Firenze Ristorante still delivering the most authentic Italian in Bellevue

Here’s a restaurant that’ll take you straight to the streets of Florence, Italy, even though it’s located just five minutes from Microsoft. That’s because Firenze Ristorante gets its namesake from its direct translation, “Florence Restaurant.” And let me tell you, the translation is no lie.

Firenze opened in 1992, and may be the best Italian restaurant in Bellevue. The place has been a favorite of many Italian locals and also a large diversity of clientele from celebrities to just plain old lovers of Italian food. Pictures of actors and actresses don the walls offering thanks and the atmosphere is intoxicating.

Patrons often hear Italian around the restaurant as Italians frequent the spot, and listen as the owner proudly jokes and entertains in his native language.

From the moment I entered the “Ristorante,” I could feel the change. The first thing I noticed is the scent of garlic and herbs that make you crave genuine Italian pasta. As I looked around, I noticed the Italian-looking stucco walls combined with the candlelit dining room. Once I became fully immersed in this little Italy, a smiling Italian man warmly greeted me in Italian and sat me at my new temporary paradise.

This man is actually Salvatore Lembo, the owner and operator of Firenze Ristorante, and if his accent doesn’t convince you he’s the real deal, his story certainly will. Born and raised in Italy himself, he feels obligated to make sure every customer experiences exactly what he did growing up. Most of employees have been there for at least 10 years. Executive chef, Rosendo Ruiz, has an impressive 24 years of experience under his belt at Firenze, and is now co-owner at Lembo’s other ristorante, Marianna in Renton.

Many of his recipes are straight from the streets of Tuscany, the city Lembo grew up in. Born in Sicily in 1961, Lembo’s family moved to Tuscany in 1968. Though he is a proud Sicilian at heart, most of his culinary influences hail from his family and beautiful Toscana. If what you find on your plate isn’t something his mother made for him as a child, it will certainly be inspired by something he ate before he came to America.

Don’t worry if the word “authentic” makes you think you won’t know anything on the menu, as this restaurant definitely provided the full array of what I expect from an Italian restaurant; mozzarella and garlic bread can and were consumed in infinite proportions.

“Almost all of our ingredients are flown in from Italy,” Lembo said. “Everything including the flour and spices are brought here so we can have the best of the best. We use anything authentic we can get our hands on because something amazing happens when you use bona fide ingredients.”

Each item on the menu is listed first in its traditional Italian name, and second in an English description. Thankfully for me, the descriptions were English words that I actually knew the meaning of. “Thin-sliced filet mignon” is something I can understand.

I ended up going with the “Carpaccio,” or “Filet mignon thin sliced, capers, dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil. Lemon.” My server was very professional and attentive, but not too intrusive. He informed me that because everything is prepared when ordered, and not in advance, the meal might take longer than I expect. Well, he was certainly mistaken, as my food came out in perfect time as I finished my mozzarella caprese salad.

The steak was still steaming when it was put in front of me. My first bite confirmed what Lembo said about authentic Italian ingredients. The meat quite literally melted in my mouth, and I don’t know if it could have been seasoned better. My pasta days are over; Firenze sold me on the meat. The only downside was that it was somewhat small for me, and I was almost tempted to order more food just to try another one of Lembo’s dishes. I made up for this by indulging in one of the most amazing tiramisus I have ever had the pleasure to try, though in the future I may stick with a variety of small bites of whatever desserts the servers recommend.

Other dishes came highly recommended, and my food editor and traveling companion had the Tagliata alla Fiorentina, which is a rib eye steak thinly sliced thin and topped with Modena Balsamic and fresh arugula. It melted in his mouth. We both wanted to order the Filetto al Cognac, a two-inch thick seared filet finished in a cognac cream sauce but there was just no room! Lembo assured me I simply must try Spaghetti all'Aragosta

Every day seems to host different specialties, such as Rack of Lamb, Venison, Ossobuco, Rabbit, and two or three options for seafood daily. Lembo’s own lobster tail in a light saffron and tomato sauce tempts me now just thinking about it. This is not just a pasta place, they make steaks using a cooking method passed down from his great great grandfather and it shows.

