I loooovvveee me some cheese. It’s a very pure, true, intense and passionate kind of love. So when I discovered Casellula (thanks CW!), a wine and cheese cafe in my hood, it fast and furiously became my favorite place in the city. And, for full disclosure, to further secure its spot on the top of my pedestal, ATO rented it out and proposed to me there in front of 50 of our family and friends…. so there’s that too ;-). I’ve far and away eaten at Casellula more than any other restaurant in the city (not counting my frequent Seamless orders while at work from [blank] and [blank] (ATO said telling you all where I Seamless would cause me to lose all credibility)), and it has always been a gratifying experience, both in terms of food and service.
We had recently unintentionally taken a long hiatus from “wine bar” (our loving nickname for the place)… maybe about 3-4 months (we usually go at least once a month, sometimes twice a month). While the menu usually stays pretty consistent, some new dishes had been added, and we were like fat hungry children in a candy store, overwhelmed and a bit frazzled by all the dazzling new options. They helped us out by sending over some complimentary lavender rosemary popcorn in brown butter honey (new item!). We feel so happy and special when we get free stuff: “we’re regulars somewhere! they really love us! they really do!” (It is damn hard to become a regular somewhere in NYC!). Delicious popcorn in tummy…. check.
Of course, you go to a wine and cheese bar, you must get cheese. Duh. And they have A LOT of cheese. And very good cheese. And the descriptions of the cheese are always spot-on, so it’s hard to make a mistake. The pairings are always unique and delectable. This time, from top to bottom, we have: (1) the Torta de Cabra from Extremadura, Spain, a raw goat described as “dirty, tangy and spicy”, and paired with pickled asparagus and balsamic; (2) the Azeitao, from Azeitao, Portugal, a raw sheep described as “pudding like, tangy, funky and sour”, and paired with sweet and sour lotus root; and finally (3) the Black Ledge Blue from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, CT, described as “natural rind, earthy, rich & creamy”, and paired with red wine cherries. As you can see from my selection of washed rind and blue cheeses, I like my cheese pungent, strong and funky. No point wasting calories on a tasteless cheese. The best are the cheeses that can’t even stand on their own; they need some sort of container to keep them from oozing their stinky mess all over the plate (for example, see Azeitao above). THE BEST. (My current favorites are the Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, and, as always, the Saint Agur blue).
Above is one of my staple dishes: the endive salad with Roaring Forties Blue, pear, macadamia nuts and pear vinaigrette. While a bit monotonous in color, and not the most photogenic dish, it is texturally balanced and wonderful in flavor. I always veer away from those crumbly blue cheeses, which I usually find too biting or salty. This is not the case with the Roaring Forties Blue, and it pairs so perfectly with the crispy, slightly bitter endive, sweet juicy pear and crunchy nuts. Plus… it’s like eating a salad, right? Trying to be healthy here.
A brand new discovery for this night: braised artichokes with roasted red peppers, shaved parmesan, croutons and mint. Served in a martini glass, and sitting in its own soup, my first reaction was that this would be a watery throw-away dish. Not the case. The artichokes hearts were super meaty and tasty, and the broth that they sat in was surprisingly flavorful. ATO especially liked the mint garnish, while I liked the little croutons that fell in and soaked in the juice, like in French onion soup.
Another new dish for us! We were feeling so adventurous that night. Smoked duck breast salad with curly kale, egg, croutons and creme fraiche vinaigrette. I’m very judgmental, and when this dish first arrived, I wrote it off based on its looks (it’s not ugly, it’s just not all that pretty either). After the first bite tho, I was a believer. The smoked duck was awesome, and I’ve always been a sucker for kale. The egg really added to the salad, as did those tangy red onions.
Ok, so brace yourself. This is my absolute most favorite dish at wine bar: the pig’s ass sandwich with 5-Spoke Tumbleweed cheese (cross between a Cantal Fermier and aged Cheddar), fol epi cheese (cow’s milk cheese produced in the Loire Valley of France), B&B pickles and chipotle aioli. It is ridiculously incredibly scrumptious in every way. I think, dream and crave this sandwich. It comes hot and melted, with a buttery crispy bread holding in the meaty salty pork and cheese and the crisp tart pickle. Be careful not to burn your fingers as you dip it in the chipotle aioli (which to be honest could make dog food taste good) before taking each memorable bite. I’ve ordered this sandwich so many times that it has acquired that familiar and comforting factor for me, like only the way your mom’s home-cooked food can make you feel. Getting ass is good…. real good.
Dessert. We don’t usually get it here because we’ve overstuffed ourselves with the savory delicacies, but today ATO came out strong. And I was feeling bold and decided to test the lactose Gods (in the end, I suffered). As if we didn’t already ingest enough cheese, we ordered the three milk grilled cheese on brown bread with apple ginger caramel. To me, it tasted like carrot cake. Maybe because of the cream-cheesish filling. I love carrot cake. Enough said.
We look forward to this moment at every meal here. When they bring us the perfect little bites of sweetness to end our decadent night: the goat cheese hazelnut truffles. Yes, more cheese. Encased in a lovely chocolate and hazelnut shell. And…. wait for it… sprinkled with a bit of salt. Salty sweet makes my heart sing. Another fantastic meal at Caselulla!
PS - it’s a small, intimate place and there’s usually a bit of a wait. My advice: order a glass of sparkly and WAIT. So worth it. Oh and I saw Tim Meadows there once. Cool.
PPS - next time I see Eric Ripert (and I’ve actually seen him twice already), I’m going to punch him in the face. He picked Ardesia as the best wine bar in Midtown West. http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2012/02/serious-eats-neighborhood-guides-eric-riperts.html Bleh! What do you know anyway, Eric Ripert?