Mangia! Mangia! – Ora d’Aria, a breath of fresh air

Ora d’Aria has been part for the Florentine restaurant scene for a few years, but was inconveniently located and mostly a secret of locals. Now relocated to the historic center in a modern but cozy space, the word is getting out and rave reviews are coming back.

The name, Ora d’Aria, refers to the “hour of air” or time spent by inmates exercising outdoors while serving a term in prison. But, perhaps, it also refers to the breath of fresh air this restaurant brings to the oft-stuffy Florentine insistence on how to cook and present traditional Tuscan recipes.

Ora d'Aria selection of breads
Ora d'Aria selection of breads

Chef-owner Marco Stabile was born in Tuscany and is in his mid-30s. Ora d’Aria is a labor of love that follows a rocketing career through a number of well-known Tuscan restaurants, including Arnolfo (two Michelin-starred establishment in Colle Val d’Elsa), where he backed chef/owner Gaetano Trovato,one of Italy’s best chefs.

Stabile is a visiting teacher at some of Italy’s renowned culinary accademies, like those in Jesi, Montecatini Terme and Arezzo (Accademia del Gusto), as well as working in collaboration with the prestigious Les Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe.

View from the dining room
View from the dining room

The reason for the name Ora d’Aria was because it was initially located outside the former Renaissance women’s prison, Le Murate. But in 2010, Stabile obtained an exciting new space behind the west corridor of the Uffizi in Via dei Georgofili. This centrally-located premises, with its glass wall to the open kitchen and simple décor keeps your attention on the food through all the steps of the process: selection of dishes from the ever-changing menu; preparation and cooking; service by the chef with an explanation of the ingredients; on to the last morsel of a superb dessert.

Poached egg in broccoli sauce with pancetta (tapas size)
Poached egg in broccoli sauce with pancetta (tapas size)

The dishes are executed with real skill and imagination. Stabile’s menus acknowledge his Tuscan roots, but he plays around in an intelligent, carefully calculated way with the best fresh seasonal ingredients and interesting taste combinations and textures. Dishes are as exciting to the eye as they are on the palate. The color choices and presentation are perfect, using plates and bowls of interesting shapes, but always white so as not to distract from the main event.

Tapas of salt cod braised in browned butter with a pick chickpea sauce
Tapas of salt cod braised in browned butter with a pink chickpea sauce

Imaginative starters, such as a poached egg, centered in a broccoli sauce with slivers of pancetta (could that be a play on green eggs and ham?) lead into tasty pasta combinations. Meat and game play a major role, (pigeon cooked in three ways is a classic Stabile dish), but there are fish and seafood choices, too; for instance baccalà (salt cod) braised in browned butter with creamed pink chickpeas. And for Americans who moan about saltless Tuscan bread: rejoice — the bread basket is full of crispy rosemary cracker bread, salty olive oil schiacciata, walnut rolls, and more — all made in-house.

Save room for dessert. Of course there is the chocolate tort with a warm melting heart graced with cold gelato. But if you can pass that up, you can pick tiramisu espresso or caramelized pineapple with a cream of Vin Santo, before moving on to the cheese selection with brioche marmalade and honey.

Three-bite hamburger with apple garnish and finger of mashed potato
Three-bite hamburger with apple garnish and finger of mashed potato

You can order à la carte, but the set menus (one Tuscan, the other fish) are good value. The lunchtime menu, which offers a choice of dishes in either tapas version or a full portion, is a particular bargain. The tapas version of a hamburger with an apple slice standing in for lettuce and tomato gets raves for presentation and is only three bites big, but they are the best three bites in town.

The wine list features some 600 labels, but it’s the list of artisan beers that is especially unique in Florence. Only one quibble: there should be more wines offered by the glass, the present selection of three is uninspired.

Chocolate torte with chocolate heart and gelato
Chocolate torte with liquid chocolate heart and gelato

Finally, service: in a tourist city where the restaurants are frequently staffed by inexperience to inattentive to downright rude waiters, it is a joy to spend an hour or two in the fresh air of Ora d’Aria’s friendly, responsive service, both in the dining room and from the kitchen.

Where:  Via dei Georgofili, 11r
When:  Lunch and Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, Monday dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday lunch.
Phone:  055 200 1699 Reservations recommended.
How Much:  Lunch — 25 to 35 euro per person. Dinner — 40 to 60 euro per person.

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