The newest Dumbo waterfront restaurant with scenic views of the Manhattan skyline doesn’t want to be a huge, splashy event. It’s partly because Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Celestine, which opens on Thursday, isn’t quite as large as the other big waterfront openings this year. The space at 1 John Street near Pearl Street seats about 85 inside and 45 outside, far less than its sprawling neighbors in the new Empire Stores.
But it’s also because the owners have made their name with restaurants best known as neighborhood favorites: Julian Brizzi owns Italian bistro Rucola and co-owns Boerum Hill bar Grand Army with Noah Bernamoff, the man behind Mile End. Designers Matthew Maddy and Nico Arze, who also worked on Lilia and Grand Army, are partners, and former L’Artusi restaurateur Joe Campanale is involved as well.
The basis for the menu here is Brizzi and Bernamoff’s desire to work together on a casual restaurant that’s part-northern African, part-Middle Eastern, and part-Italian. Chef Garett McMahan, a Perilla and Bouley alum, created the menu here, using a wood-fired grill and liberal use of spices such as Turkish pepper called urfa.
Offerings including a whole grilled fish with a fennel, artichoke, and dill salad and a wood-roasted chicken with saffron basmati rice, and several pastas. One features fusilli, eggplant, and white anchovy, while another is a Turkish dumpling filled with short rib. Everything is meant to be shared, and nothing is trying to be traditional, McMahan says.
Despite Celestine’s visitor-friendly location and floor-to-ceiling windows in full view of lower Manhattan, the owners here would like it to be similar to their other businesses — a feeling that it’s a place for locals. Many of the seats will stay open for walk-ins, and Brizzi’s seating policy at Rