At some point this holiday season–or any other season, really–you may find yourself, as we sometimes do, taking in some Times Square, Broadway theater, or Rockefeller Center-based entertainment. And when you do, you'll need a place to eat. And if you're in the mood to eat lots of good cheese dishes in NYC served in many different formats, and drink lots of good wine, that place should be Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe.
Brian Keyser opened Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe in the summer of 2007, right in the center of the restaurant revival that's been transforming that bustling stretch of Ninth Avenue from 42nd to 59th Streets. When we first went to Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe, a couple of times a couple of years ago, the food was mostly excellent, but the tables were mostly empty. This week we finally returned, prompted by a tweet from a Glenwood resident, and the place, we are happy to say, was packed. More important, the food stood up to our fond memories of cheese-dishes past.
Casellula's Selection of Cheese Dishes in NYC
We started this time with a three-cheese flight from the extensive (and, to us amateur cheese lovers, slightly overwhelming) cheese list, which is cleverly separated into sections such as "Bloomy and Soft-Ripened", "Pressed and Hard", "Washed", and "Blue". Unable to decide, we asked the fromager to have fun and pick for us–one soft, one hard, one washed–and they were all terrific, and all well-paired with a reduction of this or a sauce of that. A nice presentation, and very tasty, if a little pricey ($18 for three) for the amount of bites you actually get.
Also good at Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe are the savory plates, small, medium, and large. The fun and flavorful Chistorras, for example, are spicy, skinny chorizos wrapped in crispy pastry, topped with a radish pico de gallo that was sliced so thin, it was like eating vinegary flower petals. And if there's a "composed cheese plate" on the menu the night you visit, order it. We were once fortunate enough to be offered an excellent Gratineed Comte–a generous slab, soft and nutty–combined with a pile of rich oxtail rillet, glazed little onions, perfectly pickled ramps and slices of fennel, and enough slices of toast to scoop it all up.
The Chicken Liver Pate is a ramekin's worth of smooth, peppery, earthy goodness, topped with creme fraiche, and accompanied by a tart, pickled, rhubarb marmalade. The Chicken Wings Adobo were crispy, meaty, and juicy, with a lively pepper sauce and a, sadly, somewhat dry and bland blue cheese corn muffin. Finally, there's Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe's signature dish, the spectacular Pig's Ass Sandwich. Combining fatty, juicy, marinated pork butt with two kinds of heady cheese–cheddar and foi epi (like a swiss)–and sweet B&B pickles, all pressed together on wonderfully crunchy ciabatta and served with a side of chipotle aoli, this pseudo-Cuban sets off beautiful explosions of flavors and textures in your mouth.
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe details
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe is located on 52nd Street, just west of Ninth Avenue. The room is small and pretty, the service friendly, your fellow cheese-eaters and wine-drinkers young and good-looking. Casellula is open every day from 5:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., and it makes for some great after-work, pre- or post-theater food and drink. For more information and a look at a sample menu, go to the Casellula website, here.