Teatro del Sale

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This is the restaurant that won the heart of the Florentines for famous chef and restaurateur Fabio Picchi, and it is the only one without Cibreo in the name. Yet it is also the one, in which the fantastic Mr. Picchi is most often seen, with his wild white hair and always colorful jeans. Teatro del Sale is part restaurant, part theater, part emporium. It is a showcase of his food, a display of generosity, and a convivial place for theater and the arts. Most importantly, it is a great value.

Dinner is held at 7:30 every night. You have to purchase a membership before entering. This isn’t a restaurant but a private club. Then wait in the short line for the register and pay for your dinner; it is a flat 35 euro. Walk past the large wood paneled shop selling books, bottled goods, wine and other top ingredients. Walk past the bar and turn the corner and you are in a large non-descript auditorium with tables huddled along the back and a glass window which peers into an open kitchen.

One narrow table is laid out along the back wall. It is covered with large dishes of cooked chick peas (garbanzo beans), lentils, sautéed or steamed vegetables, bean puree, feather light Gnocchi alla Romana (“Semolina Dumplings” don’t begin to capture this great dish) and this being Tuscany, tripe salad. Take a table and sit down. Dinner will be served soon, but first grab your wine glass and beeline to the bar where you can fill your glass with a very pleasant easy drinking red.

Then to the buffet! Fill up as much as you want, you can go back for more; but make sure to leave some room. Something special is sure to come. Before too long a chef will lean his head out the kitchen window and cry out in a loud voice, “we have fish soup in the kitchen!” It could be fish soup, it could be a yogurt sformato, it could be a fish and bean salad; it could be anything. Then maybe a pasta, maybe two. At this point appetites have long since flagged and people are slowing down. Once again a chef will poke his toqued head into the dining room and exuberantly announce the arrival of the secondo (main course). These are but small tastes, a token for instance an incredibly light Chicken and Ricotta Meatball it’s delicacy masked by an overabundant shower of capers.

Dessert is once again served on the buffet, grab one of the Cialde (crisp thin wafer wafer cookies) and fill it with large dollops of fluffy whipped cream – this is a traditional dessert you don’t see anymore. But even better, is grab one of the bite sized portions of chocolate tart. Its decadent, and one bite is enough, but this being a buffet, take two; it’s even better.

While you’re up this would be a good time to revisit the bar, and refill your wine glass with more of that red. Or maybe you’ve already done that once or twice already. In anycase, now is your chance. Grab it, and then enjoy the dessert quickly for the show is about to start.

Soon the staff will begin moving tables, and lining up chairs in front of the small stage. Now-stuffed diners take seats at will. Sit down, get comfortable and watch the evening’s entertainment unfold. It could be a play, it could be musicians, it could be a theatrical reading, every night it is something different, and every visit is an experience.

(Lunch has a similar buffet, at a lower price, but without the show.)

Signature Dishes: This is a buffet restaurant with no menu

Via de Macci, 111r, Florence.  www.teatrodelsale.com; tel: 055 2e 00 14 92. Closed Monday.

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