much a culinary experience as a sightseeing tour, I compiled a photo log of bites I just could not get over, spanning every course of a meal. I must admit one of my favorites is not included below, and it was the classic Roman carbonara dish at a place in Trastevere. I somehow failed to photograph the plate and get the name of the restaurant, (Double failure! There’s no excuse, really, but we had been walking forever and the Spain-Portugal World Cup game was on….) but here is an image from the restaurant’s packed outdoor seating area. If by chance you recognize it, please let me know!

 

Mystery restaurant in Trastevere, Rome, by Karina for TKGO

 

Bruschetta (and penne with marinara sauce) at La Pallotta in Assisi

There’s really nothing more to this dish than what you can discern in the picture, but it was delicious. It tasted as though it had been thoughtfully and carefully prepared, from when the ingredients were selected to the moment it was plated.

 

Bruschetta (olive tapenade, tomato and olive oil) at La Pallotta, by Karina for TKGO

 

Similarly, the penne with marinara sauce my sister ordered didn’t look like much, but we all spent the meal grabbing bites. If this dish tasted everywhere else like it did at La Pallotta, the world would be a more delectable place.

 

Penne with marinara sauce at La Pallotta, by Karina for TKGO. (My sister had already started eating before I snapped the photo, hence why the place is a little messy.)

 

Greek Salad at Cul de Sac in Rome

I know I went for a Greek salad in Italy, but I needed something other than pasta for lunch on a hot day in Rome, and I am still glad I didn’t guilt myself out of this decision. (Also, I was sure to order an Italian white wine to accompany it.) The feta cheese was unparalleled, and it combined with sweet and crisp tomatoes, red onions, kalmata olives and cucumbers and drizzled with olive oil was exactly what I was craving.

 

Greek salad at Cul de Sac, by Karina for TKGO. Also pictured: my father's baked pasta dish

 

Prosciutto and Melon at Osteria de’Benci in Florence

Peanut butter and jelly might be the most celebrated of unlikely food combinations, but it really should be prosciutto and melon. The juicy sweetness of the melon and drier, more savory taste of prosciutto strike an ideal, mouthwatering balance. We took to ordering this classic and unfailingly divine Italian appetizer at least once a day, but at Osteria de’Benci it was best. Both the melon and prosciutto melted in our mouths.

 

Prosciutto and melon at Osteria de'Benci, by Karina for TKGO

 

Also of note: Osteria de’Benci’s “drunken spaghetti,” is a dish you won’t see everywhere and will want to try, even if it looks like brains in this photo. It’s al dente spaghetti soaked in red wine.

 

Drunken spaghetti at Osteria de'Benci, by Karina for TKGO

 

Pizza at Pizzeria Aurora in Sorrento

My dad described the slivers of parmesan cheese on top as “cheese from the gods.” The thinly sliced prosciutto also was a godsend, and the hearty crusty was cooked crisp in a brick oven. If you find yourself in Sorrento and wanting to try it (do it!), it’s the only pizza on the menu that says it’s folded over.

 

Pizza at Pizzeria Aurora, by Karina for TKGO

 

Truffle Pasta (Trofie Tartufo) at Maccheroni in Rome

Trofie is small pasta twists, and its folds scooped up perfect amounts of the creamy and slightly earthy tartufo — black truffle — sauce. It is rich, so you probably won’t finish your plate. I say, use it to barter for bites of other people’s dishes, because everything we tried here was ambrosial.

 

Truffle pasta, by Karina for TKGO

 

Also of note: We ordered a plate of ravioli with pumpkin flowers at the suggestion of our waiter (who, as we learned, carried a photo of the captain of his favorite Italian soccer team in his wallet, but not his girlfriend) to share at the start of our meal and it was gone in record time. I highly recommend it, as well as the meatballs, which were succulent and far from any of the bready concoctions par for the course over here in the States.

 

Meatballs at Maccheroni, by Karina for TKGO

 

Gelato at Il Gelato di San Crispino in Rome

This place is super close to the Trevi Fountain, so you really have no excuse not to go — and trust me, you want to. The superb gelato served here is devoid of anything artificial, and the fresh taste of every flavor proves it. My surprise favorite was chocolate meringue, but the family’s unanimous winner was strawberry. We were so crazy about that one flavor we returned two days in a row to have it.

 

Rum/chocolate and strawberry at Il Gelato di San Crispino, by Karina for TKGO. Sadly, my camera was unable to capture the delicious beauty of the gelato.

