Deep in the hustle and bustle of the Crossroads area of Bellevue, surrounded by cookie-cutter, big-box stores, lies one business that is a bit different.
Upon walking in the door, one leaves the world of American strip malls and enters a little piece of the city that was the birthplace of the Renaissance — Florence, Italy.
This year marks 25 years that Firenze Ristorante Italiano — named for the Italian name for Florence — has provided an old-world oasis to the modern, nonstop suburban outdoors.
Proprietor Salvatore “Sal” Lembo takes great pride in filling Firenze Ristorante — as well as his other eatery, Marianna in Renton — with only the most authentic pieces of Italy.
“We bake the bread every morning, with a recipe from Sicily,” Sal explains, gesturing at a basket of warm, aromatic bread next to bottles of olive oil and vinegar.
Paintings of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence grace the walls and the rich tenor of Andrea Bocelli plays over the loudspeaker, softly setting the scene of the restaurant. A glass chandelier and mango gelato-colored walls create the illusion of eating in the bottom floor of a Roman palazzo-turned-restaurant.
Along the back wall is an impressive selection of Italian wines, including Le Mura, a Sangiovese/Merlot blend made from grapes grown on Sal’s own property outside of Florence.