If after your entire meal, you know this place is the realest Italian in Bellevue, wait ‘till you try the wine from their expansive top shelf selection. It turns out that Lembo personally owns his own Italian wine vineyards and grows his grapes independently. Nothing was more satisfying than knowing that my glass of red wine was made by a real Italian man instead of in a massive wine factory.

“My dedication to my wine just shows how much I care about this restaurant. That’s why I’m always there. I don’t ever want to think that a visitor to my version of Italy wasn't given the best I could give,” Lembo said, before he ran back to his kitchen to prepare whatever plate was next.

At the end of my meal, I knew I’d be back. From the professional yet family-like service to possibly the most authentic foreign restaurant experience I’ve had in all, I highly recommend Firenze Ristorante in Bellevue. You can find them at 15600 NE 8th Street in Bellevue. Expect to have no trouble parking, as the restaurant is located outside Crossroads Mall next to the cinema, where there is plenty of free parking always available.

The single disadvantage is that waits may be long because of the amount of people trying to get a taste, so I highly recommend making a reservation early by visiting the Firenze Restaurant website or calling them at 425-957-1077.

If you’re looking to grab breakfast before heading to Firenze Ristorante for dinner later in the day, I recommend trying Little John’s restaurant in East gate. It is another impressively authentic American experience if you’re visiting Bellevue. However, if you’re deciding on eating at Firenze Ristorante for dinner, pass on Little Johns make room for dinner.


19 Points You Need to Be a Serious Chef

19 Points You Need to Be a Serious Chef

There are thousands of chefs and cooks in the world, but there’s not so many serious ones. This is the basic summary of a recent post by one of our favourite online bloggers, Paul Sorgule. 


Sorgule, who has years of experience working as a chef, has created a wonderful post[1] detailing what makes a serious chef or cook in his eyes. 


It’s a sort of simple guide or checklist on what skills, attributes and traits a person should possess if they are serious about being a chef or a cook. 


Some of the advice follows basic common sense while some of points are things we’re sure you’ve never considered before. 





Cooks and chefs are faced with analyzing situations and making decisions constantly. As much as the job of cooking is physical, it is just as mental. Determining timing, prioritizing steps, adapting to variables in the flavor profile of ingredients, trouble shooting staffing issues, and solving equipment issues requires sharp minds as well as accomplished hands.



Cooks possess an innate intelligence demonstrated through their ability to sift through various situations and factors that lead to rapid-fire decisions. As stated in the description above, cooks and chefs are consummate planners, masterful problem-solvers, highly creative artists, great students of food, and in possession of fine-tuned memories that allow them to keep multiple tasks and procedures close to their chest.



Serious cooks and chefs are constantly looking for the answer to “why”. It is this quest for answers that makes a cook better at his or her craft, and a chef able to meet the demands of the job.



Although it is usually advisable for cooks and chefs to prepare food that customers are comfortable with, it is the culinary professional who pushes the envelope and introduces food that we will learn to love and become excited about. This is what continues to allow restaurants to grow and remain significant.



Great cooks are inherently competitive. Sometimes they focus on competition with other restaurants, other chefs, or even their peers, but the most successful cooks and chefs are first and foremost, in competition with themselves. “How can I improve? How can a dish that is well supported by guests become even better?”


Great cooks and chefs are never satisfied with how well they are performing today. They are always seeking to stay relevant and improve.



To define a cook or chef as “serious” is to always look to their commitment to the work. Great work ethic is second nature to great cooks. We might complain about the long hours and intensity of the work, but underneath we know that anything less is not enough. Total commitment to doing what is necessary is the essence of professional cooking.



If the ultimate form of business assessment is results, then cooks and chefs should be the poster child. Some goals are small, while others might determine the longevity of a restaurant as a business, but to a cook they are all the same. A goal is a goal and it is their job to meet or exceed expectations.



Having addressed this many times – I only need to briefly reiterate that cooks are the consummate artists. Appealing to every human sense in a way that brings enjoyment is an everyday job for kitchen professionals.



