Firenze Osteria is only a couple of months old, but it’s already become a popular hangout in Toluca Lake. Chef and co-owner, Fabio Viviani, brings five hundred year old recipes to Southern California from his hometown of Florence, Italy. Thus the name, Firenze, Italian for Florence. He describes his style of cooking as Northern Italian comfort food.
Each of the four owners of this eatery are actively engaged in the process. Jacopo Falleni is Firenze’s “mixologist,” concocting some of the most amazing martinis ever. I was a bit reluctant to sample the Red Bell Pepper Martini with an actual pepper set inside the glass, but, believe it or not, it tasted just like candy corn!
Other exotic blends: the Balsamic Martini with strawberries, lime, vanilla rum and yes, balsamic vinegar; a Lavender Lychee Martini with fresh lychee puree, Absolut Raspberry and lavender infused lemonade; and the Mintcumber Martini with muddled cukes, mint leaves, gin and pineapple juice. There are twenty six varieties on the menu, but Falleni says he has a bunch more up his proverbial sleeve.
Co-executive chef John Paolone is another owner. A Cordon Bleu graduate, John’s specialty is slow braised meats in rich sauces, such as Firenze’s famous Ossobuco, a six hour braised veal shank in a Chianti and vegetable sauce.
The fourth owner, Lisa Long, who’s been in the restaurant biz for years, takes on the role of hostess at Firenze, just one of many roles this Hollywood actress has assumed. You may have seen her recently on The Forgotten, The Cleaner or Desperate Housewives.
The restaurant itself can best be described as comfortably chic. The simple décor is the perfect setting for the presentation of Firenze’s exquisite cuisine. There’s a bar room with about five dining tables and a much larger dining room separated by a glass partition. No booths, just tables. As I said, it’s very simple.
The view, however, is pretty cool. You can watch the flames shooting up from the sauté pans and relish the aroma from the open kitchen easily viewed from either dining area.
The back wall of the bar room is one long wine cellar featuring some of the best Italian imports as well as a good selection of California wines. There are thirty seven wines by the glass as well as three “for the true wine lover” going for up to $45 a glass!
Chef Fabio doesn’t cut corners when it comes to food preparation. His Lobster Bisque, for instance, requires stewing a Maine lobster tail with vegetables, flambéing it with brandy, then blending it with shrimp stock, heavy cream and tomatoes until it forms a perfect creamy consistency. His Minestrone also takes a great deal of preparation, stewing together seventeen vegetables including two varieties of beans and five varieties of leafy greens with the crust of a chunk of aged parmesan to eliminate the acidity of the veggies.
Perhaps the best salad on the menu is the Insalata di Pere or Poached Pear Salad with baby lettuce, crumbled blue cheese, caramelized walnuts, Tuscan Pecorino cheese and poached pears in Chianti wine and balsamic dressing.
But if you’re not in the mood for soup or salad, another special appetizer is the Gamberoni in Camicia or Grilled Jumbo Shrimp. You get two enormous shrimp wrapped in pancetta (similar to bacon) served on a parmesan polenta and garlic sautéed spinach with an aged balsamic reduction sauce. That, and a glass of wine, could easily be a meal.
But you wouldn’t want to miss out on the entrees. As I mentioned earlier Chef John is proud of his slow braised meats, and there’s good reason. That Ossobucco is spectacular: a sixteen ounce veal shank with a Chianti and vegetable sauce served over saffron and crispy pancetta risotto. The meat literally falls off the bone, it’s so tender!
Another favorite: Bistecca di Maiale or Pork Chop, a fourteen ounce prime cut, served with sautéed Brussels sprouts, crispy pancetta and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The pork is delivered from a Nebraska farm, slow roasted on the bone until pink in the middle. It’s thick, yet tender.
And speaking of tender, the Pollo Arrosto or Roasted Chicken is probably the most perfectly prepared organic chicken in the world. The extra large half bird is roasted with rosemary, lemon and served with savory potatoes. The skin is crispy; the meat moist and fragrant. There’s also a nice selection of homemade pasta including a scrumptious Lobster Ravioli filled with, not only lobster but braised vegetables, white wine lobster sauce, cherry tomatoes and, if that’s not enough, shrimp.
It’s unlikely you’ll feel like ordering dessert after having an appetizer and main course, but even if you have to loosen your belt a notch you can’t leave without sampling the homemade Cannoli. I’m not a fan of this rich dessert, but I honestly fell in love with this rendition, filled with ricotta and chocolate chips and encrusted with pistachios and dusted with powdered sugar. Wowee! is what we said en masse!
The tab at Firenze won’t be cheap. Prices for appetizers range from about $10-17, entrees from $15-38 with desserts under $10. You’ll likely spend about $50 per person, but you won’t go home hungry, and it’ll be a memorable meal you con’t easily duplicate.
4212 Lankershim Blvd.
Toluca Lake, CA 91602