Osteria Salina’s Delray Beach location
Photos: some by Fred Bollaci, others by Osteria Salina.
In case you haven’t heard, all things Italian–that is authentic, regional Italian is all the rage right now, and that trend is certain to continue. Like riding a growing wave or crescendo, as more discerning diners are exposed to authentic Italian cuisine prepared by passionate chefs and beautifully and lovingly presented, we want more authentic Sicilian, Sardinian, Bolognese, Pugliese, Napoletana, Roman, Tuscan, etc. Fortunately, the origin of authentic regional Italian cuisine that is linked out of necessity to geographic location and proximity and availability of fresh ingredients, which inevitably meant eating what was fresh, local, and seasonal, which led to hundreds if not more micro local cuisines throughout the area that since 1870 has been united as “Italy” as we know today is gaining popularity here in the US. Much the way local, sustainable, organic, and things like farmers markets and locavore cuisine have caught on, the international spin on these very concepts is catching on too! People in smaller towns in Italy still cook the way they had for centuries, and even in the cities, where convenience and international influence have altered the way the locals eat, there is a growing trend even in Italy to embrace the authentic local cuisines from their own backyards, as well as the authentic cuisine of other cities, towns, and regions of Italy, so you see Sicilian and Tuscan restaurants thriving in Rome today, for example.
People in the U.S. often speak of “Tuscan” cuisine, a term that has often been misused and misunderstood; there is a lot more to it than a grilled Fiorentina Steak. Americans have long been exposed to dishes that exemplify regional pride, though in many instances, their American counterparts did little to resemble their Italian roots, like Ragu or Lasagna Bolognese from Emilia Romagna, Veal or Ossobuco Milanese from Lombardia, Amatriciana and Carbonara (both from Abruzzo but have been “adopted” by Rome as two of the city’s most beloved pasta dishes, along with Cacio e Pepe, followed by alla Gricia, the original Amatriciana before tomatoes came from the new world to Italy via the Spanish explorers which led to famous dishes like Pizza Margherita from Napoli, where tomatoes were perfected into the San Marzano variety, grown under unique Mediterranean conditions in volcanic soil in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius. The good news is things are changing!
Of course the world over knows Cannoli, but does everyone equate them with Sicily– either with pistachios from Bronte on the eastern side of the island, or often seen with candied pumpkin in the area surrounding Palermo. These iconic dishes found their way onto blended “Italian” and Italian-American menus were a nice introduction, but as more Americans, and especially those of us with Italian ancestry go back and visit the Mother Country, eschewing large tours, or simply hitting every museum and monument to check off their lists in the major cities–folks are instead opting to venture out into the smaller towns in search of our heritage, staying in agriturismos or air bnb’s, living and mingling with real Italians and experiencing a very different way of life from what one might encounter in a hotel that caters to tourists from all over the world. It is in these experiences that we find a different kind of Italy and micro regional cuisine that literally differs from one side of the mountain to another, much like the hundreds of different linguistic dialects and unique traditions that gives each locality its own sense of identity and pride. Visiting these places and tasting dishes that have been unaltered for centuries gives us a timeless sense of place and pride that no other experience can offer. It is exactly these kinds of experiences, embodied in a new wave of authentic regional Italian restaurants that has made (and continues to make way) to our shores, much to my delight.
Osteria Salina, East Hampton, Long Island.
Being of Sicilian and Neapolitan descent, my dad’s family hailing from a small hill town, San Fratello which is perched some 3,000 feet above the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, about an hour west of Messina, and an 1 1/2 hours east of Palermo, and my mom’s dad’s family being from the area around the border of Campania and Lazio, inhabiting small towns like Caserta, Teano, Cassino, Frosinone, etc., just above Naples, I’ve visited all these areas and others many times, and I can really appreciate where my family inherited its styles of cooking, which blended with American traditions and products to adapt to a new land over a century ago. Going back and walking where they walked, and tasting the fruits of the land and sea in these areas is magical. It’s something anyone owes themselves during their lifetime, whether their family originated in Italy or someplace else. Go and have that experience. It will change you–for the better!
Visiting Sicily, I got to experience things we just didn’t have growing up in the U.S. –things like Marzipan shaped to look like any type of fresh fruit in the marketplace, cannoli that were fried while you watch and filled to order, wines from Etna–grown on the slopes of Europe’s largest active volcano, Pistachios from Bronte, Granita di Caffe’ or Limone con Panna (slushy iced coffee or lemon with amazing whipped cream), raw seafood (or crudo) dressed in any number of “Sicilian” ways (the closest we got back then was sashimi in a Japanese restaurant), but once you try fresh seafood in Sicily, with things like local honey, blood orange marmellata, simple piquant olive oil and local sea salt, or with a sprig of fresh herbs, you will never look at raw fish the same way again.
