Something of a Florentine institution, La Giostra has a character all of its own. The current owner–who is the son of the original chef/owner–seems to do basically whatever he pleases. From hanging flashing Christmas lights from the ceiling, to playing 1990’s/early 2000’s emotional pop rock loudly in the dining room, to wearing his body weight in bling, this guy’s personality makes this restaurant what it is.
Julian: That was quite the experience. Going into this meal, I was expecting basically a typical little Italian trattoria, maybe complete with an accordion player and a few “mama mias”. But quickly I realized this was going to be anything but normal. First off, the space itself: a cozy room with an original ceiling dating back to 1640, white plaster walls adorned almost entirely with photos of a crazy dude with various celebrities, tall romantic candles dangerously close to the edge of each table, corny bundles of (potentially fake) garlic dangling from beautiful old wood beams. The ambiance was somehow fun and relaxed while at the same time really classic and formal.
ravioli with pecorino and pear
Jesse: Maybe it was Eddie Vedder’s raspy voice in the background, maybe it was our cute waitress–whose perfectly broken english and shy smile made her seem like she could do no wrong–or maybe it was that bottle of Chianti, but I felt like I could sit in this place all night. I’ve never been to a restaurant where I could tell the owner had made the playlist himself just by looking at his picture on the wall, and I never thought I would enjoy what could have been the soundtrack to Dawson’s Creek so much. But even more importantly, I’ve never had such tasty pasta in my life.
Julian: Yeah hold on, I’ll talk about the pasta later. But lets start with the first courses. Most notably, the burrata with fig marmalade and honey, served with these little playful bread rolls. I’ve had a lot of burrata in the States–it’s all the rage at hip joints–but this was a few times better than any I’ve had back home. It was ridiculously creamy yet not overpoweringly rich, with enough salt to make it really flavorful yet still sweet and refreshing. And the combo of that with the sweet fig marmalade…good God! They gave us like a quart of the stuff, and I loved every bite. Then there was the bruschetta mini appetizer. So simple, but they used these perfect tomatoes. They were some of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten, with a firm structure that you can usually only achieve with unripe tomatoes. We asked the waiter what kind of tomatoes they used. He said they were cherry tomatoes, which is total B.S. Those were nothing like cherry tomatoes. But oh well. They can hold on to their secrets if they really want to.
Jesse: Another secret of theirs which I would dearly like to know is that of their pecorino and pear ravioli. Was it as simple as using the best ingredients? It seems like every Italian ristorante, bottega, osteria, trattoria–whatever they want to call it to make it sound authentic–in the States has that one ravioli dish. It’s usually 4 or 5 mothership sized pastas stuffed with the richest cheese the ristorante can get its hands on, doused in butter–browned butter most likely, maybe sage infused– and you want to throw up after the 2nd ravioli when cheesy, buttery, sickly rich sauce dribbles down your chin because you tried to stuff half of one of those mothership raviolis between your wine stained lips, and it was still too friggin big! None of this was experienced at La Giostra. They managed to stuff their perfect homemade raviolis with a such balance of pecorino and pear that my inner, tubby, cake-snatching, toddler self felt no shame in eating an extra half of ravioli before passing the dish to Julian.
hard to see, but the owner is the guy with the tank top. To complete the outfit—Reef flip flops, a fanny pack, bracelets up to his elbows, and a Harley parked right in front of the restaurant
Julian: It didn’t hurt that the pasta itself was perfect. It had a little bit of a bite, but wasn’t at all undercooked, with a good eggy flavor. Purely from a pasta perspective, maybe the best I’ve ever had. Maybe. We also had a tagliatelle with wild boar ragu, which is a specialty of Florence. Not quite as good, but really bomb nonetheless. After those pastas though, the meal honestly went downhill. For our main entree we ordered the balsamic filet with radicchio and potatoes, which our waiter promised was the best thing on the entire menu. Tuscany is known for its steak, so this was actually the dish I was look forward to most. But when the steak came, it was completely smothered in balsamic glaze. Check out the picture. It’s insane. All I could taste was the overwhelmingly sweet and sour balsamic. Made me cringe. I could faintly tell that there was a killer piece of meat under there–Tuscany is known for its Florentine steak–but barely. Then for dessert we got the tiramisu. Here, again, they went completely overboard. The main part of the dessert was stellar. Unfortunately, they gobbed so much whipped cream on top that we had to scrape it all off. La Giostra displayed such finesse, respect for ingredients, and control in the beginning of the meal, but then went off the deep end towards the latter courses.
whoa! Chill out on the balsamic, bros
Jesse: Agreed. Even though the food took a dive, as we finished up our wine, I felt great. The meal, the vibe, the chatter, the music, the blinged-out owner, the experience as a whole was fantastic. It was original. It wasn’t forced. It was the product of the owner’s unique character (and his father’s) and true-ness to himself expressed through a food institution without the, “I don’t give a shit if you like it”, attitude of trendy hipster joints. This organic balance is what sets a restaurant apart for me.
tiramisu…good, but too much whipped cream