"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mondays at Celeste - December 27, 2010 & January 3, 2011

I hate Mondays – nothing personal, but Monday just has the shittiest luck of being the first day of the week. In order to get into the mood, you can sing along the Carpenters song, “Rainy days and Mondays…” There is really nothing to do but frown on Mondays; but if there is a bright spot, it is Celeste.

Focaccia with Robiola cheese and Truffle Oil

Celeste is great on all 361 days of the year (they do take four days off); but it is exceptionally lovely on Mondays. The secret is the Monday special pizza – focaccia with Robiola cheese, drizzled with truffle oil. I am surprised that even the regulars often do not know about this special; and I am truly puzzled that diners on Mondays can order anything else at all after being in the presence of the powerful perfume permeating from the focaccia – are they microsomatic or is it a complete loss of olfactory sense? Initially, my nose was the one that found this incredible focaccia years ago; and that was what converted me from an avid fan to a fervent missionary of Celeste.

The first thing you notice will be the aroma: A sudden waft of angelic fragrance will stop you in the middle of your sentence. The smell is so enchanting and mesmerizing that you simply forget lesser things in life – e.g. what was I saying? It is no wonder that some villagers go a little nuts in the truffle season. Is it coming to my table? – My heart beats faster (it is absolutely maddening when the long-awaited focaccia brushes past you to another table). When it finally arrives in its golden crusty glory, you just want to prostrate in front of such intense beauty of perfection. The thin crispy focaccia still retains a subtle chewiness, while the fresh Robiola cheese, sandwiched in the middle, is creamy and gently tangy enough to provide a spice up your truffle-induced and truffle-infused hallucination. The focaccia and Robiola alone would have already been excellent; but the truffle oil elevates it to divinity. The golden crust, punctured with tiny holes to let the air out, now absorbs the fantastic truffle oil so sensual that it makes me want to weep in pure ecstasy.


How did I call Eataly’s bluff? Mario Batali neglected to include burrata in the mozzarella station. Burrata is a type of mozzarella made of buffalo milk (by the way, mozzarellas are supposed to be made from buffalo milk; that is why regular fresh “mozzarellas” sold in stores are so gummy) and cream. It is a little pocket of delight: When you cut it open, the cream runs out all over the plate. Celeste often has it as a special on the menu – the beauty of it is, you do not know which day. Served Caprese style with tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil, it is a dazzlingly seductive appetizer. By the way, Celeste uses very good olive oil – herbal, green, grassy and light.

Gnocchi in Four Cheese Sauce

Celeste’s regular menu includes gnocchi in tomato sauce, which is what I would like to have when I am sick (I never lose my appetite for some reason). However, what if you take those small cuties and combine them with four cheese? That is like having a Barbie and a Ken and all the rest of the cast. The sauce was expectedly rich but not overpoweringly so: While the blue cheese and the parmiggiano reggiano added depths of flavors to the sauce, the pungency of the blue cheese and the sharpness of the parmiggiano were mellowed out by the mozzarella and the fourth cheesy friend. This creamy quartet enfolded plump, soft and still chewy gnocchi. A little bonus of this dish would be the ad lib cheese fondue, if there was any of that crusty rustic bread left.

Filet Mignon with Arugula and Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano

Arugula, although a perfect companion to meat – be it steak, sausages or prosciutto – is an underused side vegetable to meat dishes in New York City. A thin crust pizza with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto (you have to put the prosciutto on the pizza after it is done) and piled high with arugula is my all time favorite – a favorite that I cannot find anywhere in the Tri-State area. Celeste’s version of filet mignon used to be a wonderful answer to this arugula problem. Thinly sliced filet mignon – best cooked medium rare – were served over a spicy baby arugula salad and topped with shaved parmiggiano reggiano. The acidity from the vinegar and the herbal spiciness from the greens superbly complemented the cut of beef which was more known for its texture, not flavor, while the salty parmiggiano seasoned the dish. I liked to use my slice of filet mignon to roll in the arugula and parmiggiano to make a bundle for safe passage. This had been a frequent special at Celeste (or the filet mignon and I had shared the same wavelength back when I was a weekly at Celeste), and I had always succumbed to it. Thus, it is with the deepest regret that I say that the last few times this dish had been a failure: The meat would be overcooked and the arugula lacking; even the shavings of parmiggiano could not mask the poor execution. Since the chicken liver in balsamic has also turned from excellent to mediocre, I wonder if Celeste has begun to eschew meat in place for seafood and other dishes.

Ricotta Cheese Cake

Being on Celeste’s menu as long as Celeste itself, this simple dessert is often overlooked, underestimated and underappreciated as a dessert choice, among the homemade gelati (I am still waiting for the Marsala special to come back) and tiramisu (tiramisu is good, but not spectacular as mine is superior). When I am blessed with a big slice (Celeste is moody), I feel touched. The cake is a masterpiece of balance: Light and rich, creamy and crumbly, and sweet and sour, all at the same time. Slices of strawberries add an extra freshness to this heavenly dessert.

Address: 502 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 874-4559

No comments:

Post a Comment