A Sardinian Chef’s Unique Take on Traditional Cuisine

bosa, sardinia with castel

Bosa, Sardinia

The taxi ride to Bosa from Alghero was enchanting. The winding roads through the seaside cliffs of northwestern Sardinia presented spectacular views that altered in breathtaking ways at every turn. I remained speechless from the stunning views as my taxi companion, a fellow journalist, chatted with our driver, who was more than thrilled to describe the particular food cultures of his hometown.

As an island with a fantastic coastline west of Italy’s mainland, Sardinia would seem to have a cuisine full of sea creatures and fish, but because of the mountainous terrain that blocks the sea from the inland, only the towns located on the water have a fish-based cuisine. Bosa is one of them.

“Where are the good restaurants in Bosa?” The other journalist asks, naming a few that he himself was familiar with. With each name our taxi driver slightly shrugged until he said, “You know I can tell you what the best is. Ristorante Lido Chelo. It’s owned by my friend and he makes dishes very…particularly. It’s traditional cuisine, but like nothing you’ve ever had or will ever have on this island.” The journalist leaned forward in excitement, adjusting his glasses and poising his pen, “I’d like to meet him sometime,” he said, “can we pass by now for a quick drink and exchange of information?” The taxi driver grinned, and in the true Sardinian way of ultimate hospitality, made arrangements for us to stop by immediately.

Ristorante Lido Chelo

Nanni Solinas, chef of ristorante lido chelo

Nanni Solinas, chef of Ristorante Lido Chelo

We pulled up to a structure in Bosa Marina that was anything but special, a humble facade with the restaurant on one side and a few apartments on the other, located directly on a wide beach of sand. The mahogany stairs leading up to the restaurant took us to a dining room whose wall lined in glass windows opens to a terrazza offer a stunning view of the sparkling sea. We were seated, expecting at the most a late-morning aperitivo and a quick exchange of information, when we heard rustling in the kitchen. Out came a young woman, poised and dignified, holding a bottle of Malvasia spumante. As she poured she emphasized the importance of the local Malvasia grape to the local cuisine, used to make still, sparkling, and sweet wines. The aromatics of the drink were intoxicating: apricots, cooked pears and almonds dancing in the yeast bubbles of the drink. It was like no other that I had ever tasted before, but somehow tasted like the Sardinia that I had just seen: more real, in touch with nature, and wild.

Chef Giovanni, also called “Nanni,” exited the kitchen carrying four rectangle plates with three tastings of his specialty dishes on each. By simply glancing at the dishes, it is obvious that he is something above the norm of the typical Italian trattoria. And in fact, as he begins to recount to us his story, it includes restaurants in England, Germany, and Switzerland. But now the chef has returned to his native land, the small coastal town of Bosa Marina in Sardinia, to reconnect with his roots, both personally and culinary. His dishes are complexly simple: taking the fresh products of Bosa and presenting their high-quality tastes in new and innovative ways. And innovative his dishes are.

La Degustazione

sgombro with scamorza affumicata

Sgombro, or mackeral, with smoked scamorza cheese

As I examine my first morsel on the white rectangular plate, sgombro con scamorza affumicata e pecorino grattinato, mackerel with smoked scamorza and pecorino cheese, Giovanni recounts the leap of faith he has taken with this dish. “This dish is the biggest gamble I have taken by breaking the Italian taboo of putting cheese with seafood. But I wanted to give an added touch to the dishes, something different than the rest.” The dish is genius. The succulent, but one-note taste of the mackerel takes a whole new depth with the smoky flavor of the cheese, creates the perfect harmony of light and savory the completely satisfy the palate.

The next is simple, as the chef explains, “I turn most often to the natural, to kilometro zero, without altering the ingredients.” I raise my fork of seppia, bottarga, and spiny artichokes and try the bite all at once. The light fishy flavor of the seppia and sharp green flavor of the artichokes jump in mouth before settling down to make way for the salty bottarga’s finish. Bottarga is a specialty of the region, often served with artichokes, but this dish in other locales often lacks freshness, a freshness that Nanni brings with the light seppia boiled in salt water and lemon.

bottarga over artichokes and seppia

Bottarga over spiny artichokes and seppia

We continue down the line of plates as my fellow journalist inquires about the chef’s experience with molecular cuisine. Giovanni shrugs, stating that although he has tried it, it is not for him. “For me it is important to take things are they are, in their pure form, and highlight what is there.  I think that these days people are not looking for experiments. They want to return to tradition, to their roots. Yes, you’ll eat a candy that tastes of fish or make caviar of tomatoes, but in the end, people are simply asking for spaghetti al pomodoro, the dishes they know and love, that taste of tradition.” The smoked tuna with strawberries that I am tasting during this statement is smoked in house using female juniper wood, and whose unique pairing is so surprisingly delectable that my eyes grow wide in excitement. This is what true chefdom is about.

smoked tuna with strawberries

Tuna smoked in-house with Sardinia’s famous juniper wood

Our last taste is a simple sort of contorno – skate wings with red onions, zucchini and balsamic – an explosion of flavors from the soft flesh of the fish, tangy onion and sweet balsamic.  I am left speechless. The tasting menu was perfect, and I can only wait in anticipation for the entire meal.

The chef’s presence in the restaurant is fairly new, and his passion and vision are decidedly strong, which has resulted in marked success for this small restaurant in the beach town of Bosa Marina. It is now necessary to make reservations at least a week in advance, and the restaurant is becoming evermore popular.  Reservations can be made by calling (+39) 0785 373804, and more information can be found at the site of the adjoining hotel at http://www.lidochelo.it.



5 thoughts on “A Sardinian Chef’s Unique Take on Traditional Cuisine

  1. I definitely love spaghetti, as well! In this part of Sardinia, they do not use as much spaghetti, but do make some really fascinating dishes. Another one of my favorites from this area is fregola, which kind of resembles couscous but is much more rustic.

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