CELESTINO RISTORANTE & BAR
ITALIAN DELIGHT IN THE HEART OF PASADENA
“Are you ready to start your feast?” our affable waiter named Giorgio asked as we sat down to dinner at Celestino in Pasadena.
For those of you who don’t know, for the last 17 years Celestino has delighted the palates of guests by treating them to a delightful taste of authentic Italian cuisine. When it comes to fine Italian dining in Los Angeles, the famed Drago Brothers are in a league all their own. The Dragos have owned and operated some of the most popular high-end Italian restaurants since the ‘80s, including Il Pastaio, Il Fornaio Beverly Hills, Tanino Ristorante Bar in Westwood, and Drago Centro in downtown.
Celestino actually started in Beverly Hills but has since relocated to Pasadena where incredible seasonal cuisine, made with the finest and freshest ingredients, comingle with an elegantly casual environment where every customer is made to feel like family. The treatment we received from Giorgio was first rate and a benchmark of what service should be.
While I found it difficult to find a red wine that I truly enjoyed before finally switching to a delightful bottle of white, it’s good to know that Celestino only charges a $10 corkage fee per bottle, a deal too good to be true, so plan ahead and bring your own bottle of wine that’s to your liking.
Celestino often has an amazing array of mushrooms, and when they are available, do make sure to feast on them. The Grilled Mushroom Porcini is tasty and hearty and so oversized that you cut and eat it almost like a piece of steak. Also, the Polenta con Funghi (mushrooms over corn meal or porridge) is another winner. These aren’t your typical starter items ala calamari and they really set the tone for an outstanding and novel dining experience.
Currently, Celestino is offering a brand new Black Truffle menu with a collection of authentic, old-world eats. We sampled a couple of items, including the Soft Polenta with Mushroom in Fontina Cheese and Shaved Black Truffle Sauce—absolutely amazing—and the phenomenal Tuna Carpaccio with Mushrooms and Truffles.
Taking our cue from Giorgio, we skipped on tried and true favorites like lasagna and spaghetti and absolutely relished his favorite dish, Risotto al Nero di Seppie (Risotto with Squid Ink Sauce) where the ink from the squid actually turns the rice black. This dish is so full of flavor that it is a must order. It immediately became an instant favorite.
Another item that delighted was the Mezzelune d’Anatra con Salsa di Funghi, Mascarpone e Mirtilli (Half-moon Ravioli stuffed with Duck, Mushrooms, Mascarpone and Blueberry Sauce). Again, the flavor was out of this world. The savory ravioli and duck, with a hint of blueberry sauce, helped create a zesty and inspiring dish.
A great plate to share is the creamy and oh so rich Gnocchi Quattro Formaggi (Potato Dumpling with Four Cheeses Sauce). Because it is so rich it’s probably too much for one person, so instead think of it as a wonderful appetizer to split.
When it comes to your entrée, you can’t go wrong with the Bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone Steak Florentine Style) as it will please any meat lover. Looking for a non-meat item, the Tortelloni di Zucca al Burro e Salvia (Tortelloni Stuffed with Pumpkin with Cream, Butter and Sage Sauce) is a great choice.
Another winning entrée item that Giorgio recommended was the Veal Scalapini with Truffles. It was another absolute winner! The hearty veal with the aid of the truffles really helped craft a dish that was unbelievably full of flavor.
Dessert was really pushing the bounds of gluttony but since we did look at this as a “feast,” we went with the Panacotta, which was delightful. A glass of Grapa—an Italian grape-based brandy that contains 35%–60% alcohol—courtesy of Giorgio cleansed the palate but be careful as it’s extremely potent.
Dining at Celestino was easily one of the best Italian meals I’ve had in ages. While I do love Dan Tana’s and call it my favorite restaurant in town, that has a lot to do with ambiance and history, whereas Celestino simply knocked me out and won me over. It was so good I went back two days later to dine on my birthday. Go, feast and prepare for the most satisfying food coma of your life.
Celestino is located at 141 S. Lake Ave in Pasadena. Hours: M-F 11:30am to 2pm; 5:30pm to 10:30pm; Saturday 5:30pm to 10:30pm; Sunday 5:30pm to 9:30pm. Call 626-795-4006
By: Jose Martinez
Some photography courtesy of Celestino