Quite frankly – no other part of a cooks profile is more important that his or her desire and total commitment to trust. To be a great cook or chef is to be dependable without exception. Trust that they are present and ready when needed, trust that quality will never be sacrificed, and trust that the best interests of the team and the operation are of paramount importance to each and every cook who carries the label of “serious”.



The best cooks push others, critique others (while offering solutions), ensure that everyone remembers what the big picture is, and never turns his or her back on doing things right. He or she might be a thorn in other cooks sides, but they help to make everyone better at what they do.



Unlike James Dean – the cook who is often seen as rebellious, pushy, crusty, hard, confrontational, and a real pain in the ass is really a proud professional with a stake in the ground that helps to ensure that everyone remembers what they are in the kitchen to do: respect the food, work as a team, produce exceptional food, please the guest, and help the restaurant to build a brand and reach its goals.



I have never found individuals who can fit the description of “friend” better than a cook who has learned to trust me. I have never found a higher level of commitment to friendship and respect than in the kitchen but at the same time, it would be hard to find someone more intent on taking another person down than a cook who feels that another has violated this trust or commitment.



Without methodical organization in a kitchen you are only left with chaos. Since mise en place is at the core of what we do and the first skill that a cook learns, it only makes sense that serious cooks find that organization is the essence of what they do.



All for one and one for all – cooks are protective of other cooks. This level of protection may even go beyond the walls of an individual kitchen. If you wear whites then you feel support from anyone else who wears the uniform and stands before a range.



Those who are street smart are individuals who can separate truth from a line of bull, fact from fiction, honest from dishonest, opportunity from danger, and inherently good people from those whom you should avoid. I am not sure if it is the work of the kitchen or the diversity of characters that call it home – but most serious cooks that I know are as street smart as they come. This is a skill that allows them to survive and thrive. A cook who is dedicated to the craft and street smart is more likely to become an effective chef/leader than one who lacks this breadth of experience.



Of course, unlike the vast majority of people, cooks are tactile artists who understand how to incorporate taste, touch, sight, smell, and sounds into the experience of eating food and dining in restaurants. Cooks are the complete artist package.



Crusty and tough as nails, serious cooks are tender underneath. They are emotional bandits who feel deeply, care wholeheartedly, and give more than they take.



Chefs, in particular, use their story making skills in numerous ways. Most significantly, a restaurant menu is a compendium of stories that depict a chef’s career and the impact that food and specific dishes have had on his or her life. Sometimes this is made obvious through a theme or stated philosophy, but even when this is not the case, the menu will reflect a chef’s comfort level with certain preparations and the stories behind them.


In a more obvious way, cooks and chefs accumulate stories of the kitchen (the good, the bad, and the ugly) over a period of years, and are always willing to share them with others. The longer that a cook spends in professional kitchens, the better he or she becomes at telling, and sometimes exaggerating these stories. It is these stories that serve to attract others to careers in the kitchen and fascinate those who dream about what it must be like to cook for a living.



Above all else – cooks are proud of what they do, what they are capable of, the people with whom they work, and the impact that they have on others. It is the chef’s greatest pleasure to point this out, shake hands with his or her team, hug those who give it all every day, and celebrate this pride every day with some of the best, most talented people anyone could know.


**This type of person is valuable, appreciated, respected, and on the road to success. BE THIS KIND OF COOK and watch how many doors open and how many opportunities come your way.



  1. ^ wonderful post (

Cool Down This Summer ... With a Meat Popsicle

Cool Down This Summer ... With a Meat Popsicle

The sun’s beating down, you need to cool off, why don’t you grab yourself an ice cold, super-refreshing ... meat popsicle.

Yes that’s right, a health food cafe in New York[1] is selling a meat popsicle containing a third of a cup (around 80ml) of beef bone broth. Springbone Kitchen in Manhattan, a place for “artisan bone broth” and “wholesome fare” according to its website[2], will be selling the meat popsicles for $4. As well as beef broth, the popsicle also contains coconut, pomegranate, raspberry and maple.

