Had dinner at a truly magical restaurant last night, the kind of place I dream of finding.
It was called La Saletta, tucked away in Certaldo Basso, fifteen minutes drive from where we were staying.
It was really nothing more than a couple of rooms at the back of a family-run pastry shop, the “Dolci Follie” in the name. When we were there it was laid out to take sixteen people all told. At best I think the two rooms would have been able to cater for twenty.
The Niccolini family run the pastry shop as well as the restaurant; the shop has been in existence for over forty years, while the restaurant is a more recent invention.
And what an invention. An absolutely amazing menu: there was so much I wanted to try that I gave up on the antipasti, decided I would just concentrate on the primi piatti, the secondi piatti and the dessert. And even then it was really difficult to choose.
For the primi piatti I couldn’t decide between the onion soup, the gnudi and the gramigna alla salsiccia. All three had come highly recommended, and in the end Gianpiero Niccolini solved it for me by offering to serve me a mini-portion of any two. So I went for the onion soup and the gramigna.
That’s what the onion soup looked like. I don’t have the right words to describe how it tasted. Unbelievable. It was a soup you ate rather than drank or sipped, which tells you something. The cipolla of Certaldo is renowned for its taste, and it was just amazing. A soft almost-fruity sweetness underpinned by the classic tang of the regular onion, served up as a slightly mushy semi-solid substance with the consistency of a soft boiled egg.
I then moved on to the gramigna alla salsiccia, a favourite of mine:
Usually, when I have this dish, the ragu is done in the bolognese style. Here it was served in a very light creamy parmesan sauce, with the pasta done to al-dente perfection. I am not a fan of parmesan, but I could not resist this dish. And I am so glad I went for it. It was so good I found myself stretching out the consumption of the last few commas of gramigna, using them as hockey sticks to collect the pucks of salsiccia that remained.
I couldn’t put off the secondi piatti any more, and could not for the life of me see how the first two courses could be bettered. This time I’d gone for the Tonno del Chianti, which, I was told, was basically a pork dish served “in the style of tuna.”
It wasn’t a dish, it was an art form. The meat looked like tuna, the texture felt like tuna, and the taste was out of this world. Moist, tender, succulent, so gentle that you could separate the tuna-like strands of meat with your tongue. The white beans set the dish off beautifully.
By this time I was conquered. Done. Ready to come back some other time. But no, there was more to come. For dessert Giampiero recommended the peach semifreddo:
Knowing that the restaurant was tagged on to a well-established pastry shop, I couldn’t resist. It tasted as good as it looked. Brilliant.
All in all a fantastic meal, demolished in great company (my family, along with friends with local knowledge who recommended the place). At reasonable prices, as well.
Incidentally, the Certaldo onion is like nothing you would have tasted before. How else would you explain this?
So if you ever find yourself near Certaldo in Tuscany, do try and make this place. It is well worth the effort. And Certaldo Alta, the old town, is worth a visit in its own right, as the following pictures may show: