Ganzo: Faking Refinement

Enter Ganzo, our on-campus restaurant with a kitchen that is stocked full of culinary students. It is a place where students from Florence University of the Arts have a chance to sample high-class cuisine at a low-class price. The concept is really quite rewarding for everyone involved.

Every Thursday evening, Ganzo hosts what they like to call a “theme dinner,” which is prepared by a guest chef or the master culinary students. My roommates  Jessica, Colleen, and I have made an effort to attend each theme dinner we can, knowing that we would be introduced to foods that we would most likely NEVER consume if given the option.

Let me tell you my friends, I’ve eaten some pretty weird things over the past several weeks. And some of those things I will NEVER eat again. But, some of those things have turned out to be some of the best dishes I’ve ever tried. But the moral of these theme dinners (for me, personally) is my earnest attempt at faking refinement.

It didn’t always work.

Our first theme meal was based around Dante and his Divine Comedy.

I opened up the menu to read the three most depressing things that I have ever beheld.

Course 1: Fish

Course 2: Pigeon

Course 3: Duck

I don’t like fish, the thought of eating pigeon makes me want to vomit, and I’ve never tried duck.

This was going to be interesting.

I started by cutting off a tiny piece of the orange glazed sole that was provided to us. I said a prayer, hoped for the best, and slowly placed it into my mouth. I was pleasantly surprised by it’s texture and flavor, without an unappetizing”fishy” taste.

And then…there was the pigeon. The thought of it concerned me because pigeons are quite prevalent throughout the streets of Florence. Actually Jared and I had an encounter with a pigeon that made me question where they were getting these pigeons to cook with.

Jared and I were casually walking down the street one day and all of the sudden were greeted by a pigeon flying right past us. I jumped, because of it’s close proximity and apparently scared it. The frightened pigeon flew head first into the windshield of a van..and then…got ran over by the same van.

Eeek. It was kind of intense.

And it was all that I could think about when trying this dish.

Do people scare pigeons and have someone run over them in order to harvest these cook-able pigeons?

But attempting to get over the pigeon massacre, I decided to first try the beet root puree, then the carrots, and then the time came. The pigeon breast was a bit to rare for me, personally, but the teeny tiny wing/leg/appendage that was served with it was actually quite succulent.

I was rewarded with something familiar, an onion and shallot tart with a buttery  pastry crust. It was lovely, and EXACTLY what I needed to break up the pigeon situation.

And then, the duck. I managed to only eat several bites, because I was quite over the whole meat tasting thing. However, the flavor was quite nice and the caramelized tomatoes that were served with the dish were a perfect snack.

And finally, I made it to dessert. I had patted myself on the back without anyone seeing. I was proud. I was quite proud of what I had done.

We were served a passion fruit sorbet and a chocolate chili cake. The cake was like a block of unassuming fudge that when you bit into, was pleasant and then BAM, the chili hit you. I loved it. I was like a dessert game. With the ice cream and shortbread cookie, the flavors were balanced perfectly.

I was a bit reluctant to attend our next “Grape” themed dinner, but decided to stay opened minded about it.

I mean, grapes, that sounds pretty harmless, right?

Oh my poor nieve little self.

And I looked at the menu.


Oh, there is Colleen, sipping away at the wine, not looking half as freaked out as I was.

First course?

Well nothing other than the Chianti pigeon breast with strawberries and celery root. I did feel a bit better about the pigeon coming from Chianti and not Florence.

Who knows, maybe Florentine pigeons are out to get revenge?

And next, we were “treated” to a seafood risotto with sparkling wine and broccoli rabe. And it was at that point that I literally threw in the towel. I couldn’t do it. I physically just COULD NOT DO IT.

So before I reveal the good news about this risotto disaster, I must tell you the bad news.

Meet foie gras. And to be exact, a mini scalope of foie gras with amaretto and apple puree with white port. If anyone is unfamiliar with what this jiggly meat object, I will explain.

Foie gras, illegal in several states because of the method of harvesting the product, is a fattened goose or duck liver.

I crossed my fingers, prayed like a Pentecostal, and took the tiniest bite that I could feasibly cut with a fork.

And you know what?

I wanted to gagg, and cry,and roll around on the floor in disapproval.

But, I was able to fake a bit of refinement  and instead just cried inner tears, and then offered the “thing” to someone else, while eating the apple puree.

And to be completely honest, I’m VERY proud that I took a bite. I mean, yeah, so I wanted to die after I took a bite, but at least I tried!

So you know what happened after this point of confusion? Paul, the Australian manager of Ganzo brought me out of the best, if not the best pasta dish I have eaten here in Florence. Below, a pasta dish made with a sauce of four different types of tomatoes, Parmesan cheese,  and basil. It was incredible. There were no duck livers, no fish pieces, not even a single pigeon leg. It was simple pasta that was simply amazing.

And having now been introduced to the duck breast, it was not as much of a hassle to eat this meat. And to be perfectly honest, this duck was fabulously cooked. It’s proper name was “Duck with sweet wine “Vin Santo” beetroot and confit tomatoes”

The beetroot and tomatoes were an excellent compliment to this tender and delicious meat. Go duck! (sans the liver, that is)

And then, the dessert came out (if I can make it to dessert, I count the evening successful). We had a pudding grape cake and a strange combination of flavors in this orange soaked sponge cake served with chocolate mousse and frozen coffee mouse cream.

I mean, it was sweet, so I ate it. No complaints.

And our most recent theme dinner, which I was COMPLETELY pumped for was themed “Tutto Tuscano,” which was the meal that several of the culinary students would cook in NYC at the James Beard House (a big freaking deal in the culinary world). I couldn’t even wait. And luckily, I scoped out the menu from an inside source BEFORE I arrived. You know, to mentally prepare myself for what would be in my stomach.

I was relieved to see that I had received the proper information and there would be no pigeon on this run.

And the best part, they gave us wine.

Lots of really good wine.

Like, I mean lots.

And we enjoyed great Tuscan focaccia and salt-less bread.

First course was an absolutely beautiful salad of Belgium endive with blue cheese and Chianti wine soaked pears. Oh man, it was great!

And then, the livers decided to revisit me. And my mood would have definitely been brought down had it not been for the cracker “pillow” that was used as a garnish. I mean, it was so cute AND I know how to make them!

And then I was reminded that it was a plate of livers in different forms.

And then my mood was slightly spoiled.

Yum, liver on a popsicle, liver in glaze, liver flipped over.

I will say, I tried the popsicle thing.

I won’t say I enjoyed it.

But I did thoroughly enjoy the chickpeas, tomato, puree, and artichokes in this next dish which was Rosemary flavored cannelloni with wild boar, chickpeas, and brussle sprouts. The texture of the boar meat was a bit difficult to handle, but the herbed pasta was delectable!

And then, my eyes were opened up to what is officially my new favorite red meat.

Of all time.

Lamb shank.

I was once lost, but now I am found. I was once blind, but now…now I see.

Described as a Chianti braised lamb shank with celery root puree and glazed shallots, this dish BLEW my mind.

I just began rambling in excitement, and unaware if it was the wine or the reaction to fabulous meat, I just didn’t care.

I just keep looking at that meat, wishing it was in front of me.

Or, that this was in front of me.

A layer mousse cake with grape sponge, chocolate sponge, dark chocolate mousse, chocolate casings, and white chocolate squares.


I have waited all of my life for this.

I will continue to keep you updated on my episodes of faking refinement at Ganzo theme dinners.

I am, however, a bit concerned about the pigeon population, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Ciao for now!