Sweet Treats in Florence - La Milkeria

lamilkeria-1 lamilkeria-2 lamilkeria-4 lamilkeria-3 One of the very first nights we spent in our new neighborhood we ventured out in search of gelato.  You don't have to look very far in Florence for a gelato shop, but you do need to look closely to find good gelato. We stumbled upon La Milkeria at Borgo degli Albizi 87R, which we learned had just opened about a week before. We've been back a few times since (most recently a few nights ago) and it never disappoints.

What the shop lacks in a wide selection of gelato flavors, it makes up for in quality and the selection of other sweet treats available. From waffles to crepes to milkshakes and cookies, this place is a must-visit for anyone with a serious sweet tooth. They had a flavor this summer that tasted like creamsicle -- a little slice of home!

One thing I love about La Milkeria is that it's clear a lot of thought went into everything -- the food, the decor, the experience. I adore all of the traditional shops in Florence, but after our trip to Amsterdam earlier in the year I found myself longing for more concept shops and eateries here in Florence. La Milkeria definitely fits the bill!

P.S. Sorry the photos are a little dark -- I snapped them at night time!

Philly Restaurant Review: Garces Trading Company

jpeg-2 jpeg jpeg-1 A few nights we met friends out for dinner in Garces Trading Company in Philadelphia. A friend that lives in the city recommended it and I'm so glad we went. The food was delicious and the atmosphere super cool.

We all started with the chef's cheese plate. The cheese menu is great -- you pick a cheese and then a condiment. You get to choose between different spreads and marmalades. They were so good. I was taking mental notes on how I might replicate the condiments at home.

They also have a huge olive oil bar where you can sample and purchase olive oils from around the world. People that visit us and get spoiled on good oils often lament that they can't find them at home. Well, if you are near the Philly area you can get them at Garces for sure.

We all got different entrees. Rob and I split a pizza and the steak frites. Both were excellent! Initially I was hesitant to eat somewhere with a Mediterranean-focused menu, but I'm so so so glad we went. It was perfect for a night out with friends and I highly recommend it.

Photos from the Garces Trading Co. website

Visiting Florence, Italy: Florence Food Tour

Florence Food Tour

I (Rob) recently had the opportunity to take a gastronomic tour of Florence, directed by Florence Tasting. Having lived here for two years my knowledge of the city, restaurants and markets of Florence is solid, but not expert. Thus, I went on the tour as a sort of Sophomore with a chip on my shoulder, not willing to be impressed easily, but hoping for something memorable. Predictibly, I was put in my gastronomic seat right away.

Here's what happened on our Florence food tour...

Florence Food Tour: First Stop, Coffee

Our first stop was Chiaroscuro, a coffee shop that is well-loved by locals and local expats alike. My first thought was that at the very least I would get a good espresso. However I was very pleased to get a lesson in espresso from the caffe owner, Massimo. Massimo is dedicated to serving good coffee and his dedication shone through in the morning's coffee lesson. The lesson began with tastings of two types of roasted beans Arabica and Robusta. Having tasted the different flavors of the beans we tasted them each as espresso. Massimo told us that each cafe blends Arabica and Robusta in different proportions, which accounts for the differences in flavor from location to location. After the espresso and the discussion on blends, we had a cappuccino to see how milk changes the coffee's flavor. Looking back on it, I enjoyed all of the flavors, but what I really came away with is a much better understanding of the different kinds of coffee grounds that are available in stores here and the U.S.

By the way, if you're counting, that's three shots of espresso in about an hour. Add this to the one I had at home and by the time we left Chiaroscuro I was very enthaustic about our next stop.

Florence Food Tour: Next up...truffles.

Next on our tour was a stop at Procacci, the famous truffle sellers here in Florence. Procacci is probably best described as an institution. It's been around since 1885, it's on via Tornabuoni and it's possibly the only place around that sells almost nothing but truffles. That said, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that truffle sandwiches were on the menu that day. Truthfully, I'm not a truffle lover. Plenty of my friends are, but I've never developed the taste. So it was with great pleasure that I handed over my truffle sandwich to Tommaso, of previous fame. Tommaso tells me it was fantastic. A Florentine's endorsement is enough for me to say it was great.

