What to expect: Imagine, if you will, an Italian hill-cottage, gussied up with flattering lighting and textured finishes and filled with your most grown-up, tractable friends — the ones with good taste in wine and an admirable appreciation of how to work a comb-over — all gathered for a Tuscan-inspired feast. La Fiorentina, which opened on Dec. 1 as Alberto Lombardi’s latest venture in the Dallas culinary circuit, manages to offer a similar experience with the addition of doting service, tableside visits from Lombardi himself, and Chef Marcelo Gallegos, a new recruit from Chicago.
The setup: Once the location of Chip's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers on Cole, the building’s makeover (spearheaded by Lombardi’s longtime design collaborator Ron Guest) was engineered to inspire high-minded coziness. Tuscan-style tablecloths and ladder-back seating lay the foundation for a story told through high ceilings and Earth tones, while glass and wood accordion doors hint at another story altogether — one of al fresco dining (albeit beside a parking lot) come spring.
On the menu: Chef Gallegos’ menu is modest, yet opens strong with a daily crostini and soup, two salads (a wedge with Bartlett pear, and Tyrol speck with squash, Burrata cheese, and chestnuts), and a smattering of additional antipasti that includes bone marrow, paper-thin beef carpaccio, scallop and shrimp spiedini, and Manila clams.
My companion and I started with the day’s crostini — eight lightly toasted rounds of bread topped two-by-two with pureed cannellini beans, roasted tomatoes, lardo (pure animal fat), and prosciutto ($8). The pureed cannellini’s texture echoed a fine, well-grounded hummus while the roasted tomatoes provided a counterpoint vivacious enough for liveliness and balance. Lardo, a topping most akin to soft, thinly-sliced strips of bacon fat, felt smooth and satisfying on a cellular level.
Of the salad choices, the Burrata salad with roasted Hubbard squash, candied chestnuts, and Tyrol speck over sage and watercress called my name most clearly and did not disappoint. The combination of Burrata, a firm mozzarella pocket filled with buttery cream and softer mozzarella, squash, and chestnut articulated the “winter salad” in as fine a way as I have ever seen ($13). Our primo piato of gran tortelloni filled with ricotta and porcini mushroom and topped with brisket au jus ($12) followed closely on its heels (our server had a genuine gift for unrushed course timing) and inspired synchronized, eyebrow-raising delight.
Duty bound, I ordered the house’s signature entrée, la bistecca fiorentina come a Firenze, a prime, wet-aged, 24 oz., center-cut, Midwestern, grain-fed porterhouse garnished with rosemary and served with fagioli all’uccelletto, Tuscan beans cooked with olive oil, garlic, and a hint of tomato. ($52) As Tuscan steaks, traditionally speaking, run 2-to-3 inches thick, our server spent a fair amount of time collaborating with me on my desired doneness. My companion opted for the more heart-healthy option of pan-seared, parmaesan-crusted halibut atop a prosecco beurre blanc and garnished with artichoke, saffron potatoes, and roasted tomatoes ($28).
Where my steak sang, his halibut merely hummed. Perhaps sharing square footage with so grand a slab of beef made what was essentially a thick and well-prepared piece of fish seem dry by comparison. Regardless, neither of us would go for it again. The porterhouse, however, was symphonic in its complexity and heft (were it not for the Tuscan theme, I might have even called it Wagnerian). Note: the seasonings come alive with the (traditional) drizzle of olive oil. Say yes when your server offers it.
My date would argue that the shining star of the evening was i dolci: a dessert course that started with a flaky, lofty Napoleon with fresh berries and powdered sugar and culminated in a mood-altering martini glass filled with fresh gelato and thick cream and topped with shots of Godiva cream and espresso.
Who was there: Around us well-dressed, gentrified couples and professorial couple-dates carried on hushed conversations, made even more hushed by the room’s acoustic advantages: carpeting, wood, high ceilings. Early on, a single dad showed up with two moderately well-behaved children.
Where to sit: Much like anywhere else, this depends on what you want to achieve. Want an out-of-the-way spot in which to gaze and hold hands? Ask for the table in the southeast corner of the outer room. Feel like engaging in advanced people watching? Ask to be seated against the farthest north wall. Interested in being seen? Go for the middle of the main room, baby.
Price: I’m not going to lie to you; it’s spendy. Our bill for two glasses of wine, crostini, one salad, a half-order of tortelloni, the porterhouse, and the halibut ran close to $200 after tip. (Our two $9 desserts were comped by the management as a birthday treat.) I don’t know about you, but for most of us, this qualifies as special-occasion dining.
Nice detail: The doting service couldn’t be beat. While some might argue that this was opening-night overcompensation, I choose to believe otherwise.
The takeaway: Thanks to a solid menu, extraordinary steaks, and culinary talent that deserves individualized praise, La Fiorentina Tuscan Steakhouse gives Dallas’ old reliables yet another a reason to stay on their A-game.
Get more information about La Fiorentina Tuscan Steakhouse.