Mugello Marvels: Ristorante Gli Artisti

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.

This second instalment of Mugello Marvels looks at another wonderful establishment in Borgo San Lorenzo. Ristorante Gli Artisti, which celebrated its official 100th anniversary last year yet in fact dates to the late 19th century, has long been associated with Mugello area artists—hence its name. Frequented over the years by the likes of Rutilio Muti (1904-1995) and Ezio Cecchini (1926-1984), both from Vicchio, it is located in a tiny piazza named for Angiolino Romagnoli (1834-1896), a painter from Borgo San Lorenzo of the Macchiaioli movement. Perhaps the most illustrious of Gli Artisti’s patrons was Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whose encaustic painting of horses on one of Gli Artisti’s walls has unfortunately been plastered over. Just down the street from the historic Teatro Giotto, the restaurant was a favorite meeting place of theatrical companies, known to gather here to dine and discuss the evening’s performance. A true Borgo San Lorenzo institution, Gli Artisti also happens to be the oldest still-active eating establishment in the Mugello.

Last year, two young Italians, brothers Luigi and Nicola Tranchina, stepped into this heady mix of local history and tradition to take the helm at Gli Artisti. Thirty-year-old Luigi, gracious and highly knowledgeable, brings significant restaurant experience with him as Gli Artisti’s new head.  He is also an expert sommelier.  Chef Nicola has since left the restaurant to pursue other activities. In his place is Rocco Lamorte, a gifted young chef whose skills and accomplishments—at a mere twenty years of age—are astounding. Graduate of the B. Buontalenti Institute with top marks, protégé of noted critic Leonardo Romanelli, student of chefs Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco of Enoteca Pinchiorri—need I say more about this young man?

I recently had the fortune to sit down with Luigi to discuss his vision for Gli Artisti and the work he and his staff are doing. We covered many topics, from the fundamental importance of quality products and following a seasonal calendar to how the Italian sagra impacts diner expectations (I’ve written before about sagras, but always from the perspective of an outsider observing the social customs associated with this peculiar Italian tradition; hearing a serious restaurateur’s views on them was enlightening indeed). Mostly we discussed their guiding philosophy of ‘tradition and innovation’ and how they approach the challenge of creating innovative dishes that simultaneously reflect and transcend the boundaries of traditional Tuscan cuisine.

A tall order, even more so here in the Mugello, where the notion of ‘Tuscan’ narrows to a few definitive items—crostini, tortelli, bistecca—yet these young men give the impression they would never be content to rest on their laurels. The dishes at Gli Artisti speak for themselves, revealing a perfect proficiency in the classic Tuscan repertoire together with the daring and aplomb that comes with experience. By exalting the traditional and classic through clever twists and touches, inventive flavor pairing, and only the very best ingredients, the team at Gli Artisti has achieved something extraordinary. Have a look at a selection from their menu:

To begin, the classic crostini toscani get a makeover, transformed into a terrine-like pâté  served with a loquat mostarda and a crispy pane carasau wafer:

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Next is the Fiori di Cipolla, a slow cooked, tender onion served with a D.O.P. Taleggio with hints of hay on a multi-grain puff pastry toast, drizzled with a 30-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Thus, Tuscan staples of bread-and-vegetable become the base for this delicate ‘flower’ of harmonious flavors:

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The Intrigo Mugellano is a fusion of two types of fresh pasta, tortelli and pappardelle. A long, potato-stuffed pappardella is twirled on the plate (a symbolic and playful twist on the classic tortelli shape) in a creamed garlic sauce garnished with threads of chilli pepper and dusted with sweet chilli powder, recalling the ubiquitous aglio e pepperoncino. Same ingredients, made over with distinction and flair:

intrigo

Perhaps no dish reflects the idea of sperimentare senza mai dimenticare la tradizione or ‘experimenting while never forgetting tradition’ as perfectly as Come se fosse un Cantuccio, an ingenious variation on the uber-Tuscan dessert of cantucci cookies and vin santo: a vin santo sorbet served on a cantucci pratesi crumble ‘bed’ topped with a vin santo air—sometimes called foam in molecular gastronomy—that delivers flavor without substance, prepping the palate for flavors to come.  Those fond of texture contrasts will love this. By the way, Rocco and Luigi will present this masterful dessert at Expo 2015 next month:

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If you go: Take some time to study and appreciate the menu, which changes in accordance with the seasons and typically requires a month to create, plan, and test. Note the ® symbol next to certain items; this indicates a dish of their own unique design. Consider the very well-priced tasting menu to appreciate a broader sampling of the menu. There are several vegetarian options, and vegan dining is possible with advance notice.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember that Luigi is a trained sommelier so with regard to wine choice you’re in excellent hands. Moreover, he truly enjoys giving suggestions and seeing his clients happy—a great source of satisfaction, as he describes it, for people so passionate about the work they do. The dream? A Michelin star, someday. It’s early days yet, but I’d wager it will happen.

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Rocco Lamorte (left) and Luigi Tranchina

Ristorante Gli Artisti
Piazza Angelo Romagnoli, 1
Borgo San Lorenzo
055 845 7707
www.gliartistiristorante.it
info@gliartistiristorante.com