If you can't just hop on a plane and fly to somewhere exotic, like, say, Sardinia, you can do the next best thing. And that would be to book a table at Daniela Restaurant in Hampden where you will be treated to the next best thing.
Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School and I invited Chef Daniela Useli to tell us about how she brings a little piece of Sardinia to Hampden.
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Daniela the restaurant is in its second incarnation in Hampden. It now resides at 824 W. 36th Steet. The place is as homey as it gets, with small rooms and hand decorated walls. The staff are friendly and accommodating, the welcome warm and genuine.
This restaurant is all about Sardinia, one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, and one of the least known in this country. Part of Italy, its history actually pre-dates the mainland. Because of its relative isolation its cooking traditions have grown up on their own. Chef Daniela will say, "it's like Italy but it's different." So whereas many of the recipes and ingredients sound familiar, it is the unique soils of Sardinia that give the native food its distinctive taste. The Sardinians, it seems, understood "terroir" long before French winemakers used the term.
Semolina wheat, prized Sardinian saffron and myrtle berry liqueurs are quintessential local products. So is the fresh catch from the Mediterranean, especially bronzini, Daniela's favorite fish.
If you dine at Daniela you will taste some of the best pasta ever to grace your fork. It is rich with eggs, soft and tender and filled with flavor. Perhaps that little hint of saffron makes a big difference.
They have a big old grill at Daniela, and they make good use of it, firing it with seasoned wood. On special occasions they like nothing more than to grill a suckling pig and serve it up with a bottle of good Sardinian Canonau, a newly fashionable wine that is identical to Garnacha.