Saturday, September 25, 2021

Italian Hospitality

Two weeks ago I was invited to the “unofficial” opening night of Casa Certa, the new office/warehouse/showroom of the Italian food and wine purveyor Certa. Over the years (for the common love of food and wine) I became friends with Certa’s founder Keti and got to enjoy many of the fine products they carry either in the restaurants or at home (wines, oils and vinegars, in particular), and while they may not be a household name to most, they have been supplying to some of the top Italian chefs and restaurants in town and had an online shop for occasional home cooks like myself. 

It’s hard not to fall in love with the space at first sight, with the rustic yet stylish industry-chic décor in the open loft-style floor area – think an Italian countryside cottage situated inside an industrial building in Wong Chuk Hang. Of course, what caught my eyes first was the open kitchen, the centerpiece of the site, fully functional and fully equipped, and perfect for casual gatherings and/or proper sit-down meal over the long wooden table right in front of the kitchen counter. 

Keti assured me it’s only a casual dinner with a few friends over a simple setting, but it’s nothing but, with everything so well thought out and organized by our generous host. Behind the kitchen counter this evening was the young chef Marcello, who helmed at one of the most famous Italian restaurants in town, and he cooked up a storm for us throughout the evening. We did start with something else, with a few drinks fixed up by Matteo. The simple mix of Amaro Amara, grappa and chinotto with mint and mandarin peel garnish was just what I needed to wind down a busy day – reminded me of a smoother version of Negroni. “Just pieces of day-old bread, tomatoes, herbs and a splash of olive oil (none other than the bottle from the Sicilian vineyard Tasca d'Almerita)” as Chef Marcello passed us the plate of bruschetta and described how that was prepared, and that tasted just like a Sicilian summer night with such delightful flavor using the freshest ingredients in the simplest preparation. 

The kitchen team tossed up a few antipasti dishes just as we settled down at the table to eat. The yellowtail salad was my favorite with the thick slices of fish slightly cured, arranged nicely in one layer on a plate, and served with pickled artichokes and drizzles of roasted artichoke oil on top. The combination of the rich and fatty cured fish and aromatic oil was impeccable. I was impressed with (and inspired by) all the dishes were done in such ease and came out perfect. The potato salad was another one I liked, and that was prepared with traditional Neapolitan friarielli and brined oysters. 

More dishes came our way in more substantial portion, over the band playing the most comfortable tunes in the background. The Gnocchetti was served almost like a soupy pasta, with the pasta tossed with picked king crab meat and served in a brothy sauce thickened by pasta water and garnished with grated lemon peel, marjoram and grilled cherry tomato oil – it was the most comforting dish I had all week. 

The cod fish was served family-style in a big ceramic platter, with the fillet braised and cooked like a confit, and served in a thickened stock seasoned with seaweed and lemon olive oil. The presentation may look  plain but the complexity of flavor was mind-blowing with the umami-rich seaweed accented by the slight touch of acidity, and the texture of that fish was incredible. Lemon “Assoluto” (Absolute Lemon) was the name of the dessert, and it’s just like that, with lemon prepared in all shaped and form and served on a bowl. Tasted like lemoncello but without the alcohol. 

Went through probably more bottles that I should, but who wouldn’t with such fine food that has been passing around all evening. Predominantly white for a seafood rich menu, and Italian, for obvious reason. I particularly liked the one from Campania made from the indigenous grape of Falanghina. I love the balanced citrus notes with plenty of stone fruits and minerals on the palate, and paired well with the pasta dish. We finished with a dry marsala and the distilled plum and prune liquor. So grateful for the hospitality by Keti, Matteo and the Certa team, the great company, plus the outstanding cooking by Chef Marcello! 

When? September 13 2021
Where? Casa Certa, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Braised Codfish, Seaweed, Muraglia Lemon Olive Oil
Cavalleri Franciacorta DOCG Brut NV
Cavalleri Franciacorta DOCG Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
2018 Cantina Astroni "Tenuta Jossa" CCampi Flegrei Bianco
2013 Cantine Astroni "Strione" Falanghina Campania IGT
2018 Marisa Cuomo "Fiorduva" Furore Bianco Costa d'Amalfi
2007 Martinez "Il Cavaliere" Marsala

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