The other night, I organized an impromptu blog dinner. I had been fervent to check out Da Papa, after some encouraging recommendations from friends in the Bulgarian Italian community that it was better than Gioia, which I hold in quite high regard. The day before the dinner, I purchased the latest issue of Good Food Bulgaria, when I saw an article about one of the chefs behind the restaurant Leo Bianchi , promoting his new television show on TV 7. I thought it was a sign that I need to eat there this week. In my mind, I see this Italian guy, whose other restaurant Leo’s Pizza, which I’ve yet to dine at, won restaurant of the year from Bacchus magazine, he has been featured in numerous Bulgarian publications and he has a cooking show… this other place has to be fabulous!
As expected, I was rather disappointed with Da Papa, not because the food was bad, but because my hopes were once again inflated. To start, the location of the restaurant was annoyingly difficult to find, but I don’t know if this choice was intentional or that the “powers that be” lack business sense. There was one sign visible from the street, on a pole in front of an unassuming office building. If you haven’t been to Da Papa before you would have no idea where to go to next, as there was no front to the restaurant or further signage. It happened to be located inside and at the back of the office building. Even if you enter the lobby of 24A Metodi Popov st., you would still need to know to walk down the corridor and then you still only see a bar and past the bar is the dinning room. My husband arrived late and rang from the street because he was lost. On my way back from fetching him, a couple was standing under the sign with quizzical looks on their faces. They were relieved when they found out we knew how to find the entrance to the restaurant. All in all, it is my opinion that the location is unnecessarily difficult to find.
The interior is clean and modern, which my party agreed was better than the family-style, eclectic vibe you get from Gioia, with one exception. The walls were adorned with these bold African paintings that were just bafflingly out of place.
Dinning with a large group is great when you want to taste as much of the menu as possible. In the end there were 9 of us. So, I got to taste 5 starters and 5 entrees and 3 desserts. As a rule if you agree to go out to dinner with me, I get to taste your food and photograph your dish before you take a bite. It is a bit of an inconvenience, but my lovely dinning companions endured my behavior and I thank them for that!
I ordered the Caprese salad to start and if you follow my blog, you will notice that I order this salad almost every time I go to a new restaurant. There are two reasons for this. The first one is that I am a creature of habit and the second is that it is a test. The Caprese salad for me is a simple preparation, but if you can make something uncomplicated spectacular then I feel that my main dish should be as well. For example, my criteria to which I judge is the freshness and slicing of the tomatoes (you would be surprised how many times the kitchen neglects to remove the unsavory parts of the tomato), the quality and quantity of the mozzarella and the way they incorporate the basil or pesto into the dish. My salad was decidedly average. The tomato was fine, but it is not quite the season for tomatoes, so I gave them some slack. The mozzarella was the typical variety that comes from a baggie filled with water, but it was of the tastier brand. I was most saddened by the basil, which was thinly sliced and scattered on top, it was more of a garnish than a component of the final salad. If you don’t put pesto on the salad, I prefer to keep the leaves intact and cut them myself to incorporate with each bite, plus a drizzle of a balsamic reduction on the plate is always a nice touch.
The other starters included Olive all’Ascolana (Fried Meat Stuffed Olives), which were an ingenuous treat. Those will be something that I try at home, but with mozzarella cheese instead of meat, although I might try the meat too! It is a perfect hors d’oeuvres and would pair nicely with beer.
Jason got a boring Estiva shredded salad, which I didn’t try because I was not in the mood for healthy; I wanted to eat the naughty food, plus I am not particularly fond of raw celery.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant with Parmesan) was what Kalina ordered, which was very bland. I have had much better, so that was disappointing.
Sally’s dish was chockfull of wickedness. Scamorza alla Griglia con Crudo Grilled Scamorza cheese coved with proscuitto , no encumbered by bread, just mouthfuls of smoky pleasure.
For my main, I was going to get the raviolis, but Bill ordered that so I got the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina and for one, I liked my dish better than someone else’s. The tomatoes cream sauce was flavorful, but the ratio of tomatoes to gnocchi on the plate was out of balance. It was almost 50/50 and after about 5 cherry tomatoes, I was done and pushed the remaining 10 to the side.
The walnut ravioloni on the menu were not available, but they had asparagus stuffed raviolonis, which were nice, but the pasta was too al dente for my taste, but Bill and Jason enjoyed the texture.
Jason ordered the Lunette Ripiene al Tartufo Bianco, Burro Salvia e Tartufo (Truffle raviolis); maybe it was because of the sauce but the texture was perfect for me. The cream sauce was similar to the one that I ordered at La Piccola Casa, although Da Papa’s execution was superior. In general, truffles have an intense flavor and paired with the dense cream sauce, for me the combination is a bit over powering.
Sally ordered the Chicken Marsala with the baked fennel, which was over baked. It literally melted in your mouth. Good flavor, but way over cooked. For me, being from New York, every catered family function had a Marsala dish, either chicken or veal, so I have eaten a few Marsalas in my day. The chicken was dry and I wasn’t particularly impressed with the sauce. I prefer to have sautéed mushrooms and shallots in my Marsala sauce and this one was unimpressive.
Angel arrived late but ordered the Garganelli Asparagi e Gamberi, a seafood penne, which was decent.
In lieu of ordering dessert I opted to drink more wine, but I was interested in tasting the chocolate soufflé, which Bill ordered. As it turns out was not a soufflé at all. It was more of a molten chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center. It tasted good, but I was not a true soufflé and If I didn’t just finish baking one for the Daring Kitchen’s November challenge, I wouldn’t be stressing the point too hard.
I have no opinion on the pantone because I am not a fan of anise-flavored desserts. It could have been amazing, but I can’t get past the fact that I just don’t like the flavor of this cake in general.
The service was average treatment you get in most Bulgarian restaurants. The kitchen’s timing of dishes was way off. I received my main course about 10 minutes before everyone else and it sat next to me as I finished my salad and I rushed a bit at the end because I could see my dish getting cold and I don’t like cold food. Our servers didn’t really seem knowledgeable out the food or the wine pairings, which is something you expect in Bulgaria, but it is nice to be surprise sometimes.
Overall, if I were invited to dinner at Da Papa, I wouldn’t say no, but, if I am picking the Italian restaurant, I would pick Gioia, décor aside, the sheer freshness of the ingredients alone is superb and the service is far superior. Da Papa 24A Akademic Metodi Popov Street, Tel: 02/ 971 99 28