Paesano has been a part of the North Adelaide café culture from the very beginning. I think I can actually credit Café Paesano as my first ever café meal. A lot has changed since then, the most significant being the move into North Adelaide Village. The next stage in its evolution has begun. The “Café” has been dropped from the name and the rebrand of Paesano Cucina is in full swing. Under the guidance of Chef and Owner, Jimmy Ditroia, the kitchen is turning out seriously good Italian food. This is anything but ‘café’ food so the name change makes perfect sense. Last week Adelaide Food Central was treated to a sumptuous lunch with matched wines and we have not stopped raving about it!
Our meal started with the Octopus Carpacicio, perfectly paired with a Hentley Farm Riesling. It almost seems a shame to take a fork to this work of art. Its ever so delicate flavour is lifted with a sprinkle of good salt and a glug of oil. The paper thin discs of Octopus tentacle practically dissolve on the tongue and the citrus notes in the Riesling add another dimension.
I’m always up for a pasta course as part of a big meal – we were particularly spoilt with 3 divine pasta dishes. My favourite was the Cavatellli con salsiccia e Broccoli de Rabe. Not just the best pasta of the day – I’m talking EVER! The bad news is that the primary ingredient – wild broccoli has a very short season and supply is very limited so get to it while you can. Rather than the typical tomato or cream base, the house made pasta curls were served in a reduced stock base that has a luxurious silkiness. Wild broccoli and sausage meat weave together to make an incredibly satisfying, but not heavy meal. It’s finished with enough chilli to make its presence felt on my (very tolerant) chilli meter.
The previous dish was incredibly hard to beat but the Gnocchi alla Anantra stood up to it very well. The gnocchi themselves were soft and delicious but the hero of the dish was the wonderful porcini mushroom and duck ragu. The porcini was distinct and rich and the duck incredibly tender. It’s a pairing that works well but the execution here is sublime. I loved that the sauce was lightened with a touch of cream and fresh herbs. A gain our wine pairing is flawless, I recommend you follow suit with a glass of Josef Pinot Noir.
The Gnocchi alla Serrentina shines in its simplicity. The same delightful Gnocchi, this time served in a napoletana sauce, complemented with parsley and basil. The freshness of the tomato is bold and overwhelming, a taste so rare from commercial kitchens. Buffalo mozzarella and pecorino are layered on top and the dish is finished under the grill so it’s served bubbling hot with oozy cheese.
The tantalizing Brodetto di Pesce is up next. A very impressive seafood extravaganza of scampi, prawns, black mussels, pipis, fish pieces and potatoes cooked slowly in a light tomato broth. As it was brought to the table we were wowed, not only by the size of the dish but the aroma of seafood that came with it. This is one of those dishes that grabs the attention of other diners as it makes its way from the kitchen. You have to do a little work in this one to release the scampi and some prawn meat but for the most part it’s very accessible. The broth has a bisque-like quality with an underlying sweetness that comes from caramelising seafood shells. A generous scattering of chopped parsley adds freshness and ties all the flavours together. The toast on top is perfect for mopping up the last of the broth so you can savour every drop. If you think it can’t get any better order yourself a glass of the Bremerton Fiano – you can thank me later.
It’s been a long time since I’ve selected Saltimbocca on a menu and after today I’m wondering why. We had the Saltimbocca alla Romana pan fried veal topped with fresh prosciutto and a rich veal jus. I’m trying to stay away from the cliché “melt in your mouth description” but I can’t come up with any other way to describe this sublimely tender meat. The veal is served with braised onion, potato and silver beet which is delicious on its own and stands up with its own merit rather than a lacklustre side. We enjoyed a full bodied Hentley Farm Shiraz with this dish and it played very well with the hearty jus.
After all that it was time to switch to our ‘dessert stomachs’ and enjoy a couple of desserts. First up we dug into the Fragoli, a martini glass full of vanilla gelato and fresh strawberries flamed in vanilla Galliano and topped with melted milk chocolate. Think of it as strawberries and ice-cream for grown-ups. Simple, but well executed it was a great way to finish the meal. The strawberries retained texture and were not overly sweet. We had it paired with Fior di Latte White Chocolate & Grappa which was a sensational match and a new find that must be included in my liquor cabinet.
As you can imagine at this point we are pretty full, but there is always room for the classic Italian dessert Tiramisu. An exemplary version of the rich dessert; here the savoiardi biscuits soaked in coffee and Kahlua are firm and retain their structure. There is a distinct flavour of coffee and liquor and the thick mascarpone has a hint of vanilla. We had this with a glass of Bremerton Mistelle Fortified Chardonnay.
There is a very different vibe at Paesano Cucina. While retaining a relaxed, casual atmosphere the kitchen is turning out exceptional food, AT CAFÉ PRICES! The wine list is dominated by local wineries and a focus on pairing. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to assist you in making a selection. Our lunch was a fine dining experience – and a very good one at that. As I look through my notes of the day I see words that I rarely use; impeccable, exemplary and flawless –my thoughts as I worked my way through, what is only a small share of the impressive menu. Paesano Cucina has set new standard for authentic Italian food in Adelaide.
Words by Kate Wilkinson
WHERE: 81 O’Connell St, North Adelaide