To truly experience Richie Cecere’s, you must visit at least twice. On the first trip, eat downstairs, where dark paneled walls, comfortable black-leather banquettes, and pristine napery create a steak-house setting. The next time, request a table upstairs, where the menu and prices are the same but the setting is a glamorous 1930s-style nightclub, complete with an eighteen-piece band and dancing showgirls with feathers. Owner and namesake Richie Cecere is a drummer and a crooner who grew up in 1960s Newark, where he idolized Buddy Rich and played with a local band. He and his band perform three shows a night here every Friday and Saturday.
Cecere took seven years to create this magnificent building with architect John Sherman. The first-floor bar features an Italian white-onyx top, mahogany paneling, black-granite stonework, and many other details imported from Europe. Beneath the main level are two private rooms with a private entrance and a wine cellar containing 10,000 bottles hidden behind a limestone door. The building also houses a bakery and a dry-aged beef locker with on-site butchering. A small elevator whisks diners from floor to floor. In the nightclub, black-and-white caricatures of stage and screen stars hang on the walls amid subdued lighting and palm trees. There are not enough superlatives to describe the full impact of the restaurant.
One area disappoints, though, and that’s the food; in a setting like this and with prices like these, it should be without par. Instead, many dishes are overcooked, such as the Dover sole piccata and the cardboard-textured veal Cecere—thin-sliced veal topped with red peppers, prosciutto, melted provolone, and a mushroom-port sauce. The chicken Don Ameche in a spicy broth is stringy, and a double-chop rack of veal is fatty. The lobster bisque tastes more like tomato soup with crabmeat.
On the plus side, four kinds of oysters served with clams are decent, and a well-flavored chicken broth filled with vegetables and chicken and the crisp calamari with a mild tomato sauce are excellent. A napoleon of Portobello mushrooms layered with mozzarella, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and prosciutto with a balsamic vinegar glaze is worth ordering. Also good are the warm spinach salad with bacon, egg, and blue cheese and the tuna sashimi stuffed with crabmeat. Although Richie’s Special Steamed Clams are fine, they’re just steamed clams.
A seasonal special of fried soft-shell crabs served with rice and a sherry-garlic sauce is well-prepared, and the seven-rib rack of lamb, well-presented and cooked as requested, is well worth the tariff. A pork tenderloin special with a mixed-berry–Chambord sauce over sweet-potato purée is unusual and delicious. Many items on the menu come unadorned, so side dishes are in order; the sautéed or steamed spinach and fresh asparagus are good, but the au gratin potatoes are undercooked and not creamy enough.
Most of the desserts are successful, including the crème brûlée, lemon meringue tartlet, and orange panna cotta with orange segments and Cointreau-
vanilla sauce. The white-chocolate cappuccino is too sweet, and the flamed bananas are flamed in the kitchen, which defeats the whole purpose.
Is Richie Cecere’s worth the price? Not downstairs unless you win the lottery, but definitely upstairs, where the fabulous show makes it all worthwhile.
Reviewed: September, 2005Click here to leave a comment