By Tessa Raebeck
“For me, it’s holistic what people put in their bodies,” Cinzia Gaglio said as she went dish by dish through the delicately crafted menu of Osteria Salina, the Bridgehampton restaurant she owns with her husband, Timothy. As Osteria Salina’s head chef, pastry chef and matron, Cinzia hand selects every ingredient from dandelion leaves to golden raisins. “I’m very passionate about the quality, the great ingredients,” she said in an interview on Saturday.
From recipes to restaurant staff, Osteria Salina is a family establishment. Timothy Gaglio spent the evening greeting patrons at the door, often by name, and circling the room checking on customers. The Gaglios’ three sons—Claudio, Tim and Gabriel—all work on the floor, either behind the bar or serving tables. But the heart of the operation is Cinzia, who has handcrafted each dish with a taste inspired by years of traveling through both Italy and her family’s kitchens.
Born in New York City to Italian parents, Cinzia first visited Italy when she was a year old and has been returning regularly ever since. The Gaglios own a house in Sicily, right outside of Palermo.
“My husband’s side of the family is Sicilian,” said Cinzia. “I just enjoy their cooking, I really do. Italian cooking in the United States really is very different.”
The desire to bring that authentic Sicilian cooking to the United States is the inspiration behind Osteria Salina, which is named for an Aeolian island off the Sicilian coast. Classic Sicilian dishes, such as the Mezzi Rigatoni alla Siciliana, a spicy rigatoni and eggplant dish with fresh mozzarella in a tomato-based sauce, are complemented by South Fork classics such as crab cakes and mussels.
“I’m now thinking about the fall menu and it’s very hard for me to actually take things off,” said Cinzia. “Everything people really like, it’s really hard for me to choose something to remove.”
For certain dishes, the family is committed to the value of simplicity and Cinzia uses lots of nuts, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil for flavor. She strives to ensure that while the presentation of each dish is immaculate, form does not follow function.
“It’s very simple,” Cinzia said of both the signature salad, Insalata Salina, which has local farm lettuce, ricotta salata, chick peas, cucumber and tomatoes, and the Polpette (meatballs) appetizer. Other dishes are more complex, such as the Caponatina Eoliana e Crostini, a spread of golden raisins, eggplant, Castelvetrano olives, celery, capers and Champagne vinegar, accompanied by toasted bread.
The Bucatini con Sarde, a classic Sicilian dish, came highly recommended by the bartender, the Gaglios’ son Gabriel. His mother told the history behind the homemade pasta dish. “What they used to do,” Cinzia said of Sicilian cooks. “They would use a knitting needle and the egg noodle would wrap around it.” She described the process of making pasta by hand by wrapping rectangular sheets of dough around knitting needles, something her family’s ancestors did with expertise.
A favorite dish of Cinzia’s is the Misticanza di Nonna, or Grandma’s Mixed Salad. “That’s a salad that my grandmother would make,” said the chef. “I embellished it a little bit.” Dandelion leaves, arugula, spinach, tomatoes, crisped capers, pecorino, basil-oil cured olives and aged red wine vinegar make the salad unique.
“She would always use bitter greens,” said Cinzia of her Italian grandmother. “I brought in the crisped capers, the Pecorino cheese and the olives, it really works well.”
“It’s a very briny and bitter salad,” continued Cinzia, adding with her trademark confidence, “It’s not for everyone, but people love it.”
As the night quieted down Saturday, the Gaglios were enjoying Cinzia’s food, eating as a family on the restaurant’s patio, which resembles that of a European cafe. For a moment, filled with homemade pasta, fresh mozzarella and red wine, patrons may have felt transported to Sicily, only to be reminded of our actual location as a member of the Bridgehampton Fire Department strides through the door.
Osteria Salina is located at 95 School Street in Bridgehampton. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit osteriasalina.net or call 613-6469.