Just from the fact that the restaurant is not situated in the most frequented area of Florence but in an actual residential neighborhood, surrounded by bakeries, thrift stores, and artists’ studios, I gather that this place stands out from the rest of upscale restaurants in town, which tend to have high-priced menus with the quality of food not necessarily matching them.
At La Giostra you’ll be attended by Soldano and Dimitri – or the prince and his son, respectively, along with the other members of the restaurant’s young and welcoming staff (this time, I took notice of the fact that there were two Albanian guys, an American girl, and an Austrian waiting the tables). You don’t want to miss the owner, Soldano: he is the white-haired guy wearing a typical cook uniform (the hat and all – a uniform that is nowadays more often seen on cooks’ statues in front of pizzerias everywhere), and greeting you with rather poetic descriptions of the complimentary appetizer platter.
As free appetizers, they have included samples of typical Tuscan and Italian ingredients, such as donkey mortadella and mozzarella di buffala, to mention but a few. The freebie platter may very well be enough food for you to justify skipping the appetizer and ordering the first and/or second course. Be warned, though, that the quantities of food at La Giostra will probably exceed the typical amount of food you might have seen in Italy, so try to come here with an ample appetite so you can fully appreciate the menu.
If you’re not too hungry, don’t over-order! Instead, ask Dimitri or any of the waiters for advice. I usually have a first or a second course, wine and dessert and I’ve always been more than happy with my choice.
The chef offers an extensive array of choices, all of them good. Nobody is forgotten in his menu – be it carnivores or vegetarians. Surprisingly (for Tuscany), some fish dishes are also included in the menu offerings. I am tempted to make a suggestion on what to order but honestly, this wouldn’t be fair because everything is delicious. That said, I do want to illustrate my point, so I will give you but a tiny example - something my dining companion enjoyed at a recent dinner. It was a dish of fresh pasta a la carbonara, but with shaved white truffles in the place of the traditional pancetta. This is food as it is supposed to be in all Italian restaurants - delicious, prepared with attention to both the tradition and the freshness of ingredients, and fairly priced.
All the food at La Giostra is carefully prepared “from scratch”, so be patient. As a reward for your patience, you’ll be awarded with one of the most delicious meals you’ve ever had.
The wine list is concise and focused on wines made in Tuscany, which are, in my humble opinion, are the best of Italy. The restaurant is several centuries old and used to serve a storage space for a carousel (you can still notice the remnants of that epoque). The lights decorating the ceiling seem to want to bring in the joyous atmosphere of the old times.
Try La Giostra next time you’re in Florence and you are guaranteed to fall for it. I have no doubt that the experience will reset your standards for Italian cuisine. But be warned: after dining at La Giostra you will no longer accept just about anything because La Giostra does an excellent job spoiling your taste buds (as well as your ego).