I have been hearing a lot of hype about Cerulean with all the pre-opening dinners they have had around town, and was hoping the food would live up to it. Hubby and I have been anxious to try something new and decided to give it a go on its first weekend officially open. This isn’t something I normally do because I like to give a place a chance to work out the kinks, but this time I just decided I’d try it and maybe not write about it. But our dinner was so good; I figured I needed to share.
The first thing you notice about the restaurant is how clean and modern the interior is—there is a giant wooden “nest” in the restaurant which looks pretty cool, but I was kind of glad we weren’t seated in there just yet because it still smelled of pretty fresh timber and of new construction, which I think would have distracted me a bit from the food. Once it settles in though, it is a nice slightly more private part of the restaurant. The rest of it is made up simple, streamlined furniture and several banquettes—although I didn’t think it was so modern that it was too cold. I liked the small vases of flowers on the tables.
The food overall was pretty damn good. I like the way the menu has very small plates (that range from $3-4 each and are maybe 2-4 bites depending on the size of your bite), medium plates, and entrée plates. We were intrigued by nearly every one of the smallest plates, so we decided to get all but one of them. The first two that they brought out were the corn macaroon ($3) and the mushroom custard ($4). The corn macaroon was great—two corn flavored macaroons sandwiched around a perfect, tender piece of pork belly sitting in a rich smoky cheddar flavored sauce and a smear of what was essentially like arugula pesto on the plate. It all went really well together and I appreciated the creativity of the dish.
The mushroom custard was probably our least favorite dish of the evening. They presented it in a tall skinny jar with the custard on the bottom and “herb crumble” on top. Apparently, the idea was that it look a bit like a terrarium. It was nice to look at, but not user friendly in the eating department. The jar was barely big enough for the spoon and it was nearly impossible to mix the two together, meaning the first few bites were pretty much all herb crumble which was a bit dry without the custard. The custard was served quite cold and that detracted from the flavor for me as well. Basically, this one was a misfire. I think it could be improved if the custard were warm, it was served in a more shallow dish, and with less of the crumble. But that would sort of be remaking the entire dish now wouldn’t it?
The other three small plate items we had were the “tator tot” ($4), the marrow fritter ($4), and the rabbit rillettes ($4). All of these were very good—hubby and I disagreed on a favorite, but agreed that we liked the entire lot. The tator tot was my favorite. It was a hot, crispy potato pancake topped with a teeny barely cooked quail egg served on top of pepper paste (a lot of “paste” type things going on). It was super crunchy, like a traditional tator tot, but made of fresh potato and just lightly seasoned. There were several sauces underneath—I am thinking green and red peppers were involved here. I liked the super crunchy texture of the dish. The marrow fritter was interesting. It was almost like a beignet—a deep fried dumpling kind of a thing. Because it was served on top of a fairly sweet apple cider sauce (with pecans and a fried sage leaf), it almost came across as a dessert. I could have happily eaten it as a dessert. The marrow came in the form of powder on top, which was interesting. Not the rich fatty marrow flavor you are expecting, but it added a subtle marrow flavor. It was good for sure, and well prepared, but wouldn’t say it was my favorite. The rillettes were really well done as well, and were the thing hubby picked as his probably favorite of the small dishes. Rilletes are meat cooked down with fat so that it becomes a spread of sorts. This was smooth, and I liked that it was served closer to room temperature rather than really cold. It had the intense meat flavor and when you took the crispy kale chip and just a little of the horseradish cream along with it, it was a great combination. The cream gave a little balance to the meat flavor, and the horseradish the touch of heat you wanted. It was really well done.
At this point, we skipped ahead to the entrée portions and at the suggestion of our server, both got dishes that involved pasta (several of the dishes involve pasta in them). I had the chicken sausage with red pepper fettuccine ($23). Hubby had the duck breast with lemon fettuccine ($28). Finally. A restaurant in this town taking care to make their own pasta and not just drench it in a marinara or alfredo sauce. These dishes took a protein and used the right pastas and other ingredients to make a cohesive, thoughtful and delicious dish. Mine included the pasta, the chicken sausage, gorgonzola, dried tomatoes and lime. And the whole thing was sitting in the bowl surrounded by creamy cilantro milk. There was pasta and the salty, rich flavor of the cheese and sausage (but because it was chicken sausage, it wasn’t too heavy), and there was acid! There was acid from the tomatoes, which were rehydrated and super tender and from the lime. And the cilantro milk added just the right creaminess. This people, this is what I am talking about when it comes to a well executed pasta dish.
And hubby’s was just as good. His had acid flavor in the lemon pasta and salt from pancetta and duck skin cracklings. The pasta was in a creamy carbonara sauce that was flavored with marjoram as well. My only complaint was that the duck was a little more toward medium than medium rare, but it was still exceptionally tender and delicious. I would say it was maybe slightly less complex than mine, but equally as good (well, I liked mine slightly more and hubby liked his slightly more). I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of his before he dug in, but I did include an “after” shot. Yeah, he hated it (he also polished off the rest of mine when I was full). The other thing I liked is that while they were not skimpy portions at all, they did not serve this completely over the top amount of pasta that puts me off before I even take a bite. And did I mention they make it in house? (I know I did, I am just really excited.)
Finally, we had the “chocolate and citrus” dessert ($9). We both thought it was pretty incredible. There was a little scoop of earl gray chocolate ice cream, little pieces of brown butter cake, and some citrus wedges and citrus flavored foam. What a great combo once again. Again, I loved the inventiveness and the fact that a chocolate dessert wasn’t so one dimensional. I know some will say foam is out of fashion in the culinary world, but it was perfect here.
The staff was very enthusiastic—they are clearly excited to be working there. There seems to be a great energy. I don’t think they have tried a lot of the food yet though—our server was a little hesitant talking about some of the dishes. I wouldn’t exactly call the service “polished” either, although it was very friendly and down to earth. Our server seemed a bit nervous, particularly with the wine service. I loved that they asked for feedback on nearly every dish—and they genuinely seemed to want to hear it (little did they know I’d be writing an entire blog post about it). Also, when it took a little longer than they wanted between courses, they brought us a free bowl of the sweet potato soup (it was good, although doesn’t tend to be my favorite thing). We weren’t even feeling like it was taking too long, but I loved the initiative they took by being aware that things were a little slower than they wanted and doing something to keep the customer happy.
I liked the old world vs. new world wine list too. It is a decent list but isn’t so overwhelming like some of the ones you see at restaurants. They have some interesting sounding cocktails as well as beers.
Yep, I liked it. I hope they keep up with the quality that we had. I did notice a TON of people working in the kitchen—hard to say if they were more staffed for the opening week than they might be later, but I look forward to finding out. I can’t wait to see what they put together for spring. Parking is a little weird, but if you walk a couple of blocks, street parking is plentiful (see now, this is a place that could use a valet, instead of the north side restaurants with giant parking lots). And hey, if you have been, or go, please let me know how your experience is. There isn’t a lot out there about it yet as far as people’s opinions. I for one am excited about this one though.
339 South Delaware Street