Larger than life, a barrel of laughs and with a series of tattoos to boot, at first glance Sardinian chef Daniele Pinna might not seem a terribly serious kind of fellow. But at La Locanda, his restaurant in Recoleta, cooking is an extremely serious matter.
When we first met about a year ago, he asked me which are my go-to Italian eateries in Buenos Aires. And I replied that I tended to stick to home-cooked pasta and risotto because it’s hard to find al dente dishes or a rice dish that uses arborio or carnaroli. (It ain’t risotto with bloody double Carolina rice, alright? Stop calling it that and refrain from deceiving everyone! Signed, Angry of Colegiales. Note to reader: this is a subject that makes me really very mad.)
That answer, of course, didn’t include Siamo nel Forno, pretty much the only BA pizzeria I’ve found to make thin, Neapolitan-style crust. And since that conversation, I’ve also been to Guido in Palermo Botánico, whose stuffed pasta dishes and ragoûts are pretty special.
From the source
At La Locanda, Daniele makes an extremely concerted effort to source the correct ingredients and although it might come at a price, a meal there is worth it for a real taste of bella Italia. And of the times I’ve lunched and dined there, he serves up a risotto that simply can’t be matched in this city full of Italian immigrants who are, for the most part, doing it wrong.
Cooking since the tender age of 14, Daniele’s star is shining brightly — he appears on Italia & España on El Gourmet channel, for example — but he knows and greets everyone with a few words and a bellow of laughter. Despite this new-found success in his adopted homeland, he hasn’t lost a sense of perspective — and that applies to his food as well.
I adore being fed by Daniele Pinna, who has gathered dedicated fans since he opened in July 2011. The richness, a few drops of truffle oil, the texture, the flavours. He makes it all come together. And if you’ll allow it, Daniele can mix and match the menu for you. It will hurt your wallet, for sure, but you’ll be licking your lips for days to come.
Those who are more timid on the economic front should turn attention to the menu, which includes antipasti, rice and pasta and fish courses. He sources Italian prosciutto, using the San Daniele brand whose thighs come from central and northern Italy. Add on some burrata cheese and a drizzle of olive oil (150 pesos), and personally, I’m in a gluttonous heaven.
So simple, but with the right ingredients, perfection.
Or why not sample the baby squid sautéed in spinach (160 pesos) or the large pan-fried prawns (120 pesos)? These are all excellent examples of what Daniele is doing in the kitchen to open up your tastebuds. (One starter that I’m not so much a fan of, however, is the curried mussels — too overpowering a flavour for these bivalvia molluscs — but give me Italian pork and that dreamy cheese and I’m more ecstatic than the proverbial pig.)
When it comes to the main deal, I’d go for a risotto almost every time, simply because it can be a laborious process to make at home, and he makes it so deliciously well.
His secret? Daniele told me this week: “I cook it for 17 or 18 minutes, using carnaroli rice from Divella and a salt-free vegetable stock although I do add a pinch of salt at the end. My favourite risotto is alla parmigiana.”
I like to keep it simple too, so go for the porcini mushroom version (200 pesos) — rest assured that the seafood version is totally tempting and not lacking in frutti de mare (also 200 pesos). Creamy yet al dente, the rice is always cooked to perfection, there’s enough juice going on to keep it moist, and a few drops of truffle oil make it melt in the mouth.
I don’t need dessert.
Happiness is a bowl of rice.
Pagano 2697, Recoleta
Buenos Aires Herald, May 12, 2014