Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 22, 2014—LET US NOW PRAISE a marvelous guy, Cesare Casella, who we first met many years ago in his parents' fine country restaurant Il Vipore, outside Lucca. We visited him and his restaurant on three or four different occasions, each time overwhelmed, almost literally, by his generosity, enthusiasm, and genius.
He early developed a sure hand and palate with vegetables and herbs, not at all to the exclusion of meats, wines, and desserts. His parents — and an aunt or two, as I recall — ran Il Vipore, kitchen and dining room, with the grace, skill, and authority of the best country restaurateurs, and I put those at the top of the profession.
In time, though, he relocated to New York. His father needed medical help and he felt New York offered better options — but I have a hunch personal ambition may have been at work as well. Understandable: he was a young genius eager to continue learning as well as excelling.
Many years ago we dined at his first New York restaurant, Coco Pazzo. He greeted us at the table, wearing his whites. He couldn't linger: he was off to a second restaurant he'd just opened — on a bicycle.
That must be over twenty years ago, because I haven't been in New York since 1996. We finally made up for lost time Monday night, when we took a New York friend to Cesare's current place. We had a feast:
Pontormo: soft-scrambled egg, guanciale, pancetta, and market greensThere was more, I'm sure: but I write this two days later, and after a long and tiring flight from New York to Milan, then two hours in the bus to Torino.
Fagioli: Bean salad made with heirloom beans
Torta di porri: leek tart with eggs, Parmigiano and pancetta
Assaggi di salumi: eight or ten kinds of mortadella, coppa, prosciutto, porchetta, and salame
Dolci: chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and semifreddo
Everything here was delicious, served with style and personality (but not what they call "attitude"!) in a comfortable, casual room. Everything about the experience — tastes, quality, skill, personality — recalled Cesare to our minds, though regrettably he was unable to be present. The words for this kind of thing are generosity, genius, and authenticity. This is now one of my Five Restaurants.
Prosecco di Valdobbiaddene by the glass; Cerasuolo, Maggiocini (Sicily), 2010: marvelously supple and rich without excessive weight; grappa di Chardonnay•Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, 283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York City; (212) 877 - 4801