Ceia, the flagship restaurant of the Caswell Restaurant group which includes Brine, turned five last week. After a wildly successful opening in 2011, Ceia moved to its current location in 2013, more than doubling its seating capacity. Under the guidance of Nancy Batista-Caswell, this Newburyport restaurant has won numerous awards for its inventive cuisine. Batista-Caswell was named “Rising Star Restaurateur” for Coastal New England in 2014 by StarChefs and is preparing for the opening of her third restaurant, Oak + Rowan. This time the anxiously anticipated eatery will not be in Newburyport, but the up and coming Fort Point area of Boston. Local folks, don’t fret, Batista-Caswell has pledged her loyalty to our little seaside city via social media recently.
To start our meal, the group ordered a selection of cocktails. The restaurant was packed, and in some confusion our drink order was delayed. We were offered complimentary prosecco as a consolation. Free booze is always a nice way of saying sorry (even in marriage, people—nothing says “I love you and I was wrong” more than vodka), so if anything, this just enhanced our evening. One member of our party was a vegetarian, so the waitstaff was kind enough to recommend meatless dishes that were timed to come out with the rest of the groups courses.
As you would expect, all of the food on the tasting menu was sourced locally. There is something special about sitting down to a meal and recognizing the communities that the food originated from. Somehow, I had succesfully avoided eating my kids’ take-out pizza from Otto’s in an effort to arrive starving. Lucky for me, the portions were generous enough that I was thorougly stuffed post dinner.
Here is a run down of the courses:
First – House Cured Proscitto – Breezy Hill Farm, South Berwick, Maine
Crowd Says: Meat. It is delicious salty meat. You would have to be a fool not to gobble this plate up.
Second – Potato Pave, Trout Roe – Three Rivers Farm Alliance + University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extention, NH Seacoast
Crowd Says: Like the best McDonald’s hash brown you have ever had dressed up with a side of class. I wish it was bigger and that I could eat this every night.
Third – Mushroom Ravioli, Brodo, Cured Egg, Pork Bottarga – New Hampshire Mushroom Co., Tamsworth, NH
Crowd Says: The broth for this ravioli made me want to eat in private, lots of noises reserved for the bedroom during consumption. We asked for extra bread to mop up the leftovers and returned the plate bone dry.
Forth – Lobster, Wilted Spinach, Raisins, Sherry, Parsnip – Fishing Vessel Wendy Leigh, Kittery, ME & Tendercrop Farm, Newbury, MA
Crowd Says: This was a hit. No skimping on the lobster meat and the parsnips, raisin combo was a fantastic contrast of texture and flavor. (Some of my counterparts were still busy discussing the fabulousness of course three.)
Fifth – Wine Washed Ricotta Salata, Carta de Musicia, Cranberry Puree – Hatchland Farm, North Haverhill, NH
Crowd Says: After some ruffling of feathers because the dessert was decidedly not sweet, we settled into the ricotta and began to enjoy the surprise finish to our feast. Full disclosure, we all devoured the lemon dessert ordered by our vegetarian friend. So this dessert may not be for everyone.
Ceia manages to pull off a European bistro feel without forgetting its roots. With the quintessential Newburyport exposed-brick walls and the locally sourced food, you never truly lose sense of where you are and what you love about this city. But at the same time, it pushes the envelope and encourages us to expect more from our hometown dining experience. So Happy Birthday Ceia, here’s to many more years in our vibrant community.