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Siena: Gallo Nero

Via del Porrione, 65/67

Reviewed by: Jeff Whiteaker from CA, review #2479

When: 2007

Don't let the medieval shtick scare you, it's not a ploy to lure tourists. This is actually an excellent restaurant that serves expertly prepared Tuscan food.

I've now had the pleasure of eating at Gallo Nero three times, and I can safely recommend it. But first, a little background:

You walk into the place and you are immediately greeted by wait staff dressed from head to toe in white medieval gowns, complete with leather pouches affixed to little belts. As soon as you are seated, you are given "medieval bread," and a menu (in both English and Italian) with special "medieval" dinners and info about their weekly Friday night "medieval" themed events, complete with music and minstrels and jesters for entertainment. If you're as cynical as I am, at this point you will have the sinking suspicion that you've walked straight into some awful tourist trap.

But fear not, for Gallo Nero seems genuine in their passion for all things medieval! No, this is nothing even vaguely akin to stepping into the Excalibur Hotel buffet in Vegas, as the dishes I've consumed at Gallo Nero easily prove.

Gallo Nero's strength lies in their pastas. They prepare them perfectly and lovingly. On my most recent trip, I had papardelle with funghi porcini in a light cream sauce, which was unquestionably the best example of such a dish I have ever found. Perfectly fresh with earthy, rich, robust flavors and papardelle cooked to perfection. Key to this dish's success, apart from the freshness, seems to be Gallo Nero's subtle but effective use of herbs. I could detect some rosemary, and maybe a little flat-leaf parsley, which lent the dish a sophisticated edge. I am wiping up the drool just typing about it. It was *that* good.

My girlfriend tried the papardelle with cinghiale ragu, and again, this was without question the best example of this Tuscan staple that we found. Perfectly fresh, robust, etc., with just the right amount of herbs to bring out the flavors.

On a past visit a few years ago I also tried an exceptional linguine in a cream sauce with truffle oil, and a dish involving penne with ricotta and fresh chunks of pumpkin. Again, these were perfection.

However, Gallo Nero's secondi, or at least those that we tried, we're not quite on the mark. The grilled veal shanks was, sadly, tough and a bit bland. A pork steak with funghi porcini was better, but fell short of stellar. So, while I do recommend Gallo Nero enthusiastically, I should warn that their meaty secondi seem to be hit or miss. Their pasta is filling, however, so you could probably get away with just ordering a pasta and a salad without ruffling any feathers.

Their house red is quite good, and their wait staff have been consistently friendly and helpful with every visit. Also, the visually pleasing setting in a 14th Century building complete with stone walls, vaulted ceilings, and stained-glass windows, adds to the overall experience. Prices are reasonable: not super cheap but nothing that will break the bank.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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