Which gets me back to America. More wonderful, authentic regional Italian restaurants that evoke this very sense of time and place few American diners have had the opportunity to enjoy unless they ventured off the beaten path in Italy, are opening to the delight of savvy diners who hunger and thirst for authentic experiences, who want more than Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Parmigiana, or “Carbonara” that more closely resembles “Alfredo,” neither of which contains cream in their proper original form in Italy. In essence, we want to eat Italian food as they do in Italy– whether that be in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Naples, or a small village in Sicily.
Good friends of mine, who are in the hospitality business in New York/New Jersey recommended I check out this adorable, and absolutely authentic “Sicilian” restaurant on a quiet and breezy side street, steps off of busy Atlantic Avenue, and only a hop, skip, and cross the bridge from the beach. I had heard of Osteria Salina, and it was on my list to try–I’d get there one of these days, along with the several dozen other places I have on my list to try in South Florida, but with so many places and so little free time, I was waiting to hear from one or more “foodie” friends before heading down to check it out. As you may imagine, I get dozens of restaurant recommendations each week, and restaurants even reach out to me to get me to come in. It’s tough to prioritize, though the thought of authentic Sicilian cuisine, plus my friends’ glowing recommendation had my attention.
Traveling, signing books, and writing is more fun than I’ve ever had, except it is exhausting. On the infrequent night that I am “free” from commitment, I often find myself whipping up something easy, like Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, Cacio e Pepe, or Pesto alla Genovese with basil from my garden and opening a bottle of wine, putting on some Bocelli and hanging with my dogs, than going out to eat to try out an untested restaurant, and possibly have to be “working” in that I would be taking photos, writing things down, and deciding whether or not the restaurant would make my Golden Palate Blog as a new inductee to the Golden Palate family, or better yet, it was such a phenomenal experience it would be my newest Platinum Palate.
Still, to stay on top of things, I need to go out and try new places, which I often do, so I can make recommendations to my friends, family, and thousands of followers on where to have their next great meal–though these days I do more homework than ever before venturing out to try a new place, and rely more on the word of my incredible network of trusted friends and colleagues, rather than what I read in the paper or see on most online review sites, one exception believe it or not being Instagram. If a place has many gorgeous photos either taken by the restaurant itself or shared and tagged by satisfied diners, whether they are food critics or just everyday folks who took good pictures of beautiful food, and were impressed enough to share them, that says a lot to me. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Osteria Salina had a fairly enticing presence on Instagram, with dozens of mouthwatering photos. Hmmm…this looks good, I thought, so does that! Back to my friends who wouldn’t let up, they stopped me a couple days later and asked if I’d made it there yet. They said, what are you waiting for? GO! You will LOVE IT! Ok, I thought–I might as well go! A night off from going to the market, cooking, and cleaning up actually sounded good on a Monday when many restaurants are closed. I checked out the menu and realized Osteria Salina also owned a second location in Wainscott on Long Island, near East Hampton, an area I frequented growing up on Long Island in the summer months to escape the heat and enjoy the beautiful beaches and locavore food culture. I asked some of my Hamptons friends if they’d been to the northern location. Several had, and the consensus was very positive.
Freshly sliced Tuna Crudo appetizer
Osteria Salina is named for the island of Salina, part of the volcanic archipelago called the Isole Eolie, or Aeolian Islands, just off the northeast coast of Sicily. Salina is a sun-drenched, dreamy place, it’s Mediterranean sun and sea in a bottle, saved up just for the fortunate few who get to visit. In the case of Osteria Salina, the owners seem to have bottled some of that Mediterranean magic and gotten it through customs and back to Delray Beach! Among the other islands in the famed group are nearby Lipari, Vulcano (famous for the sulfuric mud baths), and Stromboli, which is frequently smoldering, and gained pop culture fame in the cartoon Pinocchio.
The restaurant itself embodies this sense of sunny, breezy, sophisticated Mediterranean chic that is Salina, which has become a stylish, though somewhat off the beaten path resort where folks go for much needed “R and R.” Although only a block off Atlantic Avenue, known for its busy “wall to wall” New York feel where diners at many restaurants are packed in like sardines, parking is a challenge to put it mildly, and you have to yell to talk to your dining companions, Osteria Salina is a welcome, civilized reprieve. South Florida has lots of great food, but the experience is often neither enjoyable nor relaxing, due to the high decibel level, frantic pace of service, difficulty parking, you get it. Osteria Salina has a Mediterranean/Hamptons feel that calls to mind a blissful, breezy afternoon in the Hamptons, where city dwellers can escape the concrete and heat to dine in a more spacious home-like environment, or al fresco among flowers and shrubs.
