Vermicelli alla Vongole ($14)
It takes a certain level of old world guts to serve dried pasta dressed with nothing but clam juices, garlic, and olive oil in New York city, but this is the kind of dish that feels like its been going steady since the summer of '75 and shows no signs of ever changing.
Carciofini e Parmigiano ($13)
An excellent spring salad with a fresh, bright crunchiness and just a hint of artichoke's bitter astringency.
Ricotta di Bufala Indorata e Fritta ($10)
Mine were light, but had a bit too much color on its eggy batter, giving it a mildy sulfurous aroma.
Involtini di Melanzane ($11)
The red sauce makes its best case in the eggplant involtini ($11) where it comes ladled thick, a stack of pecorino and prosciutto-stuffed eggplant nestled deeply into it. There's more olive oil than you can hope for (or want to know about), making it an instant trip to Siciliy so good that you'll probably find yourself asking for a spoon to give yourself an advantage over your table mates in getting at the sauce.
Fritto Misto di Pesce ($13)
It should really be called calamari fritti, as there's naught but a few token shrimp tossed in amongst the crisp, grease-free rings.
Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci in Burro e Salvia ($12)
Celeste's ricotta and spinach ravioli is one of the rare perfect plates of pasta I've met. Ultra-wide ravioli that cuts with a firm bite but quickly melts on the tongue to reveal its gently seasoned ricotta core. The sauce is a buttery emulsion seasoned with sage and just a hint of truffle oil—a good, light touch with truffle oil is a rarity in restaurants—and it comes topped with grated pecorino.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($11)
Their great red sauce gets scattered with basil and folded into baked gnocchi.
La Margherita ($13)
With a nicely charred crust and fresh flavor (marred only by slightly rubbery mozzarella), this probably the best pizza in the neighborhood back when Celeste first opened.
Nicely browned by the wood-fired oven.
Medaglioni di Vitello al Limone ($19.50)
The $19.50 slab of veal piccata is similarly proportioned, and comes with some excellent crunchy fried potatoes that recall the slightly crunchier version you'll find at the Spotted Pig.
Petto di Pollo Mandorlato ($16)
A pounded, almond-crusted chicken cutlet the size of half a hubcap is tender and totally reasonable for its $16 price tag.
Ricotta Cheesecake ($8)
Tender, creamy, and not too heavily sweetened.
Medium Cheese Plate ($20)
The cheese are all smuggled in directly from Italy (shh, don't tell) and served with a pairing of home-made compotes and syrups.