Behind the arched iron gate, just across the street from the Montevarchi train station, in a quiet courtyard, nestled below tall pines, is one of the trendiest restaurants in Tuscany. With an updated take on Tuscan cuisine, the kitchen at Ristorante Galeffi never fails to please.
Ristorante Galeffi is built on the site of the late 19th century chemical pharmaceutical factory of Ernesto Galeffi. The family palazzo is to the left off the courtyard.
The irony of a fine dining experience in a building that once produced antacids and effervescents comes immediately to mind when the menus are brought to the table. The cover is one of the famed Galeffi ads from the 1930s. (The wallpaper in the bathroom is designed in the pattern of the tissue once used to wrap products sold in the Galeffi pharmacy.)
All references to the past end with these artifacts. The decor is spacious and modern with two dining levels pulled together by a massive black and white graphic wall. Simple floral accents and the original wood floor soften the iron and glass architecture. Tall windows bring in sunlight and allow views of the trees. In the summer there is seating outside.
Galeffi Dining Room
The sophisticated menu is ever-changing, depending on the season and what is fresh at the market. One day the appetizers might include whipped salt cod on toasts with truffles or saffron creamed rice surrounding a tiny savory cake garlicky tomato-infused bread. The second course could be risotto with creamy taleggio cheese and truffles or a fettuccine with a sauce of tiny fish and cherry tomatoes. A favorite main dish is rabbit with artichokes and a side of crispy fried vegetables. This vies with the filet of pork with a confection of layered apples and foie gras.
Dessert is a specialty of Galeffi. Warm chocolate torte is in competition with lemony cheesecake and a moist apple cake.
The wine list is a joy to read, but it’s an even greater pleasure to try a bottle or two from the small exclusive wineries from the nearby Chianti Classico and Brunello regions. The somelier is knowledgeable and extremely good at food/wine paring.
Ristorante Galeffi is a short train ride from Florence (it’s less than a block from the Montevachi station). It’s proximity to the luxury fashion outlet malls in Incisa and Montevarchi, make it the perfect place for lunch when driving from Gucci and Ferragamo at The Mall to the Prada outlet (SPACE).
Often Florence can bring on an epic case of claustrophobia. When the Renaissance bankers built their McMansions, they did not widen the medieval streets. Although not many buildings in the historic center are much over ninety feet high (note: come visit soon – the Prime Minister is inviting everyone to add a floor or two to their buildings as one of his recession fixes), Florence often feels much more constricted than New York. This is especially true to one who grew up in New Mexico. Or even to a claustrophobic Florentine who visited the Land of Enchantment for the first time last year.
Wide open geography is not the only reason a visitor feels light and free in New Mexico as opposed to Florence. There is also the comfort and conviviality of Southwestern hospitality. In Florence, both the residents and the tourists must gird themselves every day with armor to deflect the petty incivilities of shopkeepers, waiters, government workers, bank tellers and even people walking or driving the narrow streets.
An Italian in New Mexico
Here is one Florentine native’s story:
Mi chiamo Francesca. Probably others have written stuff like this before. I need to do it, so I can avoid paying Dr. Palma some euro to listen to it. I hope I can.
I was in the U.S. in [December 2008] – New York, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Washington D.C.
This is about kindness. This is about smiling.
In Albuquerque (N.M.) I was having a nice morning in a café called The Flying Star, looking at magazines (for free) and looking at people, and having brunch. Oh what’s better than brunch in the US?
But this is not about food, it’s about kindness and service with a smile.
When you get coffee in the U.S. you usually are entitled to have a free ‘refill’. I went over to the counter to ask for my refill and the nice smiling guy, while pouring fresh coffee in my cup, said to me, “Is the coffee finished in the pitcher over at that stand?” He made me understand that I could have done it myself, but still it was a pleasure for him to do it, for free, and in spite of the line behind me. I apologized. He said “no problem”, he smiled again, I smiled. I went to my table and cried.
Why? Because I had a whole movie of the same scene, had it happened in Florence, my hometown.
Same scene in Florence: “Come? La vole che gli riempia la tazza, oh la un lo vede che c’é una caraffa la’ sul tavolo per riempirsela da soli ? Se la vole il caffe’ la se lo versi! E la ringrazi iddio che la un lo paga! Fosse per me…”
(Tuscan Traveler’s rough translation: “What? You want me to refill your cup, don’t you see that a carafe is on the counter for you to do your own refilling? And you thank god that you are not paying for it! Were it for me …”)
Sometimes a little hospitality is all you need.
The Flying Star is certainly a special haven, not only for Francesca in December, but more recently for me. Last month, I spent a year-long week watching my younger sister die. Each day, I would walk the half-mile along the arroyo, breathing in the crystal clear air, looking up at the distant mountains, making my way to the Flying Star Café for a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, creamy mac and cheese, and/or a slice of cake with strawberries on top.
For an hour I could hide from the horrible reality in the company of friendly helpful strangers, who had no intent to turn tables, offered both healthy and comfort food (as well as Breakfast All Day), and even had snacks for four-legged friends. The magazine racks and the good people watching are extra pluses for those who needed distraction. I certainly did.
Tuscan Traveler is looking for a Flying Star in Florence.