Licata / Tasting the hospitality of the chef Pino Cuttaia**
It is not very common to be welcomed in a restaurant and be walked to your table directly by the chef, especially in a starred restaurant.
Different story in Licata, a small town 40 km away from the beautiful valley of temples and kingdom of one of the most famous and appreciated Sicilian chefs - Pino Cuttaia.
The area where the restaurant is located is not particularly attractive, but the restaurant transmits an incredibly familiar atmosphere, decorated with a giant painting of a cat looking at you from a terrace where the laundry is drying on the sun.
And immediately memories go back to childhood spent in Sicily and the smell of the 'sun' on fresh linen: a smell that in summer was always followed by the one of the grass or 'burning' tomatoes.
'Per le scale di Sicilia' - 'Along the stairs of Sicily' - is the name of the menu we opted for, which at the same time is the title of the chef's book. A 3-hour culinary journey through Sicilian tradition, with its ingredients and generosity, flooded by volcanic grapes of Mount Etna.
Sicily that is proudly represented in its simplicity, with tomato concentrate served spread to be scratched from the plate along with homemade bread, as recommended by the chef, or the revamped street food - arancina with red mullet ragout and fried red mullet sauce, all the way to black pig of Nebrodi served with borlotti beans, the brioche with lemon sorbet or the more classical cannolo and 'gelato al pezzo'.
The first dish we were served was the exaltation of the simplicity of the products: cod and potatoes: pizza crust in a shape of a grissini ring holding pine-smoked cod and potato foam... An extremely tasty and rich dish crowned by the sweetness of red onion. A great start!
We talked about hospitality and generosity of chef Pino Cuttaia. Well, the welcome dish is a dish that you would like to be charged extra for!
The cloud of buffalo mozzarella is so gracious yet flirtatious, flamboyant yet delicate... In short, a bite of heaven! And to accompany this fresh milky orgasm there was a juice of datterino tomatoes to add in a twist of acidity and sweetness.
The dish is eaten with a spoon since mozzarella is shredded, filtered and worked to become a tick foam, and eventually covered by a foil of milk... And no, it is not mannerly to ask for a second portion!
'Un si ecca via nenti!': 'Nothing is thrown away!' This was waiter's response after I asked about the texture of meringue that supported the octopus while imitating a rock.
These words in fact represent the fundaments of Sicilian culinary tradition: a region always too poor to afford food waste, and often forced to invent solutions on how to use the most humble ingredients to their best: cotoletta eggplant is used to replace the more expensive red meat; the bread crumbs on top of a pasta are used as an alternative to cheese; both zucchini fruit, flower and leafs are considered edible, and delicious too!
For this particular dish, even the cooking water where the octopus was boiled was used as a sort of a stock after it was mixed with chickpeas and mussels and turned into a sublime dish base.
All in all, an extraordinary dish, cooked till perfection in a very classical and traditional way!
P.s. Whoever else it was, would've probably cooked the octopus sousvide. But not Cuttaia! And not with such superior ingredient quality, born and raised by Sicilian sun, soil, water and air!