Italian life and culture: bistecca

For the past three and a half days I (meaning we, meaning us so-called “Sooners in Rome”) have been in Florence, experiencing la dolce vita in a leisurely way befitting the smaller size of the city. Just kidding, the sweet life was lost in a haze of sketching. Upon arrival in Florence at 9 AM, the hostel disallowed checking in until 2 PM, so of course there was nothing to do but sketch. The meetup times over the next two days had us sketching, and on Sunday before we left – why, what else but sketch? So much collective ink and graphite was used over the trip that, were it to be force-fed to a student via gavage, it would produce the most succulent of sketch-themed foie gras. A delicacy, to be sure! Maybe even its own dish: fegato grasso alla fiorentina.

Speaking of ____ alla fiorentina, the bistecca adventure. The setting: Osteria Santo Spirito, on recommendation of Dr. Pilat. The meal: bistecca alla fiorentina, a steak rumored to rival those of legendary (if perhaps ignobly) Amarillo attraction The Big Texan Steak Ranch. A fellow student and I (name withheld to protect the guilty) felt that when in Florence, do as the ridiculous tourists who want huge steaks, right?

We arrive. We sit. We scan the menu: €35,00 for this behemoth. We are brought bread: it is good. There is an olive tapenade: it makes the already-good bread better. Fun fact: although tapenade is a French word, the oldest tapenade recipe is found in de Re Rustica, Lucius Columella’s twelve-volume opus published in the first century CE, some thousand or so years before the appearance of anything resembling a discrete French. We banter. We are excited. French is a time of saying one syllable and whizzing through nine letters, so we read the menu aloud and enjoy Italian phonetics. Steak is ordered, and we are informed that it is a kilogram. Bring it on, we say. Challenge accepted. Never trust an American bearing hunger, particularly if their meat intake has been drastically reduced since arriving in Italy. Steak is coming. Steak arrives. It was 1.2 kilos, the waitress apologizes. Pfft, we say. Kid stuff, we say. Only 42.3 ounces – not even 60% of the 72 ounce Big Texan T-bone, ripped from a frozen wooly mammoth they keep in the back. Cut, tear, salt, put on plate. Chew, swallow. Easy. Cut, rotate, put on plate. Place in mouth, chew, swallow. For us, consuming all the steak is an all-consuming goal. We finish, and we are not sated. Our dormant stomachs, growing used to Italian portions, have been awakened by this challenge and they yearn for more sacrifice. Gnocchi is considered, agreed upon, and handily dispatched. Il conto, per favore, we ask smugly. We know this. We are highly able to enter and leave a restaurant without any rude awakening, gosh why does the check say €42,00 for the steak this is not correct at all and we demand an explanation.

The restaurant prices bistecca alla fiorentina based on weight. If only it said that on the menu. If only this was made clear by our waitress. Lesson learned for next time, we grumbled, and paid up. After all, it was still worth it – even at that price.