Florence Food Tour: Wine and Cheese

After the truffles we sampled more typical Tuscan fare at La Divina Enoteca. Here, I had my eyes opened. The first tasting was a white wine paired with a slice of pecorino cheese topped by grappa & pear jam. I like all of these things - save the white wine - separately, but would I like them together? The answer is yes, a lot. I never choose white wine but this white, from I Veroni, was great and I plan to have Kate recreate the cheese & jam combo for dinner one night. The other pairings were great - reds with Tuscan meats - and while I would usually remember them I left the enoteca thinking that I should re-consider my position on white wine and cheese pairings. Or, more accurately, form an opinion on white wine and cheese pairings.

Florence Food Tour: To Market, To Market

The next stop was, I'm sure, a group favorite: the central market. Any good Florence food tour needs to feature a stop at one of the city's food markets, and the central market didn't disappoint. Our guide had us sample bread, cheese, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and vin santo. All of the food was fantastic and by the end of the central market portion of the tour I had finally eaten enough to overcome all of the caffeine from earlier.

Florence Food Tour: Gelato Time!

The last stop on the tour was Le Parigine, a great gelateria not far from the Duomo. Everything they serve is made fresh that day and is fantastic. Typically, I couldn't decide on one flavor, so I combined coffee and cream, because I hadn't had enough coffee flavor in my day yet.

I would recommend the tour without hesitation. I think it is a great way for anyone who wants to experience Italian/Tuscan culture both through food and by meeting the owners of the stores we visited. Our guide took us on an easy walk through famous and less-often-traveled areas of the city. While we were out I couldn't help but notice that the tourists on our Florence food tour were experiencing Italy in a way they probably wouldn't have without Florence Tasting. It's a nice way to get out of museums and into the city life. I highly recommend it!

To learn more about Florence Tasting, visit: www.florencetasting.com

Living in Italy: Tales from an Italian Grocery Store

ItalianGroceryStore

When friends and family visit us one of the first things that they typically comment on is all of the meats and cheeses out and on display in the grocery stores. To the American eye, seeing unrefrigerated meats and cheeses is a bit odd -- but, it's totally normal here.

Particularly around the holidays we've noticed that the selection expands and special tables like this one pop up in most grocery stores. This photo is from the Conad grocery store near the Ponte Vecchio. In this market in particular it's fairly common to hear tourists exclaim, "This huge hunk of parmesan is only 11 euro!"

Tourists, vegetarians and PETA supporters beware: this time of year we've also noticed an increase in the number of whole pig heads in the deli area. It is apparently some kind of holiday specialty to get meat cut from it...can anyone weigh in on this for us?

Building Reputational Capital: An Off-Topic Post for Your Saturday

Today I'm going to use our blog to do something that everyone always asks us to do: give free business advice. buildingrepcapReputational Capital

One of the single best business books that I have ever read is called Building Reputational Capital: Strategies for Integrity and Fair Play that Improve the Bottom Line. According to the book, reputational capital is essentially built-up goodwill that a company develops in its relationship with clients, customers and members of the general public. Reputational capital is intangible, but incredibly valuable for any business -- particularly those in the service industry. Reputational capital is a fancy term, but it's something that we all have with just about every brand we interact with.

For example, reputational capital is the reason why you still go back to your favorite restaurant even after you have one experience with a bad server, or still shop at one of your preferred online boutiques that sent the wrong item. These companies have built up enough capital with you over the course of your business relationship that you still have trust in them. You may not have the same level of trust, but you have enough confidence to know that you can go back or try again. On a large scale, reputational capital is why companies like BP, Tylenol and others have been able to weather storms over the years.

Reputational Capital in Practice

When we decided to offer up our apartment to host Turkey Day with friends, we were excited to learn that a catering company in Florence was offering premade dinners. With an 8 week old at home it seemed like a fantastic option. We had never heard of one of the two companies offering the dinner, but the second one (which I refer to as Company A) is one of our favorite spots for coffee and sweets. We had enough reputational capital with this company to place an order for seven.

I don't think I'm surprising anyone when I say things did not go as planned. While the food ended up tasting delicious, the amount of food delivered was not nearly enough for seven. The items delivered were also oddly inconsistant -- an adequate amount of peas and apple sauce, but barely enough stuffing for two. The numbers "1" and "7" look similar in how they are commonly written over here, so we thought OK, maybe this is the problem. Rob took the bag of food to Company A for an explanation. They put him in touch with Company B (who produced about 95% of the meal). No mistake had apparently been made. We had to go all Oliver Twist on them to get an additional delivery of two items. And, when it showed up, things were not so smooth. Conversations about Italian vs. British vs. American proportions ensued.

