City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill
1080 Corporate Dr., Westbury
SERVICE: Perpetual motion
AMBIENCE: Brassy, noisy party-in-progress
ESSENTIALS: Lunch, Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner, daily 4 to 10 p.m.; brunch, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations recommended; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible, one step from parking area.
The party started at City Cellar 11 years go. It’s still underway.
Perpetually bright, still fresh, the brassy restaurant that rose on the former grounds of Roosevelt Raceway has stayed a local magnet for high-decibel socializing, business lunches and any event that requires a toast.
Theatrical in style and artful in design, the colorful restaurant is loaded with exposed brick, dark wood, sharp lighting and a major floor-to-ceiling wine storage space that ensures no one will ever be thirsty. If City Cellar was as fond of beer as it is of wine, it could be the liveliest brasserie in Nassau.
And, given the number of birthdays celebrated on any given night, you can be sure the scene will be festive.
There have been occasional lapses in the cuisine since opening day, but generally City Cellar has stayed on point with dishes that have broad appeal, combining New American fare with upscale bar food, and Italianate forays. The results under executive chef Michael Abbatiello: win, place and show.
Nibble on a pizza while deciding on appetizers and main course. The pie with house-made mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, arugula and sheaves of prosciutto di Parma stands out, as do the burrata-topped pizza with caponata and plum tomato, and the “black truffle” production with Taleggio cheese, caramelized onion, mushrooms and a bit more arugula.
Keeping with the theme, consider a pasta. A special of airy gnocchi with braised short ribs, fava beans and roasted sweet potato arrives both refined and hearty. Short ribs also boost the husky rigatoni Bolognese. Then, veer American with the herb-crusted macaroni-and- cheese with Grafton Village Cheddar and sweet potato. It’s worth sharing as a side dish with your main dishes. Pasty corn risotto isn’t.
The best opener is tender and smoky charred octopus, a meaty arm atop avocado salsa verde and truly smashed potatoes, finished with a vinaigrette that hints of chorizo. Ahi tartare, with avocado, mâche and a citrus vinaigrette, glistens and tastes almost as lush. But skip the lump crabcake, which once showed up as if it had been blackened, with enough carbonization to require a scalping,
Overcooking also mars the wagyu beef sliders, which arrive grayer than a vintage flannel suit, though not nearly as warming. Neither chipotle mayo nor “horseradish Havarti” can rescue the trio. Your odds improve with the crisp chicken and filet mignon entries.
The horseradish-crusted filet mignon main course, ordered medium-rare, has no trace of pink. Instead, try the blue cheese-crusted rib-eye steak, which, while on the thin side, is juicy and flavorful. Better: a generous and tasty Berkshire pork chop, with farro, butternut squash, and Amarena cherry for an extra shot of the sweet. The Kurobuta pork chop, a menu mainstay, gets its sweetness from Marsala-laced jus.
Long Island duck breast, roseate and tender, benefits from the company of duck confit, roasted cauliflower puree, and chard. Ask for it at no temperature higher than medium-rare.
Meaty, sushi-red at its center, and perfectly seared is sliced, sesame-crusted ahi tuna, accompanied by Asian-inspired slaw, mashed avocado and a whisper of sweet soy. This rendition of the familiar treatment is refreshing enough to make it new.
Fittingly, City Cellar offers plenty of wines by the glass. And the bottles on the full wine list are chosen with an emphasis on variety. But you’ll be reading right to left for a while before finding choices less than $40. There are three types of “zangria,” by the glass or pitcher.
Snowy lemon sorbet is a tangy finale. Banana cream pie and a spin on s’mores are forgettable. But the creamy, New York-style cheesecake and a satisfying round of flourless chocolate cake, are easy to recommend.
They look good holding a candle, too.