Eat in enough neighborhood restaurants, and they can start to blend together. You remember you had roast chicken, but was it at the place with a chalkboard menu and natural wines, or at the dimly-lit spot with an open kitchen playing The Smiths? Both, probably. But there’s only one neighborhood place that feels like it was picked up from a quiet side-street and transported to a prime waterfront location in Dumbo. That place is Celestine.
Celestine is a Mediterranean restaurant with panoramic views of the city, the Manhattan Bridge, and all the wedding parties in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open, and the tables on the outdoor patio get that unmistakable aroma of sea air infused with a hint of pollution.
This is certainly not the only waterfront restaurant in Dumbo that’s made for holiday cards and new profile pictures. But most of those other Dumbo places are club-restaurants that got lost on their way to Miami, and Celestine feels much more like a neighborhood hang. Logs for the wood-fired oven are stacked in the middle of the dining room, and instead of indistinguishable club beats and servers trying to upsell you on an overpriced bottle of California merlot, Celestine plays Sly & The Family Stone and has casual servers who walk you through their various orange wines from Slovenia.
If the food at Celestine - a rotating menu of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes - were as enjoyable as the setting, then this would be one of those check-off-all-the-boxes spots that we’d recommend to everyone. But overall, it’s hit-or-miss. Some dishes, like the very rich morel risotto topped with a poached egg, are good. Others, like the flatbread with so much za’atar that it tastes like it’s been dipped in a mixture of Maldon salt and old weed, are not.
At any other casual neighborhood place, those misses might leave you wishing you were somewhere else. But at Celestine, the thought won’t cross your mind. You’re eating a casual dinner on the river, and you didn’t have to wear a tie or propose to someone or make a reservation two months ago to be here. Of course there’s roast chicken on the menu, but you definitely won’t confuse this place for that spot next to the 24-hour laundromat.
These dumplings are packed with minced short rib and served over a garlicky broth. They should be on your table.
The dips, like the muhammara (hot pepper) with walnuts and the hummus with pickled vegetables, are very good. But unless you eat them with a spoon, they’re tough to enjoy. That’s because the flatbread here feels like it was defrosted five minutes before hitting your plate and covered in way too much za’atar.
This dish is a study of extremes. The coarsely-chopped tartare is bland and could use some spice, while the chips are spiced too much. All you really taste are the chips, and you can find those at your corner bodega for a lot less than $17.
The mushrooms give this some meatiness and the roasted asparagus are great to dip in the puree underneath. If this were listed as an appetizer and cost $13, it would be great. But it’s an entree and it’s $28, so skip this and get a similarly-sized vegetable appetizer for half the price instead.
Other than the manti, this is the best dish here. It’s loaded with mushrooms and spiced custard, and topped with a poached egg. It’s very rich and kind of messy and overall great.
If you’re going to get an entree here, this should be the one. The leg is a little too spice-heavy, but it’s juicy, and our main complaint is that we wish it were 30% larger.