Long story short, we ended up having to make more food to compensate. Lucky for me, Rob makes delish potatoes (I love my Indiana boy). I made biscuits. Our guests brought a wonderful carrot side dish. We made it work. But, the whole experience was so stressful and the extra cooking so exhausting that two days later I'm finally up for doing anything besides snuggling in bed and watching movies. Life with a 2 month old is no joke -- a little extra activity and BAM you're cooked for days.

OK, on to our business lessons...

Business Lesson #1: Over-Deliver to Your Core Audience

One of the most shocking things for me is this: expats in Florence are one of the only groups with expendable income at the moment. In many cases, the expat Americans have a lot of expendable income. Thus, offering Thanksgiving dinner was a brilliant way to impress a ton of current and potential customers at once. When you are given a reputational opportunity such as this, you always need to overdeliver. We tell this to clients all the time. Have a booth at a conference targeted directly to your audience? Do something spectacular. Invited to give a presentation to a group that includes three of your dream business prospects? Figure out a way to make it the most exceptional they've ever seen.

This is a really important lesson in this situation because, as I mentioned, the food itself was quite good. It may have been some of the best stuffing I've ever had. If this company had even met (but preferably exceded) my expectations they would have had an immense amount of reputational capital with me. I would've emailed a friend that hosted a wonderful, catered party last week and whole-heartedly recommended this company for future events. I would've jumped on board any future events Company B catered. See how one adjustment in your product/offering delivery can have a huge impact? The responsbility falls on you, not the customer to make the experience exceptional.

Case in point: Last Thanksgiving we went to Il Barone. That meal was amazing. I happen to know for a fact that they barely broke even, but guess what? We've been back at least 5 times and recommended it to friends.

Business Lesson #2: Response is Everything

How you/your company reacts to a problem can also have a big effect on what bits of reputational capital may remain and the potential for a rebuilt relationship. Company A -- ironically, the one responsible for the one part of the meal perfectly in portion -- sent us a two paragraph message, apologized and offered a free cup of joe next time we're in the restaurant. Simple. To the point. Guess what? Apology accepted. When I eventually go back, I won't even mention the freebies. For me, it's the thought that counts. Studies show that most consumers feel this way across the board when it comes to customer service.

Company B's response was a little more iffy. In response to a message that my friend sent they wrote six paragraphs explaining "their side" of the story. My friend was upset because she had recommended the meal to others. Lesson: never make the person that is dissatisfied make an effort. Reading six paragaphs is a lot of work. Instead, keep it simple. Offer a clear apology. Nothing maintains or builds a relationship quite like an apology. Their response to us was a bit shorter and in their defense they did try to call us, but honestly...because I have no relationship with this company I really don't care to respond at all. I never interacted with them before and won't now. Quite frankly, I'm too dang tired to care about them.

Could we have been the one delivery that was just a total wreck? Sure. But it doesn't matter. All we care about is our experience, not the experience others had.

Business Lesson #3: Be Careful Who You Share Your Capital With

If you're still reading you've probably already come to this conclusion yourself. Our reputational capital with Company A was seriously depleted through no fault of their own. But, because their label was on the bag they ended up guilty by association. When I sent an initial message to a friend attending the dinner I said "Company A's Thanksgiving bag is a joke!" It never even crossed my mind to write Company B's name -- even though it was almost solely their offering. Crazy, right? That's the problem with partnership and collaborations and why we encourage our clients to tread lightly with them. With a partnership it's very difficult to untangle your role from another partner. Partnerships can be extremely fruitful, but when something goes wrong it doesn't matter whose fault it is -- both parties are at fault.

In Summary

Yes, this is a long post. But, people are always asking us for free marketing/PR advice. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this situation and from the idea of reputational capital as a whole. If you own a business and haven't read the book you need to. Sure, some of it will bore you, but reading about capital and how companies big and small have solved their PR problems is eye-opening. It may change how you serve your clients in the future.

 

P.S. A younger version of Kate would probably have taken and posted pictures of the dinner and publicly lambasted the company. I probably would've called the post something sarcastic like "How to Destroy Your Reputation by Almost Ruining Thanksgiving." That really doesn't do much, in my opinion. Sure, I get out some frustration, but it doesn't really make a difference. Instead, I'm using this as a learning opportunity.

P.P.S. OK, a little snark: the UK apparently has problems with portions, too.