Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews La Cascina
La Cascina’s inviting space (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
If you’ve travelled in Italy, there is a moment — early on — when dinner at La Cascina feels déjà vu. It reminds me of lunching in the Tuscan hills and asking for fish. “I am sorry Signora, but we are 75 km from the sea. We do not import fish.” Of a pizzeria in Positano, where we asked the waiter if he had mozzarella di bufala. “Oh Signora,” he said regretfully, “it is no longer fresh. It is only fit to put to pizza. It was made yesterday.”
If you haven’t travelled in Italy, and you like food, do it. Nowhere else will you taste that delicious fealty to local ingredients and ways of cooking. Although La Cascina is our local nod to the fabulous country cooks of the boot. You walk in the door of this very ordinary room across Avenue Road from Pusateri’s, and Sharifa Jordan takes you to an extraordinary place. The origin of the wines, where the ingredients come from and how they’re composed, which ancestor from Abruzzi taught the chef which dishes — she explicates everything: Her passion for Italian food drips from every sentence.
Her husband, Luca Del Rosso, is the chef. His menu, Sharifa explains, is built for sharing. Best plan is to order one antipasto, pasta and main for two people, let the chef choose which ones, and share it all. I get antsy about tasting menus because I don’t want to sit for three hours or spend $300. But fret not: The three courses at La Cascina happen in under two hours for less than $150 for two with wine.
Antipasto is a parade of small delights — tender spinach with beans; red onions; wild boar salami; pecorino; Sicilian olives; a sweet little stew of purple cauliflower and fresh persimmon; squash with walnuts; onion marmalade with figs and red wine; chickpea purée; and yummy salt cod roasted with cherry tomatoes and red peppers.
After the antipasto chef seduces us with his homemade divine chitarra (pasta like a big spaghetti) tossed with long-cooked zucchini perfumed with black truffle. Meat is tender veal slathered in multi-mushrooms. Dessert is a distant dream — no room. Too much pleasure already. Ciao.
La Cascina, 1552 Avenue Rd. $90 Dinner for two
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.