Holiday festivities start early this year. But the crowd at City Cellar has been partying for months.
Under new management and a new chef, the big, brassy restaurant has made itself seem new again. Now subtitled American Modern, the high-ceiling, wood-trimmed showcase boasts a better bar, a cocktail lounge and some very good food.
Nibble on the toasted, smoked-salt-seasoned Marcona almonds or the "dirty chips" with Berkshire Blue cheese, bacon and chives and, before you get addicted to either one, have a mixed drink, a beer, or some wine. There are plenty of satisfying choices.
Chef Jason Damato's cooking encourages sharing. So don't argue over the lobster sliders, with brown-butter aioli and micro-celery, or the PLT versions, with Duroc pork belly, Bibb lettuce and tomato jam. Sample both. You'll also want the savory meatball sliders, softened with house-made ricotta and boosted by garlic knots.
Shrimp with rosemary-spiked grits, bacon and tomato; and the diavolo flatbread, with fennel salami, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, plum tomato, basil and red chilies get your attention with their casual appeal and focused flavors.
But you can skip the surprisingly dull caponata flatbread, despite the company of fresh mozzarella and charred radicchio; and the bland lump crabcake, which arrives carbonized.
Damato sends out a rich, creamy version of macaroni and cheese, with lobster, cavatappi pasta, Grafton Cheddar, Asiago and havarti that's recommended as a main dish or to be shared by the table. His special of cavatelli in a spicy pork ragu deftly delivers the heat but doesn't overwhelm the pasta.
Togarashi, a red chili pepper, did that once to a slab of tuna, turning the velvety fish inflammatory. A second time, the pepperiness was much subtler. A yuzu citrus-soy glaze enhances a combo of seared shrimp and scallops, though the shellfish are flanked by a too al dente mushroom risotto.
The union of andouille sausage, cannellini beans and zesty orange gremolata boosts the husky pork osso buco. You'll also savor the juicy Moroccan-spiced lamb chops with cumin yogurt.
Allow for dessert, especially the bananas Foster cream pie, with salted caramel and shaved chocolate; and the baked farmer cheese, with local honey and a raisin-walnut crisp. They finish ahead of the mushy cake in a jar trio.
And they're new, too.