17 Sep A Meal That Defies Words – Dining at Two-Star Michelin Restaurant Dani Maison in Ischia, Italy
Sometimes there are meals that defy words. A meal that is an experience beyond your imagination and yet rooted in something you love, food and wine. That was my experience at Daní Maison, a two-star Michelin restaurant on the island of Ischia in Southern Italy.
While traveling around Campagna, I headed out to Ischia for a couple days of relaxation. I had heard about the thermal baths and thought that I would just lay low for a couple days. But while at dinner at the one star Michelin restaurant Il Buco in Sorrento, Chef Beppe Aversa told me I must check out Daní Maison. Of course, when I heard it was a two Michelin star restaurant, I figured the chance of me getting in only two days later was more than unlikely.
However, I was wrong. Perhaps it was because I was looking at a Sunday night, just after the last weekend of summer and most people were starting to head home to get back to work. But I went online while sitting at dinner my first night in Ischia to read a bit more about the restaurant and see if I might find an email to inquire about a last-minute spot. I entered my name and email and said I was looking for one seat the following night. Unexpectedly, and promptly, I received an email confirming a seat! I was excited! I hesitated for a moment, thinking about what the evening might cost me, but then thought, why not? I was on vacation. This might be my only chance. And, if I was able to get a reservation with only one day’s notice, perhaps it was meant to be.
My reservation was for 9pm but they called me and invited me to arrive early to enjoy the garden. The taxi dropped me off at what was a residential area and I was greeted at the gate. I was escorted through a beautiful Mediterranean garden where there were sculptures as well as fresh herbs and spices that the chef uses. My guide explained to me that the space was the former home of Chef Nino Di Constanzo’s mother. Chef Nino has transformed the entire space with care and detail in every element.
The garden has six tables tucked within the greenery and I was seated at one of them.
Sommelier Pietro Amato came to my table, asking if I wanted to start with a glass of wine or a cocktail. I selected a glass of would like a glass of Pol Roger Reserve Champagne.
As I was enjoying the warm air, my experience had begun. I was presented my Aperitivi, a silver base with 12 small silver plates attached to long stems. On each silver plate was a little bite. There was a filo cone filled with bufala mozzarella and rapa rossa (beetroot), a basil sponge with Russian Salad, a mini fried calzone with friarielli and provola (cheese), an olive on a parmesan crisp, a zeppolina fritta with soy mayonnaise, a vegetable tartlet, a merenda (snack) Napoletana, bufala ricotta and salami, caramella (candy) of bread, spinach and ricotta.
I was then presented with a box with large cards with images of jesters from a local Neapolitan artist and on the back were the menu options. There were a selection of tasting menus and the a la carte menu. I selected the Chef’s Tasting Menu, deciding to leave it to the chef.
I then proceeded into the restaurant, which is the former home of chef’s mother. Converted into a restaurant, there are only six tables, four in the dining room and two in the kitchen. The dining room is spacious with white walls and large brown square tiles on the floor. Colorful artwork adorns the walls and sculptures of birds sit on each table. Birds are a symbol of home and hospitality and that is what Daní Maison embodies.
The dining room has four large round white marble tables and I took a seat at one of them. In addition to the Chef’s Choice menu, I selected the wine pairing to enjoy with it.
I was then presented with a water menu and could selected bottled water from different regions of Italy and France. I selected the Lauretana Naturale from Piemonte.
The first dish was the Passeggiata Napoletana, a journey through Naples. Eight small dishes were placed in front of me. Latte e lime (milk and lime), intreccio di zucchini con tartare di branzino (an interweaving of zucchini with branzino tartare); zucca alla scapece, papacella, insalata di sedano e tonno (salad of celery and tuna), pane burro e alici (bread with butter and anchovies), caprese sofice (fluffy), parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant Parmesan).
And with the Passeggiata Napoletana was an offering of unique utensils to eat each delicate dish.
Wine Pairing: Cenatiempo Kalimera Biancolella 2017
A cart with more than a dozen bottles of olive oils was wheeled up to my table. I selected one to try.
