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Oltrarno/San Frediano: Trattoria Pandemonio

Via del Leone, 50/r , Phone: 055.224002

Closing day: Sunday

Reviewed by: Jeff Whiteaker from CA, review #2477

When: 2007

It was a cold, rainy night and Pandemonio, tucked away in a quiet south-west pocket in Oltrarno, was quite a trek. Luckily, we were rewarded a fabulous meal.

It was a cold, rainy May night and Pandemonio - tucked away in a quiet pocket of the Oltrarno - proved to be a bit of a trek from our apartment near the Palazzo Vecchio, especially given the stubbornly persistent rain.

Once we located the place, we were a bit distraught at noticing they didn't have a menu posted in the window. But what the heck, we'd walked that far, so we decided to take the chance. Besides, the woman who greeted us at the door was gushingly nice, and the vibe just felt right.

We noticed right away that the menus looked promising, but also pricey. Primi ranged from €13 - 18, while secondi averaged at about €30 a plate. Yikes! But no matter, we agreed to have one splurge in each town, so Pandemonio would have to be our splurge in Florence.

We ordered a mezzo litro of the vino rosso della casa, which was, like many house reds in Tuscany, surprisingly smooth, fruity, and quite good. And now the food: I ordered a risotto with cream-of-scampi sauce that was delicious and cooked to perfection. The shrimp flavor was a bit on the subtle side, but the consistency and texture was spot-on. My girlfriend ordered tortacelli with pesto and tomatoes, which was excellent, though not quite how it sounds. The pesto was thinner than most, more fluid, and the super fresh tomatoes and chopped basil on top gave the dish a pleasant kick of freshness. The cheese-filled, clearly home-made tortacelli were melt-in-your mouth yummy, and the dish somehow managed to be both subtle and potent at the same time. In summary, the primi were stellar.

For secondi, we decided to order one typical, commonly seen dish, and one that seemed totally weird, and we would share them. For the former, we ordered a grilled slab of veal, and for the latter we ordered boiled octopus in olive oil. The octopus, or polpo, was simply half an octopus with some greens, sitting in a bit of oil. This was cooked to perfection, although the flavor was perhaps a bit too subtle to be truly mind-blowing for me. The grilled veal, however, had to be one of the most tender, juicy, and perfect cuts of meat either of us have ever tasted; a stunningly perfect culinary experience.

At any rate, the two women waiting the tables and generally running the show (both looked to be in their 50s, one seemed to be the wife of the owner, a jovial guy who spoke exuberantly to nearly everyone who walked in; he seemed to know all the clientèle on a first-name basis) were extremely nice and helpful, and one even gave my girlfriend a warm hug as we were leaving.

Despite the high prices, Pandemonio had a very casual, friendly, and small neighborhood kind of feel, which made the experience all the more pleasant. I definitely recommend this place for your one splurge, and will be returning here on the next trip to Florence.

Reviewed by: Kim and Rain from NJ, review #53

When: 2001

It was definitely the most expensive of our meals but also the best. I wouldn't hesitate to return to Pandemonio.

Maureen Fant, writer for the New York Times, and author of "Trattorias of Rome, Florence and Venice," just did a piece on this restaurant in January 2002. For once, I finally beat her review and I'm glad. Oh - bummer, I just checked her book for the address of Trattoria Marione and I see she wrote about Pandemonio there too. I guess I didn't beat her.

We needed to take a cab to the restaurant - it's on the Oltrarno side of Florence. When we arrived, the host seated us at a table in the back room. It felt more like a garden back there with trees and tiny lights everywhere - pale yellow walls - very pretty. They started us with a glass of prosecco.

Afterwards we ordered a bottle of the '97 Verrazzano Sassello and the wine guy (sommelier would be too strong a word I think - it was a family place), asked, "Do you know this wine? It's very special." I told him how we first tried it two years ago and how we hunted it down in the states. He approved.

To start we shared antipasti Toscano that contained prosciutto, salame, and pickled vegetables - delicious. I don't usually eat cauliflower but these were great. For our primi we shared a shrimp risotto - fantastic - creamy, flavorful - we wiped the sauce with the bread - that's how good. Rain had a chicken cacciatore for her secondi (hunter's chicken) - of course nothing like we used to get at Mom's Italian Restaurant in Edison but oh so delicious. I can't remember the name of my dish - I think Populo - it was a spicy beef stew and out of this world.

For dessert, I had an espresso and tiramisu. Rain chose some ice cream. After dessert, they placed a bottle of grappa and a bottle of chilled limoncello on our table. We opted for the limoncello - pretty darn good.

It was definitely the most expensive of our meals but also the best. I wouldn't hesitate to return to Pandemonia.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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