Chefs are a restless lot. To trace their migrations, to benefit from their progress, or take issue with their direction adds a diverting narrative to the pleasures of dining out. We first found Dino Carta cooking at Mediterraneo, where he astonished us with a brilliant dish of fettuccine and bottarga. He could also handle gnocchi al pomodoro, Milanese of veal, and other familiar standards with such exuberant freshness and lightness it seemed as though he had just invented them. How will he surprise us next, we wondered as we kept returning. One day he surprised us by leaving to cook elsewhere.
After various interludes, Dino reinvented himself as a short-order cook at Epicure. There he would produce crisp-edged sausages curled over potatoes and olives and voluptuous pasta carbonara. He departed Epicure to accept a partnership in Americano. When Americano was sold, Dino, approaching his 40th year, opened a restaurant of his own, bearing the name, and featuring the specialties, of his native island, Sardinia.
Dino’s career began in Paris, but it took flight in London, at Harry’s Bar. Whenever we visited London, Marcella and I ate at Harry’s Bar, which had then the most exquisite Italian cooking to be had in Britain. Dino’s professional skills were formed there: a light, deft, fresh touch with harmoniously coupled ingredients, mastery of the bright, vibrant flavors of an expressive cuisine.
At Sardinia, after agonizing over which of the pastas to choose, I might yield to the enticement of a half order of culurgiones, Sardinian ravioli stuffed with pecorino cheese, orange zest, and sauced with a dollop of tomato. Unless I am tempted by the sausages or the roasted pork chop, I follow with fish.
Dino’s fish is moist and delicate, yet full of flavor. Like nearly every dish, including a fragrant ricotta tart, it is cooked in a wood-burning oven that is lit in the afternoon to make Sardinian sheet music bread. By dinnertime, it is ready to cook the customers’ orders. Dino plays that oven with the control that a virtuoso applies to his instrument, extracting from it the modulations of flavor and texture that distinguish Sardinia’s refined cuisine.
Longtime collaborater with his late wife, Marcella Hazan, Victor Hazan is co-author of the new Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market.