Fred Bollaci with Timothy and Cinzia Gaglio
We were welcomed by Co-Owner Timothy Gaglio, who treated us like long lost family. Being that his family are also natives of Sicily, perhaps we are. The restaurant is situated in a comfortable, completely updated house with lovely verandas, as well as covered patios for semi al fresco dining. Being that it is literally 5 blocks from the Ocean, even in warmer weather, the breeze was enticing, though most diners were opting to dine inside, or enjoy bites and cocktails at the bar, which happens to have a very creative cocktail menu (I tried the Prickly Pear Mojito, combining one of the favorite wild fruits that grow all over the hillsides of Sicily– the Prickly Pear, called Fichi d’India). Adding this luscious and not too sweet pinkish purple fruity puree to a blend of rums with a sprig of fresh mint, something also frequently seen in Sicilian cuisine, was like a marriage of the best of the Mediterranean with the best of the Caribbean or Latin American culture, which South Florida is known for.
Tables are well spaced apart, each with crisp table linens and real candles–a nice touch. Even as the restaurant filled up, it was easy to converse, and the overall vibe was relaxed and sophisticated. Although the name Osteria implies a casual “wine bar,” this Osteria was both casual, offered a nice selection of Italian-centric (and Sicilian) wines, and is as elegant as any good restaurant in the area. Folks were dressed in anything from nice Bermuda shorts to sport coats, and staff wore attractive matching colorful plaid shirts. Servers and staff were all very well-informed about everything on the menu, and everything served in the restaurant, from the wines, cocktails, bread, homemade Caponata (golden raisins, roasted eggplant–makes it sweeter and less greasy we were told, Castelvetrano (green) olives from Sicily, celery, capers, and housemade Champagne vinegar), nightly specials, origin of ingredients, proper pronunciation, and more. Although I am well accustomed to superior service and staff that literally know every bit of the menu, wine list, and specials inside and out, these experiences are more typically found in places like Manhattan, San Francisco, or some fancy and high priced place gentlemen must wear a coat and tie to enter. It was nice to be taken care of by a group of folks who were down to earth, yet exceedingly knowledgeable. It became clear the owners pay attention to details and that nothing is left to chance.
The menu features an array of Sicilian inspired specialties, and a handful of nightly specials–on our visit there was a Prime Ribeye Steak, Veal Chop, Golden Tilefish, several pasta specials, and desserts specials. Chef and Co-Owner Cinzia Gaglio makes everything in the restaurant daily from scratch we were told, the dressings, fresh pasta, you name it. Her love, skill, and passion for what she does would become evident in every bite.
We began the meal with the Caponata atop grilled bread, which comes from a famous NYC bakery that has recently opened a branch in nearby Miami. Delish. The Caponata is a form of “Agrodolce” meaning sweet and sour, and was a delicious, palate-pleasing way to open the meal. Our server brought over a plate of sliced locally-grown cucumbers, sprinkled with Sicilian sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, dried oregano, and a drizzle of fruity extra virgin.
Some of the best Zucchini Flowers anywhere
When our server began describing the special starter of Peroni Beer Batter Zucchini Blossoms filled with lemon zested fresh ricotta, I had to hit the pause button so she could run and place the order before we even considered anything else. They were absolutely divine–light as air! I literally felt like they were going to begin rising from the plate, it was as though there was a secret dose of helium inside each flower along with the refreshingly simple, smooth lemony ricotta. And the batter–so light and perfectly thin and crisp, not to overpower but to give body to the blossoms, which so often come out either overly battered to the point the flower is obscured, overly greasy (a nightmare, but we’ll leave that for Gordon Ramsay), overly soggy–when the inside filling has too much moisture content and spoils the outer shell. These were among the best anywhere. Bravo!
Next, we enjoyed the Misticanza di Nonna Salad (Grandma’s Mix) featuring mixed greens of dandelion, spinach, and arugula with pomodorini, crispy capers, shaved aged pecorino, basil, dry cured olives, and house red wine vinaigrette. A large and enjoyable salad my dining companion and I easily shared. Other antipasti include Burrata with prosciutto and blueberry-balsamic marmellata, Sicilian lemon extra virgin, and sea salt, Fritto Misto (shrimp, squid, zucchini, capers, fried lemons with Arrabbiata sauce), Cozze (Mussels) with parsley, garlic, vino bianco, and tomato, and Polpo Eoliano, seared Octopus with fave beans, potatoes, and parsley pesto.
