We made our way into Ceia Kitchen and Bar for dinner on their sophomore weekend and settled into a cozy wood booth. The decor is minimalistic with oak booths flanking the wall to the left of the large copper bar. The warm wood matches the floors and is nicely offset by dark stools, block shelving filled with wine, and large mirrors above the tables. The mirrors tilt downward toward the diners, which adds some depth to the narrow space. For those with voyeuristic tendencies the mirrors serve double duty to provide a sneak peak into what others are ordering.
We are told that though the menu is Mediterranean in style ‘Locavores’ will be at home with the chef’s interpretations, and we found that to be true. We started with cocktails of Blonde Sangria and an Aperol Spritzer. The house made sangria was a strong cocktail, the wine steeped with brandy and garnished with fresh fruit. We loved the spritzer which featured Aperitivo liqueur from Italy. The sparkling drink was light and refreshing with notes of clementine and apricot. Though perhaps more suited for a warm weather menu, the drink was none the less delicious.
The night we visited the menu included a appetizer special of Salt Cod. Our waiter described it as “salt cod cakes” while the bartender was overheard calling them “fritters”. Neither seemed quite accurate for the cylindrical pillows that arrived with a dollop of caramelized onion aioli. Description aside, the “cakes” were crisp on the outside and filled with piquant reconstituted fish bound with creamy potatoes. The slightest hint of pimento sweetened the mixture and the plate was further accented with a sprinkling of smoked paprika and a small salad of pickled fennel, celery, and onion. The play between hot and cold, creamy and crunchy worked well. We later learned that this is a family recipe. No doubt it has been elevated in the hands of this competent chef, the homestyle flavors and the portion of three “cakes” was a generous start.
We were intrigued by the Steak TarTar which the menu described as being served with “fried quail egg, brussel sprout chips, pecorino, and sweet onion vinaigrette”. The moist meat tasted faintly of the vinaigrette which was applied judiciously so that the texture and flavor of the TarTar came though. Unfortunately our egg was a bit overdone, we would have enjoyed some runny yoke to further enhance the soft meat, but the brussel sprout chips were fragrant and greaseless and provided a great background flavor.
The menu includes choices of small plates of meats and cheeses that can be ordered individually or in groups of three or five. We enjoyed paper thin Proscuitto Di Parma and a slightly spicy Salami Toscano. The Proscuitto was buttery and the Salami was a welcome departure from the obligatory domestic staple that most of us see far too often. We look forward to trying other offerings, such as the Speck, which is a juniper flavored Italian ham.
Ceia offers a variety of options for your entree including some interesting sounding pastas. We jumped to the main course selections and opted for the Scallops and a special of Duck. The scallops arrived perched above “roasted corn and sweet potato risotto” and “tallegio fondue” and were topped with a “grilled peach chutney”. Each of our scallops were perfectly seared and barely cooked through, so often scallops are overdone so we were happy to have this chef handle them so deftly. The accompanying “risotto” could have benefited from a longer cooking time as the potatoes were not quite cooked through. The small sweet corn kernels were a wonderful crunchy foil and the tallegio added some lovely subtle flavor as well as the creamy texture for the “risotto”. We did not find that the “grilled peach chutney” worked with this dish. The texture was almost identical to the scallop and it was sweet to the point of being a tad off putting. Over all though the dish was a successful one that we enjoyed.
The duck special was billed as a “seared breast with a stuffed squash half with gorgonzola, pear and chestnuts and foie gras”. The dish arrived with the breast artfully fanned across the plate and was cooked as promised to a lovely medium rare. The duck skin could have benefited from further rendering but we found the breast seasoned well and flavorful even if the skin was a bit flabby. The squash half suffered much like the sweet potatoes from being rushed to the plate. We found it hard in spots but the filling was sweet and savory and what was cooked through we thoroughly enjoyed. The Foie Gras was seared well and beautiful in texture and flavor, clearly the chef’s skills shined here.
The wine list includes several interesting varietals and a good selection of choices by the glass. We enjoyed a Pinot Noir and a glass of very decent Cabernet, both were priced well and our waiter seemed knowledgeable and was helpful with the pairings.
Dessert at Ceia seems to lean toward the savory. There are a few house made choices including a 60 second chocolate sponge cake and a peach tart. Our tart was a bit overwhelmed by too much almond flavoring sadly the peaches were lost in the cloyingness of the accompanying cream. The cheese plate on the other hand was a revolution, served with a daily compote (ours was a beet and blood orange). We enjoyed a selection of three cheeses, though we had a hard time narrowing the field since all the choices were good ones. A glass of tawny port was a great appendage to the platter, though we noticed that the desert menu includes Grappa (unaged brandy form Italy) which we will definitely try on our next visit.
We found a lull between courses a tad longer we would have liked, but considering it was only their second Saturday in business we can forgive the timing. After all, our affable waiter was helpful and enthusiastic and the owner Nancy Batista-Caswell was positively beaming. As the dinner crowd got thicker, Ceia’s tight space quickly filled with a warm din of laughter and chatter. It’s hard for staff not to seem harried when a place fills up, but Ceia’s staff managed to dance through the tight spaces, swaying in and out from between tables as drinks were poured and plates delivered. Batista-Caswell wants Ceia to be a neighborhood gathering spot. We think she’s off to a great start.