Beatrix Foods, started by Chef Melanie Manuel, was an extremely popular vegan pop-up for the past year. As many of you might know, she has turned her pop-up success into a full-service restaurant--Celesta. Lucky for me, I was invited to a VIP soft opening yesterday at her new restaurant that is located on 1978 N. Farwell Avenue on Milwaukee's east side. My foodie friend Colleen, who has also eaten at Melanie's pop-ups, accompanied me and we both were excited about setting foot in Celesta.
I knew what I was getting into when I set my reservation. Good people, good service and a chance to congratulate Melanie and visit her new spot. I also knew the food would be good because I had the privilege to help taste test some of her future menu offerings. What I did not know is how this spot would look. Clear chairs, white walls and tables with a touch of navy and tan, seat pillows and honeycomb wall designs spoke to me in a serene way. Light bulb fixtures weren't just any ordinary light arrangement. They were different. This spot wasn't trying to be just upscale, modern or cozy. It was a combination of all three, and the food matched the aura with a touch of variety. Quick note: this spot seats maybe 20 people, but a patio is in the works so stay tuned on their instagram.
The food from above ranged from comfort to healthy, and their menu has a wide range of items to devour. Small plates and shareables are around $8 bucks, and options like their asian mushroom tartine was packed with flavor. I liked the cucumber, as it was fresh and a nice contrast with the mushroom tartine. It was a tad bit spicy, so for anyone who does not have a liking for the hots, be on the lookout for that or ask in advance. The presentation of dishes was also pleasant and stands out on the white plating they use.
The vegan arancini crispy lemon risotto with a bright tomato sauce (which we GLADLY dunked, slathered and covered on this arancini) was perfection, The outer crust was lightly breaded, and it was prime. Colleen and I both appreciated the lemon and risotto and its ability to stand out amongst the many flavors in this dish. There were also other small plates including a cauliflower dish and lima fries, which we were told have already been a big hit with customers.
Entrees range from chickpea and kale caesar salads to a soul food option that comes with baked beans, coleslaw and vegan mac and cheese. For dinner on this night, I went with the Korean tacos ($12) that came with fried tempeh, kimchi, gochujang slaw with togarashi corn and miso butter. I loved the flavor of the taco, as it was something I had not experienced before in a traditional taco kind of way. I will say I wish it was more of the hot sauce or another kind of sauce on the taco since the doubled corn tortillas (street style, baby) and fried tempeh are on the drier side. Regardless, the flavors were present when I ate this dish, and I wasn't sleep. This option is also gluten free! When I say that the corn on the cob was the best corn I have ever had in my life, I'm not joking. The miso butter lathered this corn perfectly and had me in vegan heaven. But actually. Colleen went with community bowl (around $10) that came packed with quinoa, smokey tempeh, onions, summer squash and sesame chili drizzle. She was satisfied with her meal as well and thought everything had a lot of flavor. The bowl was a nice size too, and there was not any skimping going on at this spot.
I should mention that prices here are very reasonable. We each got a drink, at around $7-$9, shared two appetizers, got an entree AND shared a key lime pie for $33 apiece. Not to shame Strange Town, but I would have left paying a cool $45-50 and STILL been hungry. I've done it before. That's not what I'm looking for in a meal when I spend that much money. I know there are folks out there who can spend $40 at a more upscale, higher-priced place, but not me. I am still fresh out of school, living on my own, and $30 is a lot of money to me. Honestly, it might always be but that's a story for myfuture personal finance blog/voice inside of me. Celesta will also serve deli sandwiches and other to-go options once they get everything settled with the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. I can see this place doing well in that category too, as people sometimes like to have that option of grab and go. Their hours are a bit scattered so call ahead at 414-231-3030 if you want to schedule a reservation. I definitely plan to schedule a lot of those in the near future. Or I might walk in the spot without one because I am the mayor, as I instantly knew multiple people when I walked in and greeted everyone like I was at a parade or VIP event. (Colleen said I was a mayor, not me!) Let's bring the focus back to Celesta though because she's a star in the making and I'm excited to watch her shine.