Standing underneath a stuccoed arch-way in Florence’s 15th-century Palazzo Tornabuoni, Silvio Ursini calls his friends to the table. Dressed in a custom shirt and slim Loro Piana trousers, the Bulgari executive wants feedback on the dishes he’s planning to offer at Osteria Tornabuoni, his restaurant on the ground floor of the Palazzo, set to open in March. This afternoon, that means intensely artichokey custards with a fava bean sauce and skewers of sausage, chicken livers and crusty bread, grilled until deliciously charred.
Fresh mozzarella. © Martin Morrell
Having traveled the world for Bulgari, Ursini has a global outlook and sensibility, but he’s deeply Italian in his passion for his country’s traditional foods. “I like to develop restaurants that are ingredient-based, not chef-based,” he says. In 2004, he opened an innovative mozzarella bar in Rome called Obikà—Neopolitan for “Here it is!” Obikà elevates mozzarella to cult status, treating it with the same reverence that the Japanese do raw fish: The cheese is on display in glass cases, as fish is in a sushi bar, and the most popular dish is a tasting platter of three mozzarellas. The café expanded to seven cities—one opened in New York City last year—and Ursini has plans for six more worldwide, including one in the Palazzo Tornabuoni complex.
Ursini’s new restaurant is equally ingredient-centric. “At Osteria, I decided to include only dishes from Tuscany, using only Tuscan ingredients,” he says in effortlessly fluent English. “This is not about being a locavore—although that is nice, too—but about creating something with a true soul.” To develop the menu, Ursini called on his friend Rolando Beramendi, who spent 25 years in the restaurant and food-importing business in New York City and San Francisco. “The beauty of focusing on one region is that it has forced us to discover some really fantastic things,” Ursini says. “Instead of including a dozen cheeses from all over Italy, we have a selection of six pecorinos from different parts of Tuscany.” For instance, slivers of aged pecorino from Pienza top a salad of thinly sliced fennel. Most of these ingredients, as well as many of the wines on Osteria’s exclusively Tuscan wine list, are available for purchase in the shop at the restaurant’s entrance.