WITH PANORAMIC VIEWS OF THE MANHATTAN AND BROOKLYN BRIDGES AND THE MANHATTAN SKYLINE, 1 JOHN STREET’S NEW RESTAURANT TENANT, CELESTINE, AIMS TO CREATE A MEDITERRANEAN OASIS
BY MATT SCANLON
Brooklyn Bridge Park’s 85 acres of sustainable green and other public spaces, stretching 1.3 miles along the East River shoreline, offered its commercially adjacent and park inclusive tenants with an opportunity that arrives perhaps once every few decade a place in the reclamation and adaptation of an entire waterfront. The jewel for any of these park tenancies, of course, is the area’s unobstructed views of no less than four bridges, two skylines, and of course its own verdant stretches. (The park’s final large scale build out, the five acre Pier 3 Greenway Terrace, is scheduled to open in the spring.)
1 John Street, a 12 story mixed use building, situated entirely within the park, includes 42 apartments, retail facilities, and an annex of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and is now spiced by a pivotal tenant in the form of the most pedigree rich restaurant opening in recent memory. Yards from the Manhattan Bridge, Celestine is a partnership among Julian Brizzi (Rucola, Grand Army Bar), Noah Bernamoff (Mile End Deli, Black Seed Bagels, Grand Army Bar, Otto’s Market), Joe Campanale (Fausto), and James Beard nominated designers Matthew Maddy and Nico Arze (Lilia, Grand Army Bar, Russ & Daughters Cafe). The product of years of collaboration, its Mediterranean focus—with a kitchen led by Executive Chef Garett McMahan (Perilla, The Harrison, Bouley, Baccarat Hotel)—was intended to complement the coastal aspects of the site.
“When Maddy and Nico first showed us this space, we were mesmerized by the view and the idea of creating a really special restaurant in Dumbo, which is, of course, in the midst of an exciting evolution,” said General Manager Brizzi, who was pivotal in transforming Rucola from an unassuming space on the corner of Dean and Bond Streets into a borough favorite.
Chef McMahan’s concept was to deliver seasonal, soulful fare, with flavors and influences “from Sicily to Beirut and all paths in between.” His menu is comprised of mezze, starters, mains, and larger entrees for two, many prepared on a wood burning grill and designed to share. The chef began cooking at fine dining beacon Bouley on West 21st Street and later joined celebrated chef Harold Dieterle at the now closed West Village eatery Perilla, where he spent nine years and rose from sous chef to chef de cuisine and partner.
Celestine’s Mediterranean focus isn’t accidental; it happens to be among the partners’ favorite cuisines, but McMahan is at pains to experiment with traditional dishes by offering novel flavor combinations. Examples of his ingredient restlessness include baked hummus with sumac and brown butter; tangy house made yogurt with dates and tamarind gastrique; and grilled and roasted Delicata Squash atop red cabbage braised in Concord grape juice, finished with whipped ricotta, orange, mustard greens, and spices. There’s also Short Rib Manti handmade Turkish dumplings filled with braised short rib and seasoned with fenugreek and pomegranate molasses, topped with garlic yogurt and onion marmalade, and a mushroom tart filled with black truffle puree, a variety of roasted seasonal mushrooms, and finished with vegetarian Bordelaise sauce, crumbled feta, and fresh blackberries.
“We thought that the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, while familiar to some, are still under represented, despite how complex, diverse, and delicious they are,” said Brizzi. “Folks are familiar with some items, like hummus and baba ghannouj, but appreciate our take on them. Other ingredients, like fenugreek or urfa biber [a dark burgundy hued Turkish chile pepper that’s famed for its sweet and smoky flavor], elicit questions when ordering but generally very positive reactions once at table.” For many proteins, the wood burning grill is utilized. Such is the case with Whole Grilled Market Fish with fennel artichoke dill salad and bittersweet urfa sauce; Grilled Lamb Saddle and Kibbeh with bulgur, Swiss chard, mint, and labneh (a yogurt based cream cheese); and Wood Roasted Chicken with Persian rice, saffron, currents, and butternut squash.
“The goal isn’t to present iconic dishes of the region in a traditional way, but rather to use interesting ingredients and techniques in ways that are familiar to diners,” added Brizzi. “The Wood Roasted Chicken entree, for example, is one that anyone would find satisfying, but it comes with preserved lime and saffron.”
Desserts are simple, but thoughtful. Standouts include a Sesame Crème Brûlée with a date rice pudding base, speckled with bits of fresh grapefruit flesh and a quenelle of arak sorbet; Saffron Apple Crisp with vanilla batak berry ice cream; and Orange Olive Oil Cake, with star anise, ginger caramel, and ras el hanout ice cream.
The interior is modern and uncluttered, yet vibrant and drenched in natural light, with 65 seats in the dining room, eight at the bar, and 45 more on an outdoor terrace (coming soon). The materials palate includes bleached oak and rich, turquoise blue tiles, with the space’s often hard angles softened by a collection of plants, vintage lamps, and antiques. The cement tiles, a particular passion of the designers, are handmade in Chile by a local craftsman; these baldosas are poured and pressed by hand before being laid out to dry, and finally shipped from Santiago on a three month journey to Dumbo.
Campanale, a partner and Celestine’s wine director, has curated a coastally focused list, with selections from Corsica to Slovenia, Santorini to Lebanon. His goal was to find small production good values while introducing new regions and varietals. The cocktail list was created by master barmen Kevin Baird (of Boerum Hill’s Grand Army, founded by Bernamoff and Brizzi) bringing eight original recipes, likewise infused with Mediterranean flavors. Standouts include Found You In The Meadow, with lemongrass infused vodka, bianco vermouth, and Afghan green tea; Man of Wool a scotch old fashioned with nocino, bitters, date syrup, and an orange peel wrapped date; and the bubbly East of the Sun, with gin, tamarind, lemon, and cava on top.
1 John Street / 718.522.5356 / celestinebk.com