We walk into Daniel Ristorante with no expectations. Located in the heart of Brera, and shielded behind two doors of dark tinted glass there are few clues on the outside as to what you can find inside Chef Canzian’s restaurant – one of the neighborhood’s most surprising and exciting culinary ventures.
Daniel Canzian (after whom the restaurant is named) cut his teeth working alongside some of the best chefs in Italy and France, earning first prize in the prestigious ‘Pellegrino Artusi’ competition in the category of Best Young Chef. Less than three years later the brazen young chef opened the doors to his own restaurant, a place where he would be free to combine the technical intricacies of French cuisine while celebrating Italy’s produce and historical recipes. Canzian is originally from Veneto, but his cooking style seems to span from the thigh to the heel of Italy’s boot, and then abroad. The results of his intense study and openness to international travel have been nothing short of astounding.
We sample the lunch menu, which, at 28 euro for three courses with water, coffee and cover included, might be the best value business lunch in all of Milan. Chef Canzian’s menu changes not just seasonally, but daily depending on what ingredients have been sourced that morning.
On the day we visit, the menu offers a salad with turkey bresaola and a soup of creamed bieta with goats’ cheese and crispy vegetables. Both are intriguing, light and the perfect dish to help you transition to the more substantial mains or pasta dishes. Starting with the pasta, there is a risotto made with a stock of beetroot, Franciacorta sparkling wine and Parmigiano Reggiano. It is deceivingly complex. Each of the ingredients has its moment on the stage, starting with the perfectly al dente rice, followed the deep rich fruitiness of the beetroot, the sweet, acidic and somehow still effervescent shimmer of the Franciacorta, and finally to round it out, the umami oomph from the Parmigiano. The spaghetti with cream of nettle on the other hand is upfront, earthy and full. The spaghetti comes a little more al dente than I normally would enjoy, but in this case it feels wholly appropriate to taste and feel the flour in the pasta.
For a main we opt for a fine dining spin on a Neapolitan classic – Polpo alla Luciana. The octopus is meaty without ever approaching rubbery. The delicate and refined tomato stock poured over it elevates this dish from its humble origins to something befitting the stylish dining room in which we find ourselves.
The highlight though is a stunning spin on scrambled eggs that comes served inside a hen’s egg which is itself wrapped in a nest of herbs and twigs. Visually it’s mind-blowing.
Ristorante Daniel is exquisitely decorated with select pieces of modern art, and found and reclaimed objects. The walls are painted in a calming blue grey, and the tables eschew the usual fine dining white tablecloth for heavier, more casual (both more luxurious to the touch) linen. While the tables are set so far away from each other to ensure intimacy, a seat at the bar in front of the open kitchen is exactly where you want to be. You can watch Chef Canzian and his team calmly execute each dish with surgical precision. They are alert, but never frenetic. It is fascinating to watch the cooks exert such singular focus on each plate but still maintain awareness of each other and the diners. The kitchen staff are so in-sync with each other you barely hear a murmur coming from the kitchen let alone any Gordon Ramsay-style meltdowns.
Ristorante Daniel serves exactly what Brera’s, and more generally, Milan’s fine dining scene needs more of: Italian cuisine that respects tradition but is not bound to it. Daniel Canzian shows that he not only knows how, but is not afraid to, experiment. It never feels like he is trying to show off or confuse your mouth for the sake of it. Canzian serves honest flavors – just more so.
The surprises never seem to end. From the first week of May you will be able to enjoy a gourmet aperitif outside. All of this is done in Daniel’s typical gourmet style.