If you go to Silvio, and order the tasting menu (menu degustazione) you will believe I’ve let you in on a secret, one of those ‘hidden gems’ of clichés. For this is one of those out-of-the-way places, that looks like nothing special at all-that’s both the village and the restaurant. You’d drive on past and never think to stop here.
The village is Pianosinatico, just a drive through place on the road to the Tuscan ski resort of Abetone. Whilst the village is nothing much the drive up is. These are real mountains. The Pistoiese Appenines, sharp, jagged, almost alpine. The SS12 is a good road, two-way and wide the whole route with the twists and turns well-marked, so this is mountains made easy, stunning views without tight windy roads. (Note-in winter check if recent snowfall, snow chains are needed if so)
Stunning scenery is fine, but my main motive is the meal! go in through the dingy bar, don’t be put off! Theres a passage on the right into the restaurant, all is okay then! There is no written menu as most of the dishes change daily, and these will be rattled off orally, in Italian or English, but trust me, just say you want the menu degustazione. This gets you a little bit of all the antipasti and all the primi. Much better than just one!
So this Sunday the antipasti platter was: white potatoes with black truffle sauce, slice polenta with porcini mushroom sauce, mozzarella with tomato and oregano salsa rossa, fresh artichokes in herb oil, and thinly sliced cured beef with balsamic vinegar. Each time we’ve been it’s been a similar platter, slight variations but theme is the same, and thankfully the black truffle potatoes always feature and are sublime, the most delicious melt in your mouth treats.
Then come the primi. All five of them, one after another. First is always a soup and features seasonal mushrooms as this is the food of the mountains. Sunday was velluto (velvet-smooth) of chickpeas, potato and porcini. Another occasion in spring was tiny delicately flavoured mushrooms that were beautifully described as the first of the year, having been sleeping under the snow. The most memorable was a summer soup of wild mirtilli (blueberries) and mushrooms. Yes, I know how wrong that sounds, and the colour was pretty weird too, but the taste was very special and unique.
So Second primo. This was two small baked crepes, with ricotta and spinach filling and a light thyme sauce. Dainty portion, just right. Third Primo. Pasta with red onion and white wine sauce. Sounds simple, looks even simpler. And yet the taste! How do they get so much flavour into a sauce you can barely even see! This is a lesson in the purity and simplicity of good Italian food. Order a pasta dish in the UK and it will probably have a dozen different ingredients. This has only one visible item, a few tiny pieces of onion. How can it taste so good? I’ve had this sweet onion and white wine pasta at Silvio quite a few times now, and tried very hard to re-create it at home, thinking how hard can it be when it looks so simple, but no success. Someday I’m going to have to sneak into the kitchen and find out their secrets! Is it the stocks, the oils, the seasoning? The fourth primo is another perfect example of this. It was mushroom tagliolini. But with barely any mushrooms in sight at all. And yet the whole dish tasted of mushrooms in a lovely subtle way. The finale. The fifth primo. Which thankfully is always the same. Gnocchetti with white truffle sauce. Gnocchetti are small gnocchi, potato dumplings. The white truffle sauce, well that’s just pure angel food! Very rich, so only a small portion.
So unless you don’t like mushrooms and truffles, and I did make the mistake once of taking up there those who didn’t, then you must surely be wanting to go and taste all this. Here’s the really amazing part – all that costs only 12 euro! A tasting menu of 4 or 5 antipasti, and 5 primi and only 12 euro per head. If this place was anywhere else than in an out of the way village up a mountain you’d pay 3 times that price for food of this quality and not feel overcharged.
Now that was all antipasti and primi-so now if you have room you could order a secondo. These are mostly grilled meats. Rod always hopes he’ll have room but never does! We find a dessert is just right though. The pannacotta is particularly good, and in summer there are fresh fruits of the forest dishes, winter is chestnut and apple based desserts. Our choices this day: pannacotta with hot chocolate sauce, ricotta cake, apple strudel, apple torta della nonna.
In honesty I cannot claim to have ‘discovered’ this secret treasure of a restaurant, I found it first in the book ‘Tasting Tuscany’ by Beth Elon, and all her recommendations have been excellent. A great book if you want to seek out the ‘off the beaten track’ places like this, with notes about the food of each part of Tuscany and driving routes.
How to get to Ristorante Silvio, La storia a Tavola, via Brennero no. 181. From Lucca or Bagni di Lucca take the SS12 direction Abetone. Very straightforward, road follows Serchio then Lima rivers, at La Lima there is junction with the road up from Pistoia/Firenze, left at junction, still SS12 to Abetone. Journey time 40mins from Bagni di Lucca, 1 hour 1omins from Lucca
From Pistoia SS66 north, direction Modena/Abetone, at La Lima junction wiht SS12, continue straight on (right) on SS12 towards Abetone. Journey time 1 hour.
Pianosinatico is about 7km (10mins) before Abetone.
Winter-check for fresh snowfall before setting out. Only drive up without snow chains if you are sure the road is clear. We look on Abetone webcams if unsure, snow on ground is normal, it’s a ski resort, but look to see if it’s actually snowing. This is Abetone this day, no fresh snow for a while, trees green not white. Too little snow for February really, if you’re a skier.