’Cesca chef Jason Colon loves working with fish, and he's been getting a crash course in Charleston's seafood scene. During his latest visit (he'll be moving to town later this month), he's tried the local oysters and has already come up with a fantastic idea for a first course that features oysters, blood orange, pine nuts, and prosecco. He's also made the acquaintance of the wreckfish, our peculiar local species.
Colon is moving down from Boston where he's worked as executive sous chef at Miel at the Intercontinental Hotel and as sous chef at Market by Jean-Georges. He's been working in New York's ’Cesca kitchen for the last five months in preparation for his gig as chef de cuisine at Charleston's ’Cesca, an Italian restaurant that will be opening at 5 Faber St. in the old Buccaneer space at the end of May.
Colon expects sourcing local vendors will be his greatest challenge because there are a lot of products and flavors he's not accustomed to. "But that's the fun part, too," he says.
’Cesca is owned and operated by Anthony Mazzola, a restaurateur from New York who is a part-time Seabrook resident. He also owns ’Cesca and Accademia de Vino in NYC and Big Bubba's BBQ in Connecticut. He got his start in the business as a wine guy, and even moved back to Italy to buy a vineyard. When that didn't pan out, he returned to NY and opened his first restaurant 12 years ago. He wanted to open a place in Charleston so he could hopefully spend more time here.
They've spent the last few months completely overhauling the old Buccaneer space, ripping out the massive fish tank that cost the previous owners thousands upon thousands of dollars. They've broken the wide open space down into smaller, more intimate rooms with warm lighting and golden accents.
’Cesca's menu is heavy on seafood, with a whole section for crudo. You can get big eye tuna, yellowtail, amberjack, snapper, prime beef, or scallop for $3.50 per piece, or you can do a flight for $20.
Half of the menu is full of smaller plates and snacks, perfect for sitting in the bar area and enjoying with a glass of Italian wine (I didn't get a look at the wine list, but with Mazzola's background, I expect it to be a good one). Sides for the table include marinated olives ($7), fresh ricotta and fettunta (garlic bread — $13), and roasted and grilled vegetables ($8/$14). There's a slate of artisanal cheeses that range from parmigiano reggiano to robiola. On the antipasti menu, you'll find octopus carpaccio ($13) and farro salad ($11).
The other side of the menu is dedicated to pasta dishes and heartier plates like whole roasted fish and Long Island duck. Colon says all the pasta will be made in-house, with both semolina and whole wheat versions available. The pasta tasting let's you try three for $23. (My three? Linguine all vongole, ravioli filled with goat cheese and herbs, and trofie al pesto.)
Ultimately, they describe the menu as being similar to the one in New York, but with flavors of the South.