Dino is a destination, just 14 km outside of Florence, it’s perched in a panoramic position in the hills overlooking Fiesole and Florence in the distance. On warm sunny Sundays, Florentines pack its terrace with large parties celebrating, birthdays, anniversaries, christenings and first communions. In summer it is a good way to escape the heat of the city. Only ten-fifteen minutes outside the center, it feels worlds away.
The views are spectacular, vast expanses of multi-hued countryside dotted with olive groves and striped with vineyards. You can look down to Fiesole and see its dominant medieval tower protruding from the saddle between two hills.
The menu is nothing fancy, and the service is simple and perfunctory. Wine is available, but everyone drinks the house wine, served in large 1 liter flasks sitting at the center of every table. A few others are available by the bottle, representing Tuscany’s top growing regions; but the selection is severely limited with only one or two choices and only from Italy’s largest producers at that.
Don’t bother with the cheap paper menu. Follow the lead of all the others. There is an unspoken code here – a formula that works. Start with assorted crostini to share, the bland unsalted Tuscan bread is topped with flavorful spreads including the traditional Tuscan chicken liver as well as a vegetable spread.
There is only one pasta worth ordering, Malfatti della Casa, homemade spinach and ricotta dumplings, called Gnudi everywhere else. They are delicate and flavorful. Although served with ragu, request them with butter and sage. The rich herbal sage infused butter is the perfect accompaniment to the delicate flavors of the ricotta, letting the flavors of the cheese and spinach come through. The other popular dish is the Tortelli with Ricotta e Spinaci (Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Meat Sauce), but the ragu is basic and bland, and the ricotta filling dry.
While most of the pastas are a let down (due to the disappointing ragu), grilled meat is the star of the show; second only to the view. Platters of mixed grilled meats arrive at the tables. Hearty portions of grilled chicken, pork loin and rabbit are passed around with guests selecting choice pieces. The best grilled meats are the least common. Both the Piccione (Squab) and the Coniglio (Rabbit) are grilled to perfection. The former, juicy with rich full flavors; the cavity spread with a thick paste of garlic and sage, and the liver and kidneys enhancing the already flavorful meat with their gaminess. Rabbit, by contrast, is deceptively plump and juicy with a richness not usually found in a lean meat. Even the grilled chicken is noteworthy for its near crispy skin and rich sage infused flesh.
As for dessert, most tables have brought a cake with them. This is a place where people come to celebrate. It isn’t the best restaurant around, but they do have one of the best views; and if you order correctly you will eat very well.
Signature Dishes: Malfatti della Casa (Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings), Mixed Grilled Meats
Get It!: Malfatti di Casa (Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings), Coniglio alla Griglia (Grilled Rabbit)
Loc. Olmo, Via Faentina, 14 km, Fiesole. www.hotel-dino.it; tel: 055 548934