Visited: 9/30/06, Saturday @ 5:30pm Pre-Ballet Dinner
After reading many great reviews about this restaurant (online here, D Mag, etc.), I decided to try it with my boyfriend, pre-ballet. Here is my experience:
We accidentally entered on the wrong side of the building off of Oak Lawn (instead of N. Hall St., where the main entrance is) and as such, got to preview the patio seating area. The patio was down two flights of stairs, so even though it is right on Oak Lawn Ave., the patio is very private. It was decorated with cut wine barrels potted with tomatoes, small potted trees and tables with the typical white linens and glassware. Seeing as we had a reservation and it was about 88 degrees outside, we opted for an interior dining experience.
After the bartender got over the fact that we came in the wrong door, we were seated promptly. We were also the ONLY people in the restaurant, I guess due to the fact that our reservation was so early (I hate that every dining establishment closes at 10 or 10:30 making it impossible for after show reservations). Menus and wine list arrived and as always at dinner, wine choice comes first. As we perused the list, we enjoyed sparkling water, Pellegrino, which came with no ice AND a slice of lime, the way sparkling water is supposed to be. The wine list was not short, nor long. I didn’t count the wines/pages, but there were many wines from Italy, split by region (ie. Tuscany, Piedmont etc...) and a few U.S. wines thrown in. Only being familiar with wines from the Tuscan region, and a few others from experience and visiting Italy, we asked for advice on a mid-bodied wine. We were planning on fish and gnocchi. The server said we should go with the Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno Barbera d'Alba, and that it was comparable to Pinot Noir. Now, I am semi-familiar with Barbera, and let me tell you, it is not USUALLY similar in complexity and character to Pinot Noir, but hey, I am not Italian, nor familiar with this wine, so we went for it. When in Rome. If you were to compare to a US/California/French wine, I would definitely say it was closer to a Cabernet. Anyhow... it was a Barbera, in it’s true style, not flashy, but decent. For ~ $50, not a bad wine.
Now that we had gotten that out of the way, we started to notice the ambience of the place. Then, one of the stranger things I have seen a chef do, happened. He was walking around the place with a sizzling pan. He did this several times, and when we questioned Daniele if he was letting the servers try new dishes, he laughed and said he only had olive oil and garlic, and was trying to make the place smell like a restaurant. Interesting...
People had slowly started to fill up the tables, but the room stayed quiet, with which I quite prefer to the new trend of loud and obnoxious. The room was lit perfectly, not overly bright, but just enough light to give it a romantic feel. The room was decorated in a style I can only describe as a rustic/elegant, which makes you feel warm and comfortable.
Now to the important part - THE FOOD:
(CAPRINO FRITTO - Fried Goat cheese over Spring mix topped with a drizzle of balsamic reduction) This was a good salad to start. How can Fried Goat Cheese be bad? The balsamic reduction was nice and the greens were fresh.
(CAPRESE IN FOGLIA DI RADICCHIO - Cherry Mozzarella cheese, cherry Tomatoes, fresh Basil and “Feudo Arancio” extra virgin Olive Oil) This one, I was not too impressed with. I make a Caprese at home and have also had it in Italy and many Italian restaurants. I prefer a buffalo mozzarella, but the cherry mozzarella (which only means that the pieces are cherry size, not in flavor) was made from cow’s milk. It was soft and fresh, but just a tad disappointing. The cherry tomatoes lacked their usual zing and the radicchio overpowered the light mozzarella and bland tomatoes. All in all, I guess we should have tried the carpaccio di tonno (Tuna Carpaccio) with the fresh orange salad...
(GNOCCHI AL GORGONZOLA - Potato dumplings in Gorgonzola cheese sauce and a bit of Parmigiano) Let me preface by saying... I LOVE GNOCCHI. Everywhere I went in Italy, I tried the gnocchi. I have made them myself – which is no easy feat, so I know how hard it is to get them right. Unfortunately, these little guys were just a little too well done for my taste. They were stiff, but thank god, not sticky. The redeeming quality of this dish was the sauce. I will not hold back here, and say that is was truly delish. Just the right amount of gorgonzola and crème made me use the bread (which was lack luster, and brick-like) to get every last bite out of the bowl. Very well done.
(SEA BASS IN SALSA VERDE - Tender pan seared Sea Bass over Asparagus sauce served with sautéed Spinach and roasted Potatoes) First thing, since we have been in Spinach crisis, is that this dish was made with julienne vegetables instead of spinach. I don’t think the lack of spinach affected this dish in the slightest. It was quite tasteless and nothing in the preparation made it a stand out. The potatoes were ok, and the asparagus sauce left something to be desired. I thought we would do well with fish considering this is a Sicilian cook, and Sicilian cuisine is based around a lot of fish. Again a disappointment.
We also had dessert. We tried the chocolate cake (sorry, I forgot the official name of it). It seemed like it was made with dark chocolate (which I love), served on a hot plate, with a semi-melted inside. It was an adequate dessert, but nothing I would order again. I also love a little glass of Frangelico with dessert, which was an ample serving and helped the chocolate cake down.
All in all, I would say Daniele Osteria is a little above average. On a scale of 1-5, I would give it a 3.