The eatery’s founder Jonathan Feldman told the New York Post[3] that the popsicle is “a little bit sweet” and that the taste of the broth is almost completely masked by other flavours. The idea is to provide a summer alternative to consuming the broth as a hot liquid.

Bone broth is one of the biggest health food trends of recent years, with many extolling its nutritional value – this is how to make it at home[4]. We think these alcoholic popsicles[5] look a little more fun, but would you be willing to try a meat popsicle?

Follow Fine Dining Lovers on Facebook[6]


  1. ^ New York (
  2. ^ according to its website (
  3. ^ New York Post (
  4. ^ this is how to make it at home (
  5. ^ alcoholic popsicles (
  6. ^ Follow Fine Dining Lovers on Facebook (

Urban Gardens, Up to the Sky

Urban Gardens, Up to the Sky

We all nurture a mental picture of famous chefs[1] going to the market early in the morning to select their ingredients. We like to think this is the case for some small yet acclaimed restaurants and eateries on their way to a glorious future, but what about the vast majority? Teasing aside, where should chefs source their produce if they intend to satisfy a clientele that is increasingly demanding when it comes to organic and eco-sustainable food? Some may be inclined to tell you a “tall story” while others...

Freshly picked... at the Cash&Carry!

The latest novelty in the ambit of locally grown produce is surprisingly that of supermarkets. Vegetables can now be grown in special vertical glasshouses actually positioned in the fruit and vegetable departments of supermarkets and hypermarkets. A Metro cash&carry store of Berlin was the first to implement the idea of between-the-aisle farming[2], based on a project by Infarm[3]. The indoor high-tech concept whereby vegetables are grown thanks to the hydroponic culture technique is encountering the favour of trade operators. Its widespread launch is just around the corner, for the joy of all those who will soon be able to count on spanking fresh products for their menus, obtained with zero or close to zero environmental impact. In actual fact, this is no real novelty since it is simply a smaller scale version of an existing phenomenon.

Vertical farming: a fashion trend or a real need?

Whether indoors or out, for some time now, we have been hearing a lot of talk about vertical farming as the answer to the dreaded lack of farmable land. According to FAO and NASA sources, over 80% of farmable land is already being cultivated and from now to 2050 the world population will grow exponentially[4]. How are we going to bridge the ever widening and alarming gap between demand and supply? In this respect, we have already heard of some amazing projects in terms of volume and innovation: to quote just a couple, consider the cases already featured on Fine Dining Lovers of Singapore[5] or Chicago[6]. It still has to be proved, however, that the future of farming points upwards and that it implies nothing but advantages: the experts are in fact in the process of evaluating the pros and cons[7]. But, in the meantime, there is another trend in full swing, that of roof farming.

Who are the new urrban farmers?

It is a widespread opinion that the "farm to table[8]" phenomenon is rapidly evolving. Nevertheless, those living in densely populated urban areas have a hard time finding products that come up to their expectations. Chefs also encounter the same problem and, in their search for a solution, have not even left the premises. In New York, for instance, from Brooklyn to Broadway, from West Village to Midtown, the "farm to table" trend has been upgraded to "roof to table". Who hasn’t heard of the Abc Kitchen[9] or Rosemary's[10], not to mention the Waldorf Astoria, an authentic garden of Eden in the heart of the Big Apple[11].

The trend is soaring to such an extent that those intent on opening a venue, carefully consider the advantage of finding a location which allows for the roof to be converted into a convenient vegetable garden. A recent report published by Restaurant Hospitality[12] states that the business potential has not only been grasped by restaurateurs but by the real estate market in general. For example, a giant player on the United States property market, the Federal Realty Investment Trust, has recently implemented a colossal project: Bethesda Row just outside Washington DC, which forecasts a harvest for the year in course of over 4.5 tons of vegetables in a single area. Ready to reap the benefits are the restaurateurs contractually bound to the real estate colossal, such as Jose Andres from Jaleo, Mussel Bar & Grille, for instance, or the restaurant chain Sweetgreen specialized in salads.

