I can freely admit that my diet this week has been less omnivorous and more carnivorous. I disclose, also, that it was my intent to eat more fish but I just kept finding myself at restaurants where meat and cheese were the name of the game. Case in point? Last night's visit to one of my favorite restaurants, Casellula.
Last night was a cold night and Casellula is the type of place that makes you feel warm even if it's 100 degrees below zero outside. Possessed of all the warming elements of a fine New York apartment--high ceilings, exposed brick, hardwood--Casellula is the type of haunt that makes it impossible to feel ill-at-ease.
Which may be why the place was so crowded, a luxury in such rough economic times. In fact, my friend was halfway through her Xarel-lo by the time I arrived, ten minutes late. (I drank the Kingston Pinot Noir from Chile, by the way.)
We began with the miso-mustard pickles, a melange of whole baby carrots, green beans, cippolini onions, and cucumbers. (The pickles used to include radish; where did they go?) This recipe actually appeared, alongside an arranged cheese plate from Casellula, in last month's issue of Food and Wine. Next up, four cheeses, selected by the lovely and knowledgable fromager, Tia Keenan. I mistakenly failed to take notes and cannot tell you which cheeses we enjoyed (Casellula regularly keeps 50 or so in rotation), but I can tell you that, in order, they were served with a sage pesto, a chocolate hazelnut brittle, a red-wine poached pear that tasted of Christmas, and a butternut squash puree. Rather than serving a condiment to cover all bases (say, honey), Casellula pairs each cheese indivudually. A peek near the cheese station before I left revealed lemongrass fudge and candied rose petals, as well as other goodies.
Next arrived our crostini, three tiny pieces of toast topped with fresh ricotta, honey, and hazelnuts. Followed by a beet salad with goat cheese and, my personal favorite, the Pig's Ass sandwich, Casellula's take on the cubano. The Pig's Ass comes stuffed with pulled pork, house-made bread and butter pickles, ham, and cheese. The bread is buttered and cooked in a panini press until crispy. The sandwich arrives with a spicy aioli for dipping.
The kitchen sent, with compliments, a new addition to the menu: a short rib sandwich. Braised short rib comes atop a thick and toasted piece of focaccia and is topped with roasted tomatoes and onions. This is the kind of sandwich that would make any slow-cooked meat-lover (actually, I'm thinking of my sister here) drool over her keyboard.
For dessert, we ordered the necessary chocolate cake, a many-layered chocolate buttercream-frosted fiasco (and I mean that in a good way) that is drowned, tableside, in an ample helping of local heavy cream. To honor the holiday spirit, we also had the egg nog, served in a large cappucino cup with three small salty cookies for dipping.
And even though the meal contained no fish, it was exactly the kind of fortification I needed.
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe
401 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019