y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: Firenze Osteria & Fabio

Firenze Osteria & Fabio

Many of my friends who do not live in L.A. tell me they are jealous about all the 'celebrity chefs' we have access to in this town. Recently I was invited to a media tasting lunch at Firenze Osteria, restaurant of the ever charming, Tuscan Chef Fabio Viviani of Top Chef TV fame.

Chef Fabio's many expressions
Chef Fabio loves to share his passion about food and life with people. He walks, talks, touches and hand gestures rapidly with contagious energy, peppering the afternoon with charming one-liners, just as we've all seen on TV. 

It's not hard to see why he won the Top Chef season 5 audience chosen Fan Favorite Cheftestant award, and serves as spokesman for multiple products.

Both Chef Fabio hosted the 7 course lunch with wine pairings from Santa Margherita (of the Terlato Wines International, a sponsor of the Top Chef series).

Warm herbed bread with sundried tomatoes were promptly placed on the table while Executive Chef Ken Biffar worked on the other dishes.

Firenze Osteria's open kitchen; Santa Margherita tasting cards and prosecco

Chef Fabio explained that ingredients from each dish will be carried into the subsequent dishes, and that we would try 3 wines across the 7 courses. This helped us explore the wines with different food flavors.

He likes to use round, white plates and keep things accessible. He referred to these dishes as his grandma's food with a pretty presentation. Or in his own words, "Sometimes grandma's pot roast looks like road kill but tastes amazing. I want to get rid of the road kill but have it taste the same".

1st course - Crostino di Pancetta
1st course: Crostino di Pancetta, paired with Santa Margherita Prosecco

The very crunchy and firm toasted bread Crostino was topped with a luscious and generous portion of imported, fresh burrata cheese, grilled pancetta, crispy sage, brown butter and some lightly dressed greens for contrast.

Pancetta is salted and cured vs. bacon which is smoked. The brown butter, cooked down with sage, retained the dish's fluid flavors. The prosecco's acidity and bubbliness balanced the creamy and salty components of the dish.

Chef Fabio referred to the fried, crispy sage as "vegan bacon", a spot on description. The butter mellowed out the sage's bold flavor and added that fatty component.

2nd course - Gamberoni in Carnicia
2nd course - Gamberoni in Carnicia, paired with Santa Margherita Prosecco

This course, a take on shrimp and grits, continued with pancetta as an ingredient. The pancetta-wrapped Santa Barbara spot prawns were filled with Gorgonzola cheese, stone grilled, served on a bed of parmesan polenta and sauteed spinach. The whole dish was finished with a drizzle of 25-year aged balsamic vinegar. The Prosecco also cut the richness and saltiness of this dish.

The prawns were as big as the palm of my hand, very tender and meaty. My only issue with the dish was that the polenta had hardened and sort of came up in my fork as solid pieces, which was surely not the intention. It tasted great, but perhaps not served in time to retain the creamy consistency for the polenta.

3rd course - Gnocchi Cinque Terre
3rd course - Gnocchi Cinque Terre, paired with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

Of so many dishes cooked on Top Chef, one of them I really wished I could try was Chef Fabio's gnocchi. So I had higher expectations for this dish than others.

These potato gnocchi seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper sat atop a pool of bright and sharp basil pesto with a generous sprinkle of pine nuts and parmesan cheese shavings. The gnocchi were soft and fluffy oval dumplings were served as they would have been served in the Viviani home in Florence on Sundays.

He mentioned that some diners prefer the gnocchi to be tossed in the sauce, and he accommodates that request. However, we ate them the Tuscan way. While I'm not much of a white wine drinker, this Pinot Grigio complemented the creamy gnocchi quite well.

He said he remembers making gnocchi since his earliest memories of being able to move his hands. That talent and tradition definitely showed with this dish.

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Chianti Classico
4th course - Oil poached Escolar over chunky puttanesca
4th course - Oil-poached Escolar over chunky puttanesca, paired with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

In order to keep the moistness, the escolar was poached in a light olive oil on top of a lemon slice and fresh thyme. The tangy, spicy puttanesca sauce came full of sliced green olives and capers.

I love the tangy and lemony elements with my fish. Yet there was a subtle sweet taste coming from either the fish or the tomatoes. The fish texture was meaty, not flakey. The flavors melded perfectly well.

The Pinot Grigio complemented the fish. We found out that Anthony Terlato first introduced Pinot Grigio to the U.S. over 30 years ago and it is still one of the most requested imported wines in restaurants.

5th course - Costolette di Agnello
5th course - Costolette di Agnello, paired with Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva

By this point, a lot of diners were hitting the wall in terms of fullness. Then the herb marinated rack of lamb came out. Chef Fabio said he likes to treat lamb like pork, and offered this as a take on braised pork and beans.

The most unusual component, something I'd never seen before, was the glazed pistachios in place of beans. They were essentially softened and cooked like beans. Very unexpected and delicious.

I have heard of some unfavorable reviews from friends of the lamb at this particular venue, however, in this case its preparation and taste exceeded my expectations. The chianti's fruitiness and earthiness washed it down very well.

By this time I started staring into space as I was approaching food coma. Chef Fabio, always attentive, immediately noticed and asked if I was enjoying the lamb. He told the group to "take it like Italian diners", and we mostly did. It was a very large meal that felt like one big Italian family Sunday lunch.

6th course - Trofie con Anatra e Finocchio
6th course - Trofie con Anatra e Finocchio, paired with Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva

The homemade trofie pasta, with duck sausage, caramelized fennel and parmesan cheese comprised a very hearty pasta course. I loved the hand torn pasta, the gamey duck with the chianti.

While I normally love fennel, caramelizing it in a small bit of butter intensified its already strong flavors. The fennel dominated the dish a bit too much, but I worked around it and still enjoyed it quite a bit.

7th course - Torta al Cioccolato
7th Course - Torta al Cioccolato, paired with Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva

Chef Biffar came out to present the dessert, a warm cake served with vanilla gelato, pistachios, chocolate and coffee cream sauces. The other end of the plate contained a homemade ricotta cannoli with chocolate chips.

I'm more of a savory food lover, so chocolate cake doesn't usually thrill me. However, this was a very well made cake and the coffee sauce added an interesting kick. Chocolate with the chianti went really well together. The cannoli tasted less sweet and appealed to my sweet and salty preferences.

Firenze Osteria 
The green Vespa parked outside was a great prop for this restaurant.

Parting gifts
We ended this decadent meal with questions for Fabio, along with signed copies of the Cafe Firenze cookbook, a bottle of the Chianti Classico Riserva and a couple of other goodies in the bag.

Overall, the meal contained many highlights and memorable tastes.

* This was a hosted event and meal. *

Firenze Osteria on Urbanspoon

4 Responses to “Firenze Osteria & Fabio”:

  1. Great post! Dang, now I have to get mine up soon. :-P

  2. Thanks, Pleasure Palate. Looking at the gnocchi, fish and lamb, I wanted to eat that meal again!

  3. Marie says:

    Did not think Fabio would ever use the phrase "vegan bacon," haha! That is some lunch, especially the lamb!

  4. Hello Marie. Yes I also laughed at the vegan bacon as well as many of his one-liners. The lamb was monumental. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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