For pastas, we enjoyed half servings of the Mezzo Rigatoni alla Siciliana, featuring roasted eggplant, tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, and dry cured olives, and was excellent (pictured above). We also tried the Bucatini con Sarde with fresh sardines (not the least bit fishy), onion, garlic, baby fennel, pine nuts, and currants, a perfectly executed rendering of a dish I enjoyed in Sicily. Other pastas include Doppio Nero (Squid Ink Linguini with shrimp, fresh tomato, and basil pesto), Spaghetti alla Chitarra (hand cut over sharp wires of a guitar like instrument) al’ Amatriciana with guanciale, tomato, a splash of white wine, and of course pecorino, Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and homemade sausage with evoo and garlic, and Trofie, a pasta native to Genova with classic basil pesto and the now famous lemon ricotta, giving a Sicilian spin to this Ligurian dish.
Bucatini con Le Sarde
In reality, when we speak of Sicilian cuisine, we are talking about a fascinating amalgamation of foods and methods from many different cultures that occupied Sicily over the centuries, each leaving its mark. Sicilian cuisine contains elements of Arab, Greek, Phoenician/North African, Roman, Norman, Provencale, Lombard, Spanish, and more! It is considered among the spiciest cuisines in Italy, partly because the climate is very hot in summer, and the dishes are the most varied and interesting– many things people would not readily identify as “Italian” because they aren’t–they are from all over, and when they came together in the “breadbasket of the Mediterranean” or one of the first “melting pots” long before America, the result was quite extraordinary. Let me add that by this point of our meal at Osteria Salina, after settling in to a nice glass of Salina Bianco by Hauner, an indigenous wine of Salina, and following it up with a glass of Etna Rosato (Rose’) by Pietradolce, grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna, I felt like I was back in Sicily by way of the Hamptons. The flavors, wines, service, and ambience were just right.
Pesce Spada (Swordfish) alla Piastra
On to our Secondi or main courses. I was in the mood for seafood, being that it was warm out, we were near the Ocean, and Sicilian culture is very big on the freshest, most exquisite seafood, prepared simply, and often with some interesting accompaniments and flavors that complement it quite well. I opted for a classic: Pesce Spada (Swordfish) alla Piastra, grilled fresh line caught swordfish tossed with Caponata (I didn’t get enough of it as a starter). It was a very large, moist, perfectly cooked, fresh piece of Swordfish that would make any Sicilian fisherman proud. The fish of the day was locally-caught Golden Tilefish, also excellent, and also a large serving. It is nice to see a restaurant that is authentic Sicilian utilize what happens to be fresh and local here in Delray Beach and apply Sicilian cooking methods and imported ingredients, like capers, olives, currants, olive oil, cheeses, etc. to replicate an authentic Sicilian meal.
Other secondi included a Filet Mignon with gorgonzola cream and spinach, Oven roasted chicken with vegetables, Rosemary & Garlic Rack of Lamb with yellow and green zucchini, and Gamberoni con Couscous, jumbo shrimp with couscous, pine nuts, currants, and saffron, a simple yet elegant dish, which is much of what the Sicilian table is all about.
Sicilians take their desserts very seriously! In fact, some of the most beautiful and decadent pastries I’ve ever seen were in bakeries in places like Palermo and Taormina. Although quite satisfied by this point, we listened to a lengthy array of dolci, all made in-house, including things like Cassata cake, gelato sandwiches–freshly made gelato between house-baked cookies (a kid’s dream come true), crostata (pastry baked with fresh fruit), Sicilian Cannoli, Tiramisu, Ricotta Cake, Affogato (Espresso with gelato), etc., etc.
Housemade Cannoli and Cassata Cake
We shared a night cap of Amaro Lucano with Timothy and Cinzia, whom we learned is from the same area outside of Naples as my maternal grandfather’s family, yet she really enjoys and has embraced authentic Sicilian cooking, something her customers, whom are considered famiglia keep coming back for. I liken the experience Timothy and Cinzia have created at Osteria Salina as their “Love Letter to Sicily.” As ambassadors of Sicilian cuisine here in the U.S., they are doing it with passion and pride that would please any Sicilian.
Cin Cin to La Dolce Vita in Delray Beach and I will see you this summer in East Hampton!
Osteria Salina has been named a Platinum Palate restaurant by Fred Bollaci Enterprises, recognizing the owners’ commitment to the very best in food, hospitality, and overall guest experience.
Delray Beach location
9 SE 7th Avenue
Delray Beach, FL 33483
Bar open at 5PM
Sun, Mon, Weds, Thurs: 5:30-10PM
Friday & Saturday: 5:30-11PM
108 Wainscott Stone Road
Wainscott, NY 11975
Closed For The Season, Will Reopen Spring 2018