Seafood seemed like an unlikely choice for dinner in the heart of Tuscany, where the renown of its game and bistecca fiorentina far exceeds those of its fish and mollusks. But after a few days of boar, pork and beef, a change in pace was deemed necessary, and a few internet searches later, we ended up at Ristorante Fontanelle in Prato.
Though the second largest city in Tuscany and a mere 20 minutes drive from Florence, Prato is hardly on a tourist’s radar screen due to the relative paucity of renaissance sights and medieval churches. In fact, our drive from the highway through the backstreets of Prato was hardly picturesque, the scenery was dotted with squat commercial buildings and ugly textile factories as opposed to the lush greenery we had grown accustomed to in the Chianti region. The hotel was nice enough though in a slightly old-fashioned way and service varied between genial (our main server) to brusque and inflexible (on account of the manageress). Bizarrely, of its two dining annexes, the quainter, more old-fashioned wing was occupied by local Italians while the airier, more modern section we were seated in was almost fully taken by big groups of local Chinese feasting on May Day. Turns out Prato is home to the largest community of Chinese in Europe, with many industrious immigrants controlling much of the garment industry in this traditional textile town.
[P wondered if we were profiled because of our looks and thus the potential propensity to speak loudly over dinner (which happened to be the case of the diners in the “Chinese” wing). He had tried hard to move to the quieter annex where wifi was available but was rebuffed over and over again by the manageress.]
The seafood heavy menu covers the whole canon of classic Italian seafood preparations. Be it crudos, pastas, risottos or whole grilled fish, all of the dishes were simply prepared to showcase the sweet freshness of the ingredients. The portions were generous, and we found sharing 2 primi courses, a spaghetti loaded with small but fresh shellfish, and a umami-packed scampi risotto cooked in sparkling prosecco, just nice for 3.
I chose a skate dish without being 100% sure of what I had ordered, trusting only in our server’s gestures, his flapping hands mimicking a manta ray in flight. My trust was rewarded with a delicious bowl of broth that had big pieces of poached skate, fresh and tender.
Both P and our aunt ordered grilled seafood, for him a generous platter of calamari, scampi and prawns; for her a delicate whole white fish filleted à la table.
Our aunt and benefactress for the last part of our Italian trip insisted we each order a dessert, and as good Asian kids, we’ve been taught to always respect and obey our elders. And so we ordered a sinful trio of tiramisu, panna cotta and gelato, all ultra-traditional choices. Of which, the tiramisu was the best, moist, rich and heady with the perfume of coffee and marsala.
While one would expect a seafood dinner to be costly, we were pleasantly surprised by the high price-quality ratio at La Fontanelle, whose first courses ring in at around 10 euros and second courses (with the exception of whole fish and perhaps beef steak) hovering at the 15 euro mark. So this was our night in Prato*, an unlikely but pleasant find.
(*actually we had another Prato Chinese episode, where at MacDonald’s getting a soda, one of the Italian employees responded “不客气” to my “grazie”. The pervasiveness of Chinese influence in the world never ceases to amaze me!)
Address: Via Traversa il Crocifisso, 5 59100 Prato, Italy