9 605 King St Newtown, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Wednesday to Sunday 5pm to 8:30pm (takeaway and delivery)|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
It only takes five minutes for Andrea Nazzari to make you feel at home. That's a feat these days, considering his exchange with customers is limited to a warm greeting, handing over a takeaway bag and recommending a bottle of wine.
Behind his mask, standing sentry at a table lined with wine bottles, take-home negronis and a few baked goods, the co-owner of Newtown's Casa Mia is as personable as he would be at a dinner service talking through the succinct wine list.
Casa Mia opened on South King Street in June a few weeks before lockdown. As an eatery with an omnivore menu featuring dishes such as beef tartare with parmesan cream or stuffed quail with dry figs and smoked prosciutto, it stands out on this predominantly vegan strip.
"We serve authentic Italian food, regional food," says head chef and co-owner, Valerio Boncompagni. "The food is my grandma's recipes, traditional recipes, but reinterpreted in a modern key."
When dine-in returns, Casa Mia will offer a wider variety of dishes that celebrate regional Italian cuisine from the north to the south. There will be Tuscan fish stew, braised baby octopus with soft polenta, pork head terrine, and lamb rump cap with artichokes and cacio e pepe sauce. But for now, he's prioritising things that travel well.
The slow-cooked oyster blade falls into that category. It takes two days to prepare and cook, and as a result the tender meat is so tasty, when I'm finished I wish for a second helping. "We marinate it in red wine, cloves, black pepper, celery, carrot and onion for 24 hours. Then we reduce the wine, sear the meat and seal it to cook sous vide for 18 hours," Boncompagni says.
Although the dish could be reheated in the oven, he recommends a sous vide bag, which he'll provide if you ask. "You put the meat in the bag, put it for four minutes in hot water, and it's ready."
Pasta as takeaway is trickier. Unless it's a baked pasta, reheating isn't recommended. But even faced with the prospect of lukewarm dish, I couldn't resist ordering the beetroot linguine with scallops, avruga caviar and sour cream.
The beetroot gives the pasta a pretty blush and the gentle sweetness plays well against the scallops, smoky caviar and tart sour cream.
Things that do travel well and are happy to be reheated are any of the pinsa romana. The rough, rectangular pizzas were popularised in Rome a decade ago and are rare in Sydney. The crusts owe their crisp bottoms and fluffy tops to the mixture of soy, rice and 0 flours, proved over 72 hours.
Light and more-ish, the crust forms the base for toppings such as mortadella, stracciatella and pistachio, or speck, radicchio and gorgonzola, or Napolitana sauce with pork sausage, mushroom and smoked provola.
Trying times like these call for moments of festivity whenever possible. To that end, take Nazzari's recommendation on a bottle of wine.
"We don't believe in huge wine list," says Nazzari. "We know not every customer is a sommelier or wants to go through hundreds of wines. We have some wines from small wineries in Italy, and of course because we are in 2021, we've got what's popular: skin contact, natural, biodynamic."
Although the venue is still new, Casa Mia, which is Italian for "my home", already feels like a fixture in the neighbourhood, whether you're taking away a few pinsas for another night in, or you're dining in the restaurant to celebrate the end of lockdown.
"Valerio and I worked a long time for other people, and when we decided to open Casa Mia, we wanted it to be like when you invite family and friends to your home on a Sunday to eat. Casa Mia is our home, our food, our hospitality," Nazzari says.
Casa Mia Osteria
Main attraction: A creative menu that reinvents classic Italian dishes and celebrates the breadth of Italian cuisine from north to south.
Must-try dish: Braised beef shoulder. Marinated and slow-cooked over two days, the meat is tender and delicious.
Insta-worthy dish: Any of the pinsa romana for their colourful toppings, and exquisitely bubbled crusts.
Drinks: Amaro cocktails plus a well-balanced wine list covering Italy, Australia and New Zealand, that runs the gamut from classic Chiantis to modern skin-contact wines.