Authentic and delicious resonates with downtown's newest Italian hit ‘Cesca Ristorante & Trattoria.
By DENISE K. JAMES
Jason Colon, the head chef of downtown Charleston’s ‘Cesca Ristorante & Trattoria, describes himself as the type who lets the food speak for itself.
“I like my food to be ‘clean,’" he says. “I’d rather the ingredients behave naturally, not become masked with other flavors. I think it comes out in our menu … if you order shrimp, it’s going to taste like shrimp!”
Originally from New York City, Colon lived in a wide variety of places before recently settling in the Lowcountry. He worked at the Intercontinental Hotel of Boston during his four-year residence in the city and says the experience was “a lot of fun.”
“We were the only place in Boston that harvested our own honey,” he reminisces. “I’ve worked with some great chefs; they’ve really shown me how to honor the flavors of foods and use simple, elegant flavors.”
While traveling in Korea, Singapore, and China, Colon helped open an establishment in Singapore called Gustimo di Roma, which later became a series of restaurants.
“We made homemade cheeses and charcuterie there; it was the first restaurant of its kind in Singapore,” he explains. “And it was a hit. We opened it with just 20 seats and eventually more restaurants of that type followed.”
At ‘Cesca, which has been open just a few months, Chef Colon strives to prepare simple, delicious cuisine from seasonally fresh ingredients. He describes it as “not crazy fancy, but a representation of authentic Italian cuisine.”
It’s hard to pick a favorite dish out of the ones that I tried but the Orecchiette, Spicy Pork Sausage and Broccoli Rabe was probably up there. Or was it the Fettucini with local prawn, garlic butter and farm squash that most captured my heart? Or the asparagus, roasted egg, black truffle, and smoked bacon? Who could tell?
While I pigged out, I managed to chat in between bites with Chef Colon and restaurant partner Don Romano about the original ‘Cesca in New York City, and what exactly inspired the crew to bring the concept south.
“Tony Mazzola, the restaurant's managing partner, wanted to bring ‘Cesca to Charleston after he bought a home on Seabrook Island and fell in love with this area,” says Colon.
“It just made sense,” pipes up Romano. “People appreciate food so well in Charleston; it’s full of foodies. A lot of the recipes on our menu are family favorites that have been well received here. Mazzola makes the Orecchiette with pork sausage every Sunday!”
Colon points out that the menu at ‘Cesca in New York City is quite different from the Charleston menu.
“Considering all the different places in the world I’ve been a chef, Charleston is one of the best because you can do farm-to-table all year round,” remarks Colon. “In Boston certain things weren’t available in the dead of winter, for example.”
If you’re craving a bottle of wine to pair with your meal, ‘Cesca’s wine list features inviting options for all budgets.
“We have bottles that cost $40 and bottles that cost $400,” Colon says. “And if you aren’t sure, speak up—we love to educate the tables on what wine pairs best with what dish.”
For dessert, I met with Cathy Duncan, ‘Cesca’s pastry chef, and sampled a delectable plate of cannoli with pistachio gelato, vanilla panna cotta, and tiramisu.
“I’ve been baking since middle school,” said Duncan, watching me scrape gelato off the plate with a fork. “I discovered I had a talent for it, so I went to culinary school. I never get bored with making dessert—it’s my passion.”
Passion seems to be the key ingredient, to not only the food at ‘Cesca, but to the entire operation.
“I think it’s the intimacy of food that initially drew me to this profession,” muses Colon. “You’re creating something for someone with your two hands; not many people get to do that. It’s rewarding to make a living doing what you love.”'Cesca Ristorante & Trattoria
5 Faber St., Charleston (843) 718-2580 Lunch Mon-Fri, 11:30am-3pm Dinner Mon-Sat, 5:30-close www.cescacharleston.com