By Jessica Mohr
This review is special to me because I have been going to Daniel’s Restaurant and Catering for as long as I can remember. Whenever extended family came into town from Philadelphia, we would always take them here for a delicious Italian meal that was also reasonably priced, especially when compared to some of the places in Raleigh or Cary that were also on the list of “grandparent accepted” restaurants in the area. In addition to being affordable and delicious, Daniel’s is right down the road from my house! Google Maps calculates it as 1.8 miles away. That’s walkable, if you’re desperate. Due to my long history with this place, and its location 0.8 miles from Highway 64, Daniel’s was a natural choice for this review.
The appetizer I selected for this review is their arancini. For those of you who have never experienced the Italian magic, arancini is a deep-fried ball of risotto with a gooey glob of cheese in the middle, served over homemade tomato sauce. I like it with extra Parmesan cheese on top and more pepper than most people deem tasteful. Not only are Daniel’s arancini large (think tennis balls), they are also robust and substantial. As soon as you cut into them you know there’s about to be a party in your mouth — the hearty, warm smell of a well-made risotto combined with melted mozzarella cheese comes wafting out of the ball, inspiring a reaction I can only describe as excitement. The first thing you notice when you take a bite is how crisp the fried outer shell is. Despite sitting in a bed of moist tomato sauce, that outer shell is still sharp and crisp when you take a bite out of it.
Once you get through the fried outer shell, flavorful risotto and creamy mozzarella cheese greet you on the inside. Risotto is an Italian staple made with rice, meat broth, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and usually some butter for good measure. Whoever Daniel is, I want to find him and ask him where he gets his seasonings, because this is some of the most intense flavor I’ve ever experienced out of a risotto, and I’ve been to Italy! This appetizer reminded me of the small hole-in-the-wall restaurant my mother and I ate at no less than three times during our two-day visit to Florence. Everything in Daniel’s arancini tasted fresh, authentic, and vibrant.
While I could survive on arancini alone if I really put my mind to it, I also opted for an entree, and what better dish to select for the main course than pasta? There were plenty of “pastabilities” on the menu, but I decided to go for the house favorite: penne alla casa. This is, as written on the menu, “a heavenly concoction of red sauce and cream, garlic, Romano cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and spinach.” I also added chicken so I could pretend I was having something healthy. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish as well. The sauce was indeed heavenly, with just the right amount of kick from the garlic, the pasta was nice and al dente, and the chicken was well-prepared. The only critique I had was that there was a bit too much spinach in the mix for my liking, but that’s too much a personal preference for me to count it as a negative aspect of their recipe. After all, I had more than enough pasta to eat off of for three days after my meal, and that’s far more exciting than worrying about the quantity of spinach. Between the leftovers and the half a loaf of garlic bread in the takeout bag, I was one happy customer.