Café di Stasio blew me out of the water. While it’s on my radar, I never think of it when recommending a venue to out-of-towners (being all the way down in St Kilda), or looking for a lovely meal to catch up with friends over. So when I was invited to a lunch with the rising star of Italian winemaking, Alessandro Cellai from Castellare di Castellina in Tuscany, I jumped at the chance to try it out.
Through my writing work with Voi Tutti magazine, Italian food is always on my mind. Good, bad and ugly. Coming off the back of a couple of more ugly versions, I was keen to have my northpoint reset. Di Stasio and the wines of Alessandro Cellai did that for me.
Everything about di Stasio is old school, except for the stunning Bill Henson work hanging on the main wall. I walked in from a cold, blustery Melbourne winter day to be greeted at the door by not one, but two, handsome Italian looking waiters. Great start di Stasio, great start! They showed me to my party and lucky me, I was seated within spittoon distance from Alessandro.
Lunch began with a little plate of arancini. Hot, gooey, cheesy rice encased in a light but crunchy breadcrumb and deep-fried. As I ate, Alessandro began his introduction of the wines. Each wine throughout the day (and there were 8!) was explained in depth and then we tasted. For me, the only non-wine writer at the table, I was slightly intimidated by the amount of swirling, swishing and sniffing going on, but I figured I could either worry about it or enjoy the wines. I did the latter!
The pasta course was a beautiful, earthen home-made pasta with a porcini mushroom sauce. Mallory, the maitre’d, was doling out seconds and I desperately wanted to partake but remembered the Italian tradition of pasta, main, cheese and dessert so I reluctantly declined. We tried the Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggiale 2006 ($80) and Rocca di Frassinello Rocca 2005 ($90). While they were both very good, the Poggiale stood out to me. Wine writer Ben Knight told me Alessandro’s version was exactly how a Poggiale should be. Righto then, add that to my favourites.
The main course was a gastronomic tribute to the Maremma region of the Castellare winery. The local specialty of wild boar was slow-cooked with apple, chestnuts and served with wilted radicchio. Ridiculously buttered radicchio in fact. Again, it was perfectly cooked, not too gamey in taste and matched the wines beautifully. For this course Maurizio from Arquilla Wines, the distributor of Alessandro’s wines in Australia, generously shared some Castellare di Castellina I Sodi di San Niccolo from his cellar so we could compare the 1995 ($120), 2000 and 2005 vintages. That was a fun game! The wine writers all concurred that the 1995 was outstanding. I nodded along knowingly.
But then came the cheese course. I have tried gorgonzola before but not like this. Massive wedges of the best Gorgonzola Dolcelatte you can imagine, paired with Podere Monastero La Pineta 2008 ($63) and the piece de resistance, Rocca di Frassinello Baffonero 2007 ($220). The table was a buzz with the Baffonero, and it was the stand out wine of the day (according to the boys).
To round off the afternoon, we were served the Castellare di Castellina Vin Santo San Niccolo 2003 ($65) with a slice of divinely crumbly amaretto tart. Alessandro suggested the Vin Santo was a perfect match with the gorgonzola so I dipped back into that and POW, he was right. You know when you have a moment and realise that you are on the right track, you are doing what you are meant to do. That was one of those moments for me. I always thought everyone could taste the intricacies of the layers of flavour and notice the difference when wine is added to the mix. Apparently not! I have always had the ability to recall in great detail the taste of food and the sensation of what it felt like in my mouth. Textures, flavours, saltiness, bitterness, sugars. The gorgonzola/VinSanto combination for me, will be something I remember forever (I am salivating as I type!).
Even though I was there for a special lunch, I have no doubt di Stasio would hit the mark for a casual lunch (they have a $35 lunch and vino special) through to a very special occasion. I am converted.
Cafe di Stasio
31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
P: 9525 3999