As a food lover living on the Upper West Side, I’m surprised its taken me this long to try Celeste, a neighborhood staple. This tiny Italian restaurant serves some of the best, authentic dishes on this side of the Island. I’m insanely grateful to my friend, Valerie for finally getting me here for dinner.
My Dad claims you can tell a great restaurant by its customer base. At Celeste, the regular customers engage in conversations with the waiters and owner Carmen, in fluent Italian. But never once did I feel out of place among the locals who come to Celeste for a genuine taste of home.
The restaurant is constantly crowded, loud and bustling. Delicious dishes are placed at the tables next to you, as you stare in envy since you’re practically seated on top of one another. But its one of those places where you don’t mind the crowded and loud nature of the restaurant. If I had an Italian grandma around the holiday season, I feel like her house would look like this.
We looked over the Italian wine list, ultimately deciding on a bottle of red I could hardly pronounce. The list is extremely reasonably priced like the entire menu.
We glanced over at the table next to us eying their delicious food. The smells in the restaurant remind me of being back in Italy with olive oil, tomatoes and basil fresh in the air.
As the waiter began to read off the specials, Valerie and I immediately glanced at each other when the world “squash blossoms” crossed his lips and we stared at the dish placed on the table next to us. We ordered that without hesitation as out appetizer. For the main course, we decided on the special pasta of the day.
The beautifully, fried zucchini (or squash) blossoms were served on a bed of arugula with a light anchovy dressing.
The blossoms were light and delicious, despite their deceivingly fried exterior. The inside of the flower was stuffed with a mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheese, giving two different textures and flavors when melted. The creamy ricotta mixed with the melted mozzarella, which acted like a binder between all the components. The crunchy exterior gave a necessary element of flavor and crunch, followed by the subtle sweetness of the squash blossom. The bitter arugula and salty anchovy dressing acted as the perfect, fresh counterbalance to the blossoms. It was absolutely delicious and one of the best interpretations of a dish I love, but always forget about until its offered to me.
The special pasta arrived shortly after, filling up the entire plate. I couldn’t wait to dig in.
You can taste the difference between homemade pasta and the boxed kind. With one bite, and no description for the waiter, I knew this was the good stuff. There’s a light freshness and better bite to fresh pasta. The way al dente is supposed to be. The fresh mozzarella slightly melted into the pasta and the notes of fresh basil played through the entire dish. I have a weakness for eggplant, so I found myself devouring the rich pieces. Every component of this dish was made with such care. You could feel the time, effort preciseness that went into this dish. It was the most wonderful Italian pasta I have had in a long time.
By the end of the meal, I was perfectly full and content as Carmen, the owner came over and inquired about our dishes. You can genuinely feel the care and pride that goes into running this restaurant. Carmen works to remember everyone (he knew Valerie) and I introduced myself so he’ll hopefully remember me on the next of many visits back to Celeste.
Some of the best Italian food comes out of the Kitchen of Celeste. Their wood-burning pizza oven created some dishes I was drooling over as they were placed around me. They don’t take reservations, but the wait is definitely worth it. The restaurant is also cash only, which might be why they can keep prices so low. I don’t think any dish on the menu was over $15, which for Manhattan, let alone the Upper West Side is slightly unheard of. No matter where you are in the city, if you’re craving Italian food, there’s no other place to go.
Celeste – 502 Amsterdam Avenue – New York, NY
Location: Upper West Side, NY
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Date Night, Impressing Foodies
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Zucchini Blossoms, Pasta Dishes, Wood-Oven Pizza
Notes: Cash Only