 

Karina for TKGO

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Italian Style Tips

When I wasn’t marveling at a picturesque piazza or impressive remnants of the Roman Empire while in Italy, I spent much of my time ogling and analyzing what Italians were wearing. Everywhere I visited, Italians had it: that fashion-forward yet seemingly effortless personal style.

I know I am one of many wannabe emulators of European — especially Italian — style, so I jotted down some observations while traveling and have attempted to pare them down into doable tips for all of us back home. I include myself in the “us,” seeing as I’m still working to incorporate much of the below into my closet. And I did leave out one wistfully obvious Italian style pointer: A Vespa is the ultimate accessory.

Colors

Much of the Italian wardrobe color palette is relatively subdued, but one of my favorite trends (which I saw mostly men working)  was a strong color pop, especially below. Red jeans, sapphire pants and the green trousers in the following photo made stylishly impressive statements. All the men rocking bold pants had it totally figured out, too, and kept the outfit’s other colors low-key.

 

I spotted this guy in Rome and loved his pants so much I stealthily shot a photo from across the street

 

Sunglasses

You don’t need to spend a ton of money — I doubt the majority of Italians do — but a stylish pair of sunglasses that fits your face and personal style goes a long way, especially for guys. In fact, being in Italy made me realize I see so few guys in the U.S. wearing non-sporty (aka Oakley-like) sunglasses. It’s a shame, because I largely credit fashionable shades for how put-together many Italian guys looked.

Sneakers

My non-workout sneaker collection is limited to a couple of predictable pairs, such as Converse. In Italy, however, people took sneakers to a new level. Stylish pairs were everywhere, especially on women. I loved the looks women were pulling off, like a pair of dark Pumas with a nice pair of jeans and a top they’d wear out at night. I’ve never seen sneakers look so dressy!

Tailoring

After my trip through Italy I’m convinced I’ll never wear pants right off the rack again. I saw too many people wearing pairs that fit them perfectly — pairs that must have been tailored — and it changed their look entirely. The truth is, clothes are made for a prototype size, and most people don’t fit that exact shape. I plan to start shopping for pant almost exclusively at stores with complimentary tailoring, such as Nordstrom and my personal favorite store, Uniqlo.

Investment Piece

Italians know their luxury style, from homegrown brands like Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo to Prada and Furla. Even if your budget prevents you from outfitting fully in any of the aforementioned labels (I’m with you there), it pays to shell out for an investment piece. Perhaps it’s a well-crafted messenger bag or a sleek leather jacket you choose. As long as it’s versatile and classic, you’ll use it forever.

I’m still searching for my one investment piece, and I’m starting to think I might have to return to the markets of Florence for it. I’m OK with that!

Karina for TKGO

(International) Online Shopping

Who says you have to go to Firenze to look like a Florentine? If you have some extra dough to spend, check out some of these cult favorites of the high-fashion elite, all of which let you order online and ship internationally but don’t have locations in the U.S.

Kokon To Zai, London

Call it ’90s tribal, call it futuristic. By any name, it’s quickly becoming a favorite of celebs like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Bjork. The online store just launched in 2009 and features (what I would call unisex) collections of denim overalls, oversize t-shirts, tribal-patterned hoodies and neon striped trousers. Three physical stores exist, two in London and one in Paris, so you’ll rarely see another person in your look. Another perk? Shipping is a flat 15 pounds for overseas purchases. Look for blowout sales, where you’ll find merch for up to 70 percent off.

Luisa Via Roma, Florence

Yes, Luisa Via Roma carries the same selection of designer labels as most high-end boutiques. But what makes it unique are the exclusive special collections that result from it’s collaboration with many top designers, like Lacoste and Levi, which are available online. In addition, Luisa Via Roma makes all the seasonal collections available online months earlier than most stores, so if you’re desperate for a FW/10 runway look (that hasn’t appeared at department stores yet), you’ll find it here now!

Colette, Paris

This boutique is well known all over the world for its super edgy, trend-setting clothing selection, priced for those who can afford Chanel. But don’t overlook Colette’s more playful side. While you can buy all that clothing online, you can also find great gifts like Yves Saint Laurent coloring books for 5 euro, a set of Colette lighters designed by Andre for 8 euro and a pack of 20 Stéphanie Daoud postcards for 13 euro. The site plays great music, too, in a bar at the top that lists the artists’ names and song titles and lets you skip songs you don’t like. If you’re looking for inspiration, the blogs section of the site is a compilation of photos and text (some French, some English) from anyone NYC hair/makeup artists to Japanese street fashion bloggers. Go crazy!

Tara for TKGO