Here is another one from the archives for you…
One of the best ways to find great restaurants in a new city is to ask the locals. You can often find places that you might otherwise bypass, or not pass at all. Plus, in the pre-blog world, it was either that or a (likely outdated) guidebook. Fortunately for you, dear reader, you have me.
In the fall of 2001, on the heels of September 11, we traveled to Italy to celebrate a friend’s wedding. At that time, I had a lengthy commute and spent plenty of time in the car. Alone. So I got language tapes (yes, the cassette kind). Ann Johnson (as in “Ann Johnson arrives in Italy and must claim her luggage. Excuse me, where is baggage claim?” “Mi scusi, dov’è ritiro bagagli?”) and I spent many quality hours in the car together. I learned about her travels, hotel stays and useless words like laundromat (“Levanderia“). I learned mediocre pronunciation and enough vocabulary to make me think I actually spoke Italian. I even managed to trick a few locals into believing it, too, if only for a minute.
We celebrated at the wedding (“YMCA” with a room full of Italians is hilarious), wandered around Florence for a day or two on our own before making our way to our friend’s house. As we wandered through the city, with no real plan at lunchtime, we happened upon a place that looked good, called Baldovino. We stopped in, were greeted warmly (as we were by most people we encountered in Florence) and having practiced my full sentence in Italian for ten minutes prior to our arrival, I asked for a table for two, please. When the hostess asked me if I wanted to sit inside or outside, I was flummoxed. Ann Johnson had not gone any place where she was asked that question on my language tapes. Immediately, the hostess switched to perfect English, and we had a whole conversation about how she could not believe we were not Italian. (It must have been the dark hair, and lack of tennis shoes or fanny pack.) She insisted that I must be a first generation American. Nope, fourth.
We had a terrific meal, and later that afternoon made our way over to our friend’s apartment where we would stay for the remainder of our time in Florence. As we got there and were settling in, we were discussing where we would be going for dinner. (See? It is not just me. My friends can be all about the food, too!) She started asking us what we had done during the day. As we replayed the day in great detail (highlighting lunch, of course), she said “Oh no! You went there?” Incredulous. “But it was really good,” I told her. “Yes. It is. It is one of my favorites, and I was going to take you there for dinner tonight.” So, you see, had I asked the local, we would have ended up at the same restaurant. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. At least now we have more resources – and international cell phone plans.
By the way, Baldovino is still in the Santa Croce area of Florence, so if your travels take you there be sure to let me know how it is!