And then there was the bread stick presentation, each served in a vase, looking like a flower arrangement. Each thin stick was a different flavor, including carrot, rosemary, cinnamon, saffron and squid ink.
There are large carts on wheels that the staff move around the room with ease. One cart was placed in front of my table with large colorful glass bricks for the Gran Cru…do course. They were placed in front of me. On top of each glass brick was raw fish – scampo con mela verde, yogurt e lime (lobster with green apple, yogurt and lime); gamberi rossi con cremoso di bufala e mandarino (red shrimp with buffalo and mandarin cream) , gamberi rosa con brunoise di verdure e zenzero (red shrimp with vegetable brunoise and ginger); mazzancolla alla puttanesca (spicy prawn); palamita in Caesar salad (Bonito with Cesar salad); sepia all’arancia (squid with orange). As I would eat the food on one brick, the staff would clear it and the remaining bricks would be re-shifted, like a game of tetris.
Wine Pairing: Falkenstein 2012 Riesling, Sudtirol Vinschgau Val Venosta DOC
I was then presented with more bread.
And then the Bufalo e Bufala was presented on a large sparkly disc-sized plate. On the plate was involtini di bufalo ripieni di ricotta bufala (rolls stuffed with buffalo ricotta); daikon in osmosi allo zafferano e rapa rossa (daikon in a saffron sauce with red turnip); mosto cotto e yogurt di bufala (cooked must and buffalo yogurt).
The next plate was equally magnificent, a bright blue iridescent dish shaped like an oyster shell. In the dish was Risotto al Latte di Bufala with bruschetta e ricci (Buffalo milk risotto and bruschetta and sea urchin)
Wine Pairing: Caroline Morey 2015 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Chaumées
Linguine “Gerardo di Nola” with aglio, olio, prezzemolo, pinole, gamberi e stracciata di bufala (linguini with garlic, oil, parsley, pine nuts, prawns and buffalo cheese)
Wine Pairing: Clos Ste Hune 2005 Riesling, Alsace
Three white dishes were served with lids and inside was Branzino with cavolfiori, alici e verdure (sea bass with cauliflower, anchovies and vegetables).
Wine Pairing: Paski 2017 Campania Coda di Volpe
And then a bread tray came by, offering more breads to try.
The meat coarse was Agnello in Parmigiana di Melanzane (lamb with eggplant Parmesan).
Wine Pairing: Valle Reale Vigneto di Popoli 2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo D.O.C.
I was presented the Pomodoro, served on sculptured hands. The small bite looked like a tomato but was a refreshing palate cleanser.
Dessert at Dani Maison is creativity taken to another level. I watched as another table was served their dessert. They put a large clear sheet on the table in front of the guest and wheeled ingredients out on one of the trays. Chef then came out and created the dessert on the clear sheet as if he was an artist painting a picture.
For my dessert, I was served Il Circo which absolutely blew me away.
One by one, the most colorful and whimsical items were placed in front of me as circus music played. There was an apple fritter with whipped cream, popcorn, a small gelato cone, a fruit gelee, cotton candy, and pastries in the form of a peanut, hot dog and french fries. And, a bottle of Dani Maison orange juice to wash it all down.
As if that wasn’t enough, the last course of the night was the Piccolo Pasticceria – ghiacciolo alla fruta e alla piperna (fruit icicle), pasticciotto con crema e amarene (pastry with cream and black cherry), sfogliatella napolitana riccia e frolla (Neapolitan curly puff pastry), zeppolina frita con crème e Amarone, delizia di limone (lemon delight), maddelene, Baumkuchen, cannelé, tiramisu, insalata di frutta (fruit salad), éclaire, latte di mandorle (almond milk), succo di melone e lime (melon and lime juice).
My meal at Dani Maison was utter perfection. The atmosphere, the presentation, the service and the flavors, each were so precise and exact and yet effortless. The food was refined and each bite so delicate and yet complex. It is a meal that I will never forget and I would not hesitate to return should I find myself in Ischia again.
Via I traversa Montetignuso, 28
1-80077 Ischia (NA), Italy
+39 081 993190