i am constantly wracking my brain for good places to suggest for pre or post theater dining. usually i just come up with either all these super fancy restaurants or some on the super low end (see here), but nothing really seems to fill that need for a great in between spot. i want something casual, with good food that’s not too filling because we’re either eating way too early or way too late late, and an added bonus would be a pleasant, attractive atmosphere. basically, i want a place to take the fussy friends from out-of-town, the parents, or the grandparents, or maybe even the cousins (if they’re well behaved) before the show, andit’s shockingly hard to find.
fortunately, after lots of hunting, i think i have found my solution in casellula, a “cheese & wine cafe” (don’t really like the name, or the café in the name but whatever, it’s their restaurant). first, the cheese, and there is a lot of it, and there are lots of ways to try it, and as j and i are huge cheese lovers this was heaven. casellula has many many kinds of cheese on hand, relying on on approximately 20 different sources, both domestic and imported, and the selection changes daily.
on the night we were there, casellula had more than 30 types categorized by softness (with somewhat corny titles like “bloomy and soft-ripened” and “cooked and pressed”). they offer individual cheese tastings or flights with three cheeses paired together. casellula puts together some of these flights, and yet again giving them cheesy names like ”mixed emotions” and “italian stallions.” all this goofy wordplay did make me worry that we might be in tourist land after all. fortunately, the actual cheese and food made clear that this was the real deal. we got the “creamy goodness” which included epoisses from burgundy, blue ledge farm crottina from salisbury, vermont and oh my heart from lazy lady farm also in vermont. served with good bread, each cheese was paired with a delectable fruit, jam and one even had a carmelized onion and they were all delicious.
in addition to the pure cheese selection, casellula offers much in the way of food, mostly cheese influenced if that is even a phrase. we had the delicious “pig ass sandwich” with fol epi, pickles and chipotle aioli as well as the roasted beet salad served with buffalo mozzarella and pistachios (i was not as crazy about the latter which just didn’t seem to have that oomph or freshness i love from great beets). there are a few dishes without cheese like the wild boar sausage served with lentils and root vegetables, and the chicken wings adobo with coconut buttermilk (that sounded good) and a selection of cured meats are (bresaola, genoa salami and mortadella, for example). there are desserts though it’s hard to imagine indulging given the general richness of the mains (like a cinnamon raisin sticky bun with caramel sauce and cream cheese ice cream or the tapioca mascarpone pudding with candied fennel and rhubarb sorbet).
caselulla also has a decent range of wines by the glass and a number of what seemed to be reasonably priced bottles (but don’t look for my expertise here) all listed on the menu. the space was great — warm and open. service was good. attentive and quick, if a little bit sharp at the beginning which did mellow out. i did see some reviewers not so thrilled to maybe that occurs more often than not, and hopefully they will nip that in the bud. but for us, we left for our play happy and full, and will definitely go back to caselulla despite the fact that they could really use a good copy editor. casellula, 401 west 52nd street between 9th and 10th avenues, manhattan, new york, 212.247.8137.