History and culture go hand-in-hand with the cuisine at Firenze Trattoria. Drawing upon the rich culinary traditions and hospitality of Tuscany, the restaurant strives—with great success— to transport diners with authentic food and a warm welcome.
Chef/owner Zamir Kociaj, who worked in a number of top restaurants in Florence after emigrating from Albania at age 18, clearly has a deep love for Tuscan cuisine. His menu wouldn’t be out of place in a rustic eatery in the hills outside Florence. He crafts his classic Tuscan dishes, like Pappa al Pomodoro and Trippa alla Fiorentina, from centuries-old recipes, handed down through the generations.
Before opening Firenze Trattoria in Salem last fall, Kociaj helmed the critically acclaimed Trattoria Toscana in Boston. He was drawn north by Salem’s history and burgeoning food scene.
Authenticity is so critical to Kociaj that he makes his own Tuscan-style bread as a base for Pappa al Pomodoro, or bread soup. Tuscan bread is made without salt, giving it a texture and flavor that is hard to replicate. He starts with a base of day-old bread, cooked with plenty of basil and a thick, rich tomato sauce, finished with a gentle heat. Crostini Misti, perhaps the most famous appetizer in Tuscany, is another popular starter.
On a recent visit, each of five slices of crostini was generously covered with a selection of earthy spreads, including an herbaceous walnut pesto, a lighter whole white bean with tomato, and a rustic chicken liver pa?te?. Paired with a glass from the all-Italian wine list, it’s a vacation to Italy without the airfare.
Pastas and main courses bring out the best in the modest high-quality ingredients. Hand-cut fresh noodles form the base for the Papparadelle Ragu e Funghi, bringing the earthiness of the imported Italian mushrooms front and center. The slightest hint of tomato enhances the dish without detracting from the intensity of the mushrooms.
Tomato is more present in the Trippa alla Fiorentina, a classic dish found at Italian food stalls throughout Florence. The tripe is cooked with a sofritto, a mix of diced vegetables and herbs, braised for hours under very low heat, then topped with a light sauce that was a perfect complement to the tender honeycomb strips of meat.
The specials board often features seafood—a nod to Kociaj’s new home. He visits the fish market every morning to purchase what is freshest, then adds his own spin, as with a recent codfish tossed with pasta special. Combining pasta and fish can be a tricky balancing act, as seafood can be easily overcooked. Firenze Trattoria avoids those mistakes, serving perfectly cooked chunks of cod adorned with a light flavorful cream sauce. The slightest hint of tomato gave the sauce a bare pink tinge. Finished with a whisper of heat, Kociaj presented a dish that was unusual yet not unfamiliar.
The 34-seat dining room is simple and warm, with the chef ’s brother, Andi Kociaj, who runs the front of the house, welcoming each guest as if they were old friends. Even those considering the menu from the sidewalk outside the small brick-front restaurant may get a visit from Andi.
The dessert menu, which changes nightly, is primarily house-made spoonsweets—expect treats like flourless chocolate cake, panna cotta, and vanilla bread pudding. The tiramisu is a stand-out—light and airy, yet intensely flavored.
2 Lynde Street, Salem, 978-219-1188, firenzesalem.com
Appetizer: Crostini Misti ($8), Pappa al Pomodoro ($8)
Pasta: Pappardelle ai Funghi ($18)
Entrees: Trippa alla Fiorentina ($18), Pasta with Codfish Special ($18)
Dessert: Tiramisu: ($7)