Where does one begin after their first dining experiences at Celestino Ristorante and Bar? The seasonal mushroom menu that included my first experience tasting truffles? Meeting Partner and Executive Chef Calogero Drago? Tasting “only three percent of the menu” but possibly the best as recommended by our server? Pairing Italian Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian Syrah with a meal that began with Sicilian rice croquet and ended with Panna Cotta vanilla custard and strawberries…wait, that dessert was served with a small glass of chilled Italian Moscato dessert wine. Egads, lets just get started!
The Dishes and Wine Pairing
As is our custom in a restaurant that is new to us, we asked our server for advice on their best dishes and wines (in this case he offered them to us by the glass) for each. We began with an item not on the menu: Sicilian Rice Croquet paired with a 2011 Vitiano Cabernet Sauvignon. Our waiter said not to “judge at first page, like a book” and see how the wine worked with the food (as we all know Italian wines are made for food).
The wine was not as big and bold as a domestic Cabernet and paired with the soft, warm and inviting creamiest of provolone cheese in the croquet – it subtly complemented it. My husband Eddie said the wine opened up more with the oil and fat in the dish, I found it to be a pleasant palate cleanser.
Then we made a selection from the Seasonal Mushroom and Truffle Menu: Veal Carpaccio with Shave Fresh Truffle and Pecorino Cheese, paired with the same Vitiano Cabernet. Neither of us had had Veal Carpaccio or Truffle before. This was a treat! I picked up the aromas of the dish from at least a foot away, though no one item overpowered the other in flavor once I dived in – except the capers of course! Having no point of reference on what truffle tastes like (and no, for my food 101ers, it’s not chocolate) this root, this mushroom, had the strength of flavor of the finest cured meat, and against the firm cheese and delicate veal it was simply a wonderful discovery.
Next we moved over to main dishes, that we had split so we could try each other’s dishes. We ordered the Ossobuco all Milanese with Saffron Risotto and Risotto with Fresh Porcini Mushroom (our waiter exchanged the Risotto with Homemade Wide Pappardelle noodle so we didn’t have too much Risotto) both paired with a 2012 Adesso, made from the Nero d’avolo grape our waiter said was “an ancestor” to the Syrah grape.
Trying the wine on its own I noted great spice and dark fruit, yet very balanced with low acid and good tannin structure.
(This is where I must take a breath. When you look over the photo album on Facebook, you will see a shot of tricolored drying pasta. The Pappardelle noodle was cooked perfectly al dente, I had to wonder how they could do this. Eddie figured it’s because the noodles don’t need to be rehydrated, and cooks faster. But still, 90 seconds or 100 seconds, they have it down to a science.)
Now, back to noodle nirvana. Starting with the Pappardelle I thought it was comfort food at its finest: creamy, milky, buttery and meaty too, courtesy the flavorful mushrooms. Yet we were told that the only liquid in the sauce was white wine. There was NO cream in the dish. What made it taste like this? Our waiter came to our aid again and said that when made with fresh Porcini mushrooms it’s the mushrooms alone that makes the dish creamy.
Now, if you’re keeping up we have one more – and incredible – main dish and then dessert. Try to hold on because here comes Ossobuco alla Milanese with Saffron Risotto paired with 2003 Cersus 100% Sangiovese. Our waiter had asked if we wanted a domestic wine or a big Italian, we chose the big Italian because we had enjoyed the others so much before this. On its own I got aromas of dirt, blackberry, cigar…and dare I say mushroom? The taste was all blue and black fruit, balanced pepper, firm tannins and a staggeringly long finish.
Now, onto the tenderest of veal framed by an equally tender risotto. Both were creamy, and both gave into the wine cutting right through them, making you want to dive back into the dish over and over again even if…you are getting a tad full.
So here it is, dessert: Panna Cotta Vanilla Custard Over Strawberries paired with a chilled Italian Moscato dessert wine. Our waiter said there was a great selection of desserts, but this one, the Panna Cotta, would not be found anywhere else. Reminded me of a vanilla bean in fresh whipped cream though denser, custard though softer, a crème Brûlée without the hard shell. The flavor of the vanilla and strawberries against the orange in the Moscato was something to relish and linger over. And that we did.
We were early diners so we could select a booth or table, and we chose a spot close to the kitchen to watch things. At one point we were quietly serenaded in Italian as workers went about their business. Nice.
I took a tour around and was pleased to fine more than one dining room and a beautiful outdoor patio complete with an arbor, lights and a young boy that wanted to be in my photos.
At one point our waiter announced, “The Capitan, Senior Drago is here” and we watched as Partner and Executive Chef Calogero Drago went from table to table to greet his guests, making the evening that much more special for all. And yes, we got another photo.
We want to try more Italian Cabernets, we want to try the other 97% of the menu, and we want to go back for my birthday.
Celestino Ristorante & Bar – 141 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101 – 626.795.4006 –
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com