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La Giostra

Via Borgo Pinti 12/r
Firenze, Italia 50121

Because food is necessary and choosing it is a privilege, but cooking it is an art.

Ask the owner and supposed head chef (he wears the outfit—pictured right) of La Giostra anything, and you will get a passionate response. He is perhaps one of the most passionate people left on earth, in the style of Europeans—life's simplest pleasures are heightened to artistic experiences, and attention to detail is expected on a philosophical level (you will find various authors and experts quoted on the website). Add to that his ripening old age and cryptic English, and he very much gives meaning to the restaurant's name. A night in the midst of Dimitri can at times feel like riding a carousel.

To create a restaurant was a dream all his life. And that restaurant, he believes, should be a dream, literally: "A restaurant is a dream... it is very nice, with a beautiful woman and a handsome man, and they talk..."

Sometimes the passion does carry him away, such as his description of the market he attends "every morning at 5 a.m." to purchase fresh food and produce. Inspired by his words, our table discussed the notion of visiting the market ourselves and perhaps stumbling upon Dimitri on his daily shopping spree. To this notion his son and our waitor, Soldano, asked, "Are you drunk?" (That's right, we foolish Americans—two bottles of that lushious Chianti and we're inappropriately plastered.)

But we must forgive Dimitri for his exaggerations, for if anything, they only add to the magic of an experience at La Giostra. According to legend (and their website), the concept of the restaurant began with chatter over dinner at the family's estate in Barberino Val d'Elsa, Chiantishire, which is a middle-aged village snuggled between Florence and Siena in the heart of Tuscany. And by family we mean Asburgo-Lorena, or Habsburg-Lorainne's, to which Dimitri claims heredity (he also claims to be a Medici). A love for food and the resources to aquire the best led to a repertoire of over 200 recipes, all authentically Austrian, Italian and especially Tuscan.

The menu itself boasts a selection of about 70 options, and with that in mind we recommend five steps to experiencing the most in one meal: 1) Go in very hungry; 2) Enjoy the complimentary appetizers but don't overdo it; 3) Order as many courses as you can; 4) Vary the options with your fellow diners so you can share and try new things. Fifth and perhaps most important of all: 5) trust your servers and let them help you select your order. Whether it is Soldano himself in his t-shirt and arm-racks of bracelets or another member of the staff, all are as intune with the menu as you would expect at a European eatery.

The staff is also undeniably warm, friendly, and even flirtatious. Soldano is a rumoured playboy of the Mediterranean, so ladies—beware (or interested). Dimitri is an especially big fan of his female diners, and a large table full of young women is a great way to get extra complimentary champagne. There are occassional bad reviews out there online that we have come across; ignore them. Some people just have bad attitudes, and that's all we have to say about that. We have dined no less than six times at La Giostra, and each event was more wonderful than the last.

Jamila Colozzi | November 2008

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