Cattani: Refined simplicity
Behold the lunch menu. That most sacred sacrament of the Czech working week. Practically every restaurant in town offers a rotating lunch menu. For around the cost of a stravenka, you can have a decent meal, typically including at least a soup and main. But, “where would Honza dine?”
That question, presumably, was the inspiration behind a former segment on this blog, Lunch Files. And those early posts are the inspiration for this one. Perhaps this entry will mark its rebirth. And so, with my shiny new GastroPass card burning a hole in my wallet, this past month I set my sights on the city’s lunch menu offering.
As mentioned in the first Lunch Files instalment, the typical daily menu seems to focus on providing plenty bang for your buck, often at the expense of quality. And a big lunch often leaves me feeling lethargic, more inclined to take a siesta than to head back to work. Sorry, Honza, but no frankfurter soup and fried cheese for this diner.
One of my favorite spots for lunch is Cattani. My typical work day takes me around the city. With two locations, I tend to find myself near one or the other around lunch time on any given day. More importantly, of course, their lunch menus always offer something interesting and tasty and at good value.
As the menu and décor suggest, this pasta joint draws its inspiration from the city of Palermo, Sicily. Although the menu cannot be said to be purely Sicilian, as with most Italian cuisine it is simple. But don’t let that fool you. Focusing on homemade pastas combined with basic sauces made from good ingredients, the food is delicious. I have yet to have a bad meal there.
The standard menu lets you match a pasta and sauce of your choice. And although the sauces are nothing fancy (with the possible exception of carbonara), you really can’t go wrong. In fact, one of my favorite dishes at Cattani is the aglio, olio e pepperoncino with linguine. The simple combination of garlic and chilli sautéed in olive oil packs a huge punch and is a perfect accompaniment to the al dente pasta. Four ingredients full of flavor.
The lunch menu gets a bit more interesting, from classics such as all’amatriciana to more inventive homemade raviolis with seasonal fillings. Both of which I had the chance to try over the past month.
Amatriciana sauce is another example of how Italian cuisine combines a few simple ingredients to create big flavors. Pancetta lends its smokiness and umami to the sweet acidity of tomatoes, all topped off with salty pecorino cheese. The sauce was most recently served with campanelle, the oddly shaped conical pasta serving nicely to scoop up plenty of sauce with each bite.
For purists, the use of pancetta instead of guanciale (cured pork cheek) and campanelle instead of spaghetti or bucatini may appear sacrilege. Perhaps they would be moved to forgiveness, however, by the fact that in the aftermath of the earthquakes in central Italy in 2016, which impacted the namesake town of Amatrice, Cattani had the dish on heavy rotation with a proportion of proceeds being donated to recovery efforts.
The other stand-out dish I had last month was one of those seasonal raviolis. Riding on the wave of wild garlic euphoria which grips the Czech palette every year, this ravioli combined the green garlicky herb with ricotta cheese for filling and was tossed in an almond and butter sauce. Together, these ingredients created a more subtle cheese and onion flavor profile with the butter and toasted nuts adding oomph and the perfectly cooked pasta providing texture and sustenance.
Other recent noteworthy dishes included a venison ragú, eggplant filled with Bolognese and baked with mozzarella, and chicken cacciatore (hunter’s style) with spinach polenta. The lunch menu also typically features two types of soup and a changing variety of lasagna. Standard pasta dishes go for 115 CZK, and a small soup can be added for 15 CZK. Specialty dishes, such as the aforementioned ravioli, usually cost a bit more.
Although more than a stravenka, you get what you pay for. And while the food may seem simple, the dishes are delicious and the quality at Cattani is without question. Even Honza would agree.