Even with the abundant lineup of Italian American restaurants on the Buffalo landscape, the places keep coming.
Consider it a testament to the deep and profound love we have of Italianate cuisine across the spectrum, from spaghetti and meatballs to elaborate housemade pasta and shaved truffles.
When Daniela opened on Forest Avenue, and I got my first glimpse of its menu – pizza, pasta, salads – I emitted a small, sad sigh, like the last puff from a cooling kettle. How can the place stand out from the crowd?
Daniela, it turns out, is slowly and deliciously introducing Buffalo to a new pizza style – and doing it in a stylish way. Straddling the worlds of weekday café and weekend wine bar, Daniela has given parties from parents with kids in tow to globe-trotting seniors reasons to sigh with satisfaction.
Daniela Antonella Cosmano Kayser has been a high-end caterer for more than a decade, buying the Forest Avenue building, facing the Richardson Olmsted Campus, nine years ago as a base of operations.
Renovations turned the space into an airy café setting flooded with light. The self-serve water setup offers big glass goblets to fill, and strips of cucumber floating in the water vat.
There’s one huge, handsome table with rugged bark edges, some two-seat and four-seat tables, and a row of stools at a window facing a street. The night I visited, customers dragged tables into their preferred configurations, making a racket until the alignments were perfect. I would have done the same thing, if I hadn’t nailed down an end of the big table.
Customers line up to eye much of the day’s menu, pay, then sit down to await food delivery. Behind the glass were salads, sweets and examples of the new pizza in town: pinsa (“peen-sa”). The crusts are parbaked, topped, then fired to order.
This Rome-based pizza style has a low-gluten, high-hydration dough that includes soy and rice flour, along with wheat. The payoff is in lightness, in an ungreasy crust that offers a more delicate foundation. (It’s not gluten-free, so it might please gluten avoiders, but not celiac sufferers.)
For the most part, the toppings, applied in light to moderate amounts, also diverge from the Buffalo standard. Daniela may be the only pizza purveyor in Buffalo that does not sell pepperoni.
Never missed it, myself, not with combinations like nduja, the spreadable salami with concentrated chile savor, alongside ribbons of unpeeled eggplant on tomato sauce and fior di latte, the mozzarella-like cheese ($16). The eggplant skin crisped up at the ends for agreeably bitter counterpoint to the islands of chile-pork richness.
Fungi e rucola ($17) brought mushroom and arugula, layered a mascarpone sauce onto the crust, then sautéed shiitakes and mozzarella. The fungi’s forest earthiness and meadow green of peppery arugula made sunshine together.
A vegan pinsa ($16) didn’t use any cheese substitute, just a brushing of flour sauce, seasoned with a touch of garlic, that mimicked cream. Ribbons of zucchini, eggplant and red bell pepper batons gave the pizza textural and color contrast.
A quattro formaggi ($14), with gorgonzola, grana Padano, mozzarella and gouda, was slightly undercooked, pale blond at the edges, with the cheese not quite melted together. Still tasty, though. Overall, the crusts weren’t as delicately crisp as my initial visit, when a pinsa trainer was making them.
Pastas were plentiful plates of noodles with understated saucing. Linguine carbonara ($19) wasn’t quite purist, soupy with a dash of cream blended in there with the egg and guanciale and pecorino romano cheese, but the yolk flavor and cured pork taste was predominant.
Pesto penne ($18) was a fragrant emerald-green expanse with just enough herb paste to coat the noodles. A couple of pickled green beans alongside added welcome bites of tangy crunch. My favorite pasta was the eggplant and burrata ($18), the hearty vegetable simmered to softness in tomato with an island of cheese-stuffed-cheese to divvy up by the forkful.
Antipasti make appropriate accompaniments to the brief wine list. They offered pleasant little touches of finesse, like warm fennel-marinated olives ($7). Seared ahi tuna ($11) crusted lightly with sesame seeds, got a welcome kick from wasabi mayonnaise.
Onion dip ($9), laced with sweet caramelized alliums, was soothing dairy contentment, but needed more pita chips for scooping. Beef tenderloin skewers ($13/7) offered dainty bites under a blanket of truffled arugula and shaved Parmesan.
Desserts included a dense, not-too-sweet clementine cake ($7), bright with citrus zest and gluten-free to boot.
A selection of housemade gelato ($3 or three for $5) is produced from ingredients imported from Italy. Dairy-free chocolate gelato tasted like the frozen inside of volcano cake, or chocolate pudding with the cocoa dial turned up to 11.
Despite all I liked here, I wasn’t keen on the format, hovering between server and counter, and I hope it evolves. At a place this snazzy, more support from staffers would be welcome.
That said, Daniela is clean, and classy, and the food is generally well-done. If that Roman-style dough catches on here, you might even say you’re part of a pinsa movement.
Daniela – 8 plates (out of 10)
Location: 387 Forest Ave. (235-8598, danielacatering.com)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Prices: antipasti and soup, $4 to $18; panini, $7 to $15; pinsa, $14 to $17; pasta, $15 to $19.
Atmosphere: raised voices make sound chowder.
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Gluten-free: gluten-free pasta, salads