And who are the gardeners behind this abundance of fresh produce? In the case of smaller operators, it is still strictly a do-it-yourself job, while large projects such as that of Bethesda Row in Washington call in a third player: "Up to Acres", a company that has made rooftop farming its core business. And elsewhere? Washington has given the cue to Seattle, where the Urban Farm Company operates, but also to Boston with its Green City Growers or Los Angeles with Farmscape. Not forgetting New York and Chicago with Gotham Green, soon to hit the news if it is true that the company is on the verge of developing a project for producing tons of vegetables (10 million lettuces, for instance) on a yearly basis! Neither are the States an isolated case: at all latitudes, from Tokyo to Caracas via Toronto, you will find people who have converted an otherwise unutilized rooftop into an efficient metropolitan vegetable garden, with increasingly tangible advantages for both restaurant budgets and the ecosystem[13]. At this point, the same question hovers on everyone’s lips. But is the resulting produce really of high quality? It would appear to be... Or could it be owing to a lack of alternatives or availability that the starred Gramercy Tavern in New York, to name just one, has turned to Gotham Green of Queens for its supplies? We are more inclined to think the quality factor is what dictates the choice. Along with a growing street cred in the eyes of those who care about the future of our planet.


  1. ^ famous chefs (
  2. ^ implement the idea of between-the-aisle farming (
  3. ^ Infarm (
  4. ^ the world population will grow exponentially (
  5. ^ cases already featured on Fine Dining Lovers of Singapore (
  6. ^ Chicago (
  7. ^ evaluating the pros and cons (
  8. ^ farm to table (
  9. ^ Abc Kitchen (
  10. ^ Rosemary's (
  11. ^ Waldorf Astoria, an authentic garden of Eden in the heart of the Big Apple (
  12. ^ report published by Restaurant Hospitality (
  13. ^ tangible advantages for both restaurant budgets and the ecosystem (

Cumin Seeds: How To Use Them and Why You'd Want To

You could say cumin seeds[1] are the unsung heroes of the spice world. They never quite take center stage but offer a beautiful supporting role.

Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, cumin seeds are used to perk up everything from Persian stews to Indian rice dishes, Mexican beans, soups and even beverages (such as salted lassi[2]).

Cumin Seeds: Interesting Facts

Did you know cumin seeds are rich in iron? They also contains manganese, an essential mineral that affects numerous functions like blood clotting, calcium absorption and brain function.

Cumin seeds also aid in digestion and have a diuretic effect. They also contain anti-carcinogenic properties.

Fun fact: cumin was mentioned in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:27) and the New Testament (Matthew 23:23) of the Bible.

Cumin Seeds: How To Use Them and Why You'd Want To

Cumin Seeds vs. Ground Cumin

For maximum flavor, it is best to purchase whole cumin seeds and grind them at home as need. How often you’ll grind them will depend on how much you’ll be using the spice.

To grind them: dry roast a small amount of cumin seeds in a pan, allow to cool then grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Toasted cumin seeds have an earthy flavor but once the spice has been ground it develops more floral notes.

How To Cook with Cumin Seeds

In Latin America, ground cumin is widely used in stews, bean dishes and for making fillings for dishes like empanadas or tamales. Cumin is especially delicious in refried beans, chili and tortilla soup (try this recipe[3]).

Cumin Seeds: How To Use Them and Why You'd Want To

Cooks in India favor the use of whole cumin seeds, which are usually tempered in oil along with other spices at the beginning of the cooking process.

Cumin seeds perk up a wide range of Indian vegetarian dishes including this colorful gobi matar[4] (cauliflower and peas).

Cumin Seeds: How To Use Them and Why You'd Want To

According to the Indian science of Ayurveda, cumin seeds have a cooling effect in the body. Thus they are routinely added to summer drinks for a refreshing taste. Jeera water (aka cumin water) is one of many popular drinks. Learn how to make it:

In the Middle East, cumin seeds are enjoyed in a variety of ways including aromatic rice dishes, succulent kebabs and delicious breads. Give this Persian cumin rice and chicken dish a try:


  1. ^ cumin seeds (
  2. ^ salted lassi (
  3. ^ try this recipe (
  4. ^ gobi matar (