One of the most pleasurable, if indulgent, ways to while away a Sunday evening in Schenectady is to treat yourself to a wine pairing dinner at Cella Bistro.
Chef Michael Cella and his family offer these lavish, hours-long affairs only occasionally, and I suspect their rarity makes them even more popular. Based on the two I’ve attended, they’re well worth the $65 per person charge (excluding tax and tip), certainly so if you love food and would like to know more about the wine that complements it.
The most recent event featured wines and foods of the Mediterranean islands, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house that I could see.
WHERE: 2015 Rosa Road, Schenectady. 381-2081, www.cellabistro.com
WHEN: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible
Beverly and I were joined by close friends for the evening, which began with a little socializing, a brief introduction by Julia Cella and then mixed appetizers — tapas — set up at tables in two rooms that guests could visit in whatever order they chose.
We first sampled the savory pastries of greens — a Sardinian pot pie — followed by a burrida, a grilled fish marinated in walnut vinaigrette. I enjoyed both, especially the fish. They were accompanied by three wines of Sardinia — Argiolas’ Costamolino 2010 and Selegas 2010, both whites; and Argiolas’ Perdera 2009, an intense red wine.
Representing Majorca were golden croquettas — or croquettes — and three wines by Ànima Negra: Quibia 2009, a white blend; and two reds, Àn 2006 and Àn/2 2009.
The Corsican ambassador was slow-roasted pork called Lonzu. It was presented with five wines from Domaine Leccia — a 2009 Patrimonio Blanc, a 2010 vin de table rose; a 2008 Patromonio Rouge; a 2007 Domaine E Prove Route and a 2010 Domaine E Prove Blanc.
We then took our places in the main dining room for the first course of the evening, a ntakos salad from Crete and grilled halloumi cheese. The latter was a treat. Halloumi cheese, a tradition of Cyprus, is known for its ability to withstand grilling without melting. The salad, a typical “meze” or light meal, consisted of fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, chick peas, hearts of palm, red onions, roasted peppers with an oregano vinaigrette and toasted flatbread topped with the grilled halloumi. The wine for the first course was a Santorini 2009 by Atlantis, an easy-going white from the volcanic island whose name it bears.
Between courses there was running commentary from a wine expert which we appreciated not only because we wanted to know more but also because it gave us an opportunity to rest before the next course arrived.
Curlgiones — or Sardinian ravioli — made up the second course. The pasta was stuffed with sweet peas, potatoes, Pecorino cheese and mint and served with either a vegetarian tomato sauce or sauce with lamb sausage. It was a delightful dish, with the classic peas and mint combination providing a lovely intensity of flavors. The wine was by Argiolas, a 2009 Isola dei Nuraghi, blackish with ruby highlights from grenache grapes, fruity with spice highlights that made for a good foil for the rich lamb sauce.
The third course of the evening was either Il Coniglio con Salsa Cacciatore or Cinghiale con Salsa Cacciatore, the first being rabbit and the second wild boar, each simmered in “hunter’s” sauce with tomatoes, red wine, wild mushrooms and herbs and served over creamy polenta.
I chose the wild boar and was well pleased with my decision. The pork was tender and delicious, well complemented by the Cacciatore sauce and the lovely polenta.
The wine was one of Sicily’s most famous, a 2007 Nero d’Avola by Regaleali, a ruby red intense enough to partner with the richness of the rich Cacciatore.
Our evening concluded with the dessert course, a sampling of Greek pastries. There was one of my favorites, galaktoboureko, a semolina pie with phyllo, pastry cream and honey syrup, and traditional baklava. They were accompanied by a 1999 Samos Anthemis, a sweet muscat dessert wine from Samos, Greece. The wine is aged in oak to produce its golden chestnut color and tastes of herbs, honey and dried fruit.
We finished our evening with coffees and a big ovation for the kitchen crew, who were coaxed into the dining room for well-deserved recognition.
You can monitor Cella Bistro’s website to find out when there will be another Sunday wine pairing dinner. Also ask about the Wednesday Night Chef’s Table, featuring a three-course chef’s dinner with wine pairings. Reservations are required for the wine pairing dinners, and they’re a good idea on any night you plan to visit the restaurant.