May 15. 2018 9:07PM

Our Gourmet: Another new face in a familiar place


Sweet potato gnocci at Cello's in Candia hit the spot for the vegan Dining Companion. 

Cello's Farmhouse Italian

143 Raymond Road, Candia; 483-2000; www.cellosfarmhouseitalian.com

Hours:
Monday-Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Cuisine: Classic & rustic Italian.

Pricing: Appetizers, $7-$17; Salads, $9-$11; Pizza, $11-$19, Entrees, $14-$27.

Scores for Cello's
Atmosphere: 17/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 17/20
TOTAL: 88/100



As we learned with last week’s Our Gourmet review of Hudson’s Town Tavern, the restaurant scene is changeable. Places close; new ones open. Keeping with that theme, Our Gourmet recently visited Cello’s Farmhouse Italian, a newer venture that has opened in the space that had been Pasquale’s in Candia for years. We had the Dining Companion (DC) and FussBudget (FB) in tow.

Located in a little strip mall on Raymond Road, Cello’s has big plans to take over Pasquale’s space. When we visited, only the bar area was open while renovations were ongoing in the dining room. Our server told us they expect the dining room to open by early June, when Cello’s will be able to offer more elegant service while continuing to serve food in the more relaxed bar area.

Not much has changed in the bar. The ornately tiled pizza oven dominates as you enter and the large, horseshoe-shaped bar dominates the center of the room. Booths surround the outside — the back wall faced with barnboard to give the room a farmhouse feel, as does the heavy paper adorning each table. Tables crowd between the bar and booths. The Thursday night we visited, the bar and most tables were full. Many people seemed to know each other, which gave the room a homey feel. It did feel a little cramped and it was a little noisy. Adding to the noise was the incongruity of blues music piped in on the room’s speakers; we noted the incongruity of eating Italian while listening to “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Those quibbles faded as we ordered. We started with drinks: Cokes for OG and the 8-year-old FB, and a glass of house chianti for the DC. Billed to us at about $12 for the glass, that seemed high for a glass of house wine.

We chose Caprese ($9) to nibble on while we waited for our meal. Tender, fresh slabs of mozzarella were topped with crisp tomato slices and a pungent basil chiffonade, drizzled with a tangy balsamic dressing. OG and the DC were impressed with each bite, while the FB enjoyed the tomato only, and only if it was devoid of the balsamic. We also enjoyed a small loaf of crusty Italian bread, which OG and the DC dipped in oil and the boy slathered in butter.

The FB was adventurous, straying from spaghetti and meatballs (his go-to choice at most Italian restaurants) and opting for Chicken Tenders and Fries from the Children’s Menu. Three large chicken tenders arrived — each hand cut, we were told, expertly fried and crisp outside while tender and juicy within. These were some of the best tenders we’ve had in a while, but we could barely get the kid to touch them while at the table, as his newfound appreciation of crusty Italian bread slathered with butter had filled him up.

Besides delaying his drink, this is something for which we’ll need to beware in the future. The FB did enjoy a few fries, however, and enjoyed his chicken for dinner the next day.

Cello’s menu is a tad vegan-averse, with most dishes including either cheese, meat or seafood (or a combo of any of the three), so the DC opted for the Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($16) from the Specialties menu, which only came served with a brown-butter sauce and Gorgonzola crumbles. She loved the dish. An ample serving of creamy little gnocchi, made, obviously of sweet potato instead of the standard tuber, were doused with the rich butter sauce, topped with slowly melting cheese and softly wilting baby spinach. There were no leftovers.

Perhaps heartened by the courage shown by the FB’s venture from the tried-and-true, OG decided to steer himself from Cello’s Classic Italian menu that includes assorted pastas and sauces ($13-$19), parmigianas, marsalas and piccatas ($15-$19), and ordered the Short Rib with Creamy Parmesan Polenta ($18). This was a spectacular dish. Two hefty chunks of beef were served atop the polenta, with sautéed broccolini and carrots on the side.

The beef was perfectly braised and fork tender, topped with a dark, rich glaze. Each piece was perfectly marbled with fat, which had transformed into an intensely beefy-flavored, almost jelly-like consistency. It was marvelous. The polenta, however, stole the show. It was creamy and rich and comforting, with an incredible cheesy taste. The dish was so rich we had half left over for lunch the next day.

Despite everyone being full to the brim, we had to try the ricotta cheesecake offered for dessert, which was as rich and tasty as any we’ve had anywhere.

We’re going to keep our eye out for the opening of Cello’s dining room, when we’ll make another visit and enjoy the good food in the more elegant atmosphere befitting the well-executed menu.