For over half a century in Florence, the name Latini has been associated with classic Tuscan food and wine. Today, the two Latini brothers carry on the proud tradition, but each in his own unique way.
Latini Family History
Narciso Latini took over his Uncle Angelo’s fiaschetteria (wine bar) in Via della Vigna Nuova almost sixty years ago, a few years after World War II ended. He sold wine made in the Chianti region around Val d’Elsa. He offered prosciutto, salame, finocchiona, and hardboiled eggs to go with his customers’ glasses of vino rosso.
Soon Narciso’s wife, Maria, started preparing ribollita (vegetable bread soup) and pappa al pomodoro (tomato bread soup) to be sold alongside the sliced meats, cheeses and sandwiches.
In 1965, Narciso and Maria, now joined by their two sons, Torello and Giovanni, moved the fiaschetteria to a larger space in what had been the stables of the 15th century palazzo of the noble Rucellai family. The Latini family created an informal and jovial trattoria where Maria expanded the menu to include all of the typical Tuscan dishes, including pasta al ragu, ossobuco, and grilled or roasted meats. In the caves and tunnels carved out of the soft tufa stone below Il Latini, Narciso created a cantina to store wine.
Eighteen months after the opening of the new trattoria, on November 4, 1966, the great flood of the Arno River inundated Il Latini and filled the cantina. The water crested above six feet in that part of Florence. By sheer grit the family worked together to be the first place open to serve hot meals to Florentines, who were clearing the streets and their homes of tons of oily mud. Giovanni says that Il Latini was able to open after three days because of two main reasons. First, the extended family hurried in from the countryside near San Gimignano with water, wine, bread, vegetables, cured meats, olive oil and wood; and then stayed to dig out the trattoria. Second, the stove and oven were wood-burning and once cleaned, they were ready for use.
Narciso seated famous politicians, artists and writers with local blue-collar workers. Guests often walk out of the place with a free bottle of Latini-labeled wine in hand. Ecstatic German Prime Minister, Helmut Kohl left with an entire prosciutto under his arm. In 1982, Narciso established The Friends of Latini prize that rewards the work of poets “who have contributed to the greatness of contemporary literature.” The winner is given a whole prosciutto.
At the beginning of the new millennium, big changes came to the tight-knit Latini family. Narciso, now a widower, turned ninety and took a less active role in the trattoria. Giovanni, his American wife Carol and their two daughters Chiara and Caterina, decided to try something new. In 2004, they took over the space of the defunct Osteria No. Uno, on Via del Moro, a block away from Il Latini. There L’Osteria di Giovanni was born with Giovanni greeting the guests, Caterina overseeing the kitchen, Chiara creating the innovative wine list and Carol inspiring the desserts.
Narciso split his time between both the old trattoria and the new osteria until his death in January 2008 at the age of 96.
A characteristic decor, with lots of prosciutti and various types of salame hanging from the ceiling, full wine racks with straw-covered fiaschi and heavy dark wood furniture, greets visitors as they enter the trattoria. For dinner, customers arrive at 7:30pm to get in the crowd massed at the door, for even with a reservations there is a wait as Torello Latini and his waiters skillfully fit parties together at the communal tables. Getting thrown together with strangers and sharing a common meal is part of the fun here. The place is huge so everybody gets seated. Forget gastronomic pretensions and don’t think this is a spot for a quiet, romantic dinner. This is the Italian dining experience most foreigners envision and many want to experience.
One of the winning factors of the Latini philosophy has been to always use the finest, freshest ingredients and respect the traditions of simple but wholesome Tuscan cooking. It is extremely difficult to get a menu. Torello seems to prefer to serve a filling, traditional set meal with a bottomless carafe of wine. This usually kicks off with ribollita and pappa al pomodoro (Nonna Maria’s specialties) or penne strascicate. If everyone agrees on the arrosto misto, a table-filling platter is delivered heaped high with assorted roast meats. If you have a favorite traditional Tuscan main dish or a favorite bottle of Italian or French wine, yell it out early and they will serve it to you. Usually a table will finish off with a round of cantucci con vin santo for everyone. The bill is inevitably 50 euro per head.
Before leaving, be sure to ask to see the cantina, recently redesigned, but still located deep under Il Latini in the caves and tunnels running under the Palazzo Rucellai.
Via dei Palchetti, 6
Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Monday.
L’Osteria di Giovanni
Giovanni and his family have created something completely different from the old family trattoria. Modern art on the walls, widely spaced tables dressed in fine linen, a sophisticated wine list, and Tuscan cuisine with an up-dated concept make this a restaurant to savor and enjoy.
Giovanni is a welcoming host, who serves as many native Florentines as he does visitors from abroad. A plate of tiny mouth-watering warm fried bread coccoli (cuddles) and cold flutes of Prosecco are placed on the table immediately for munching and sipping while perusing the menu where every dish has a helpful description in English or Italian.
The Latini clan makes their own wine, which is served as the house wine for both restaurants. Chiara, the sommelier at the Osteria, sought out the small artisan wineries as well as famous makers to fill her wine cellar with almost 600 labels to guarantee a vintage for any palate. The reasonably-priced wine list is detailed and is a joy to read.
Caterina attended L’Ecole des Arts Culinaires and the French Culinary Institute of New York. Like her grandmother, she insists on the freshest ingredients, but she adds a refined modern interpretation and presentation to the traditional recipes. Popular dishes include salmon cured with pink peppercorns, served with sour cream and melon, tortelli stuffed with pear and pecorino with leek and paprika sauce, pici with sausage and kale, and lamb slow-cooked with artichokes.
Although there are a couple of traditional desserts on the ever-changing seasonal menu, Giovanni’s wife Carol has delighted everyone by introducing a warm citrus cake and a light pineapple carpaccio with red peppercorns.
Dinner will average 40 to 50 euro per person, depending on the choice of wine.
L’Osteria di Giovanni
Via del Moro, 22
(39) 055 284897
Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesday.