The timeless La Salsamenteria
Evidence that La Salsamenteria is a timeless oasis is the clock without any hands that welcomes you to the desecrating and magical atmosphere of this Roman delicatessen frequented by those who love Champagne and all things good.
Robert Mangione is its host, an amusing character who at first may see a bit gruff but only for about five minutes. Then he offers you a glass of Champagne as you buy some cheese and salmon, explaining every detail on how the cheese was made and aged and the waters in which each salmon swam, as if he had swam with them.
Working with Roberto is the trusted, smiling and jovial Leo who acts as his straight man.
La Salsamenteria is one of those places you go to not just to shop. You go to spend a couple of hours – often three or four – in a place that seems out of time. The intention is to just have one glass – rigorously a Zalto glass, the non plus ultra of elegance and lightness in crystal – but then you find yourself sitting at a table for dinner, better yet if next to the cheese counter or the shelves of olive oil, where alongside prestigious bottles of wine there is a Repsol gasoline can, just to keep things grounded.
In the evening, after the ladies of the neighborhood have done their shopping, the ‘fauna’ changes and expert tasters gather, Champagne lovers and alike, at the three or four tables situated in the few corners of the shop. They all know each other, some come in for just a quick glass, while others sit down and do not get up until late at night. Robert plays host with a capital ‘H’, a role that is much undervalued but which today gives extra value to an establishment and represents its soul. La Salsamenteria is popular thanks to Roberto who may try to tease you with his air of the melancholy clown, cynical and slighting at the same time, but then he suggests you try some salmon, burrata cheese and tomato that will make you perform summersaults and you know you will be more than satisfied when you leave.
I stopped by a few days ago for something to eat. Fine wines and a lot of suggestions, tasty morsels and interesting tales nail you to the chair and force you to promise/threaten Robert that you will return soon. The following is some of what I had.
To drink there was a Champagne from Laherte, a small biodynamic, Cote d’Epernay producer. It was a blend of 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. Being taut and vertical, it was perfect to accompany the two types of salmon on my plate as well as the emulsion of Isigny butter whipped with oil (because one fat counterbalances the other). Also on the plate were some small, semi-dried Catania tomatoes. These are not dried but more like a confit tomatoes, sweet and juicy, which have been carefully and mechanically dried and then bottled in corn oil. Next to these were some fat artichokes “alla cafona” from the Agnoni estate in Cori. The ingredients of garlic, oil, chili pepper and fresh wild mint make these something else.
The first salmon was organic and smoked in Ladispoli at the Sapor Maris estate which only uses oak wood and everything is rigorously done by hand. The second was from the Faroe Islands, off Scotland, and processed by Claudio Cerati’s Upstream estate. It was compact and delicate, flavorful and smoked to perfection, a masterpiece.
What came next was a double coup de coeur, one to eat and one to drink. The first was stracciata cheese with caviar, edible silver leaf and dried crusco peppers, a dish that demonstrated how it was not necessary to know how to cook to eat something sublime. Sometimes the right combination of quality prime ingredients does the trick and in this case the stracciata cheese with the brackish note of the caviar and the spicy sensation from the crispy peppers were all in perfect harmony.
Topping things off was an exceptional bubbly, Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle, a cuvée that is a blend of three excellent estate vintages with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes exclusively from Grand Cru villages, from Ambonnay to Mesnil-sur-Oger. Bold and elegant, it was a perfect finish for an evening at the timeless La Salsamenteria.