Restaurant Casa Florencia
By: Epicurious Em QUOTE: “What has impressed me the most about the Italians whose tables we’ve sat at is that they are traditional cooks but also outrageously innovative. These people are wild improvisers.” --Frances Mayes, Author of “Under the Tuscan Sun”
Panama has an abundance of Italian restaurants…from mediocre to good to outstanding. Casa Florencia definitely falls in the outstanding category. The restaurant is in San Carlos, 6.5 km from the turnoff to El Valle, on the left side. Formerly owned by Fabrizio, Casa Florencia seemed to be the perfect fit for long-time friends from Tuscany, Chef Franco, his wife, Cinzia, and Stefano, having known each other for over 30 years and reuniting in Panama for this venture, which opened on February 14, 2015. They have done a wonderful job and bring great Tuscan food to this part of the interior.
The quaint Casa itself reminds you of dining in a small restaurant in the countryside with its thatched roof, cool breeze, pleasant atmosphere, and laid-back ambiance. The menu does not contain the 20 pages of choices, to which we have become accustomed. Instead, it is a compilation of this trio’s tried and true favorites. The first page encourages you to try their specials, which may or may not be available, depending on the demand. There are usually a couple of off-menu choices, which I would highly recommend, as they are labors of long hours of selection, slicing and dicing, and simmering.
We recently started with their burrata mozzarella caprese, a hollow ball of fresh mozzarella filled with cream and pieces of mozzarella, nestled in lettuce, surrounded by juicy tomato slices, garnished with freshly picked basil and served with crusty bread. It certainly lived up to its name, “the pearl of the table.” The olive oil and balsamic vinegar were presented in a hand blown Tuscan cruet. My handsome spouse chose the chicken breast in a lemon sauce ($9.50) for his second, and I chose one of the non-menu specials, “paccheri ragu,” pasta with a tomato/pork sauce ($15). The fork-tender chicken was lightly dusted and sautéed then adorned with a light lemon sauce and surrounded by a medley of sautéed vegetables. Although not made in-house, the imported paccheri are extra wide pasta tubes, with a sauce that made your taste buds stand at attention. Both were incredible! Fresh bread was also served with the meal.
The menu is reasonable, with starters from $6.50-$8.50, and main dishes from $10-$22. The burrata mozzarella was a stretch at $20, but it is not something that you can get anytime anywhere. It would make a great starter for 3-4 people. Stefano explained to us that they are striving hard to replicate authentic Tuscan food, using as many Italian ingredients as possible and improvising with Panamanian products. Desserts are $6 and are not to be dismissed.
Most important is the wine list. Again, wanting to give their customers a taste of Italy, the wine is totally Italian with quality selections at very reasonable prices. Glasses of wine range from $3.50-$6. A bottle of Cecchi Orvieto Classico blanco is $15 and the Cecchi reds are in the $18-$29 range, with a couple of higher pops at $32-$78. Stefano pours them through a special glass blown decanting spout imported from Italy, of course!!
“Casa Florencia, restaurante Italiano, cocina Toscana” is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3 p.m.-9:30 p.m. and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 1 p.m.-10:30 p.m. They are closed Monday, except during holidays. They can be reached at 240-9117 and are available for private events.
TIP: You will probably be tempted to order a bottle of wine, but ask Stefano to pair your selections with a glass of wine with each course, as he is THE sommelier.
Epicurious Em welcomes your comments and suggestions. As always, the information in this article was accurate at the time of the writing, but restaurant owners have the option of changing prices, menu, and hours at any time. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.