I always know I’m going to have a great meal when someone says it’s their “grandmother’s recipe” during an interview. And when you know the repast is an Italian/Sicilian combination, mamma mia, it’s a bona mangia! Italian cuisine makes you think of pasta and romantic music, while Sicilian cuisine is more inclined toward seafood, fruits, vegetables and other produce.
John and Faith Saletti moved to Northern Nevada about six years ago to find a better quality of life. With John’s Italian/Sicilian heritage and passion for food and Faith’s passion for baking—both Salettis are accomplished chefs—a gem of a restaurant was born. Salette’s in Minden is primo Italiano, and with the new freeway open, it was an easy 55 minutes from Reno at the speed limit.
Both the lunch ($5.75-$13.95), with a kid’s menu ($3.75-$6.50), and dinner ($12.99-$34.99) menus are filled with traditional dishes as well as steaks and chops. There’s early-bird dining ($10.99-$22.99), happy hour (4 p.m.-6:30 p.m.), and nightly specials. There’s a very friendly staff, seating in the bar and three other rooms for a total of over 200 seats, a simple, but pleasant décor, and linen napkins—that touch of class.
From the extensive menu, the basil prosciutto prawns ($11.99) charbroiled and served with a dijon vinaigrette sauce was my first amazement. Juicy, salty, herbaceous, sweet, minty, chard tastes delighted my mouth—what flavor! It was only the beginning and from Neptune’s bounty came a plentiful bowl of cioppino, a half order to boot ($24.99).
This Italian seafood masterpiece was filled with delicately cooked clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, prawns, king crab legs, salmon and halibut floating in a broth erupting with Vesuvian flavors. An explosion of Roma tomatoes, garlic, chile flakes, a dash of cayenne and a nice touch, a spiced Sambal chile sauce from southeastern Asia … wow, bring on the bread to soak up the juice, I couldn’t and wouldn’t waste a drop.
John also had to tempt me with a taste of his grandmother’s 90-year-old recipe for Bolognese Sicilian-style, three meats—veal, pork, and ground chuck—and five tomato sauce for pasta. Worthy of no less than the gods of Mt. Olympus, I, a mere mortal, was humbled by this delectable, amazing work of food-art heritage.
There’s a decent wine list ($20-$120) with a modest by-the-glass offering ($5-$14). When I started, white seemed appropriate and Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($9) was right. The color was pale, straw yellow, with delicate white fruit and apple aromas. The flavors were offset by notes of acacia blossoms and almonds. The texture is crisp and vibrant with a well-balanced, bright acidity and a clean, fresh finish.
But the colossus of the cioppino, a fish stew, called for red. Michael David makes a black-as-night Syrah called 6th Sense ($9), true to its roots, with flavors of dark red fruit, bacon and toast, with a wall of vanilla and oak. It’s juicy, jammy and surprisingly well integrated.
Before my Mediterranean repast ended, I had a piece of carrot cake ($7) with cream cheese frosting appeared, and I was at peace. Superb, unique, no nuts—just melt-in-your mouth sumptuous flavors of sweet cream and spice.
It’s well worth the drive to Minden but more importantly, it’s worth experiencing because the art of cuisine is sacred and John and Faith are willing to share this art from their heritage. At a place like this, food stirs up childhood memories. My grandmother taught me cooking for and feeding someone is one of the sweetest gestures in the world. Even watching someone eat can be a delight. I’ve learned food and love are undeniably connected, and that’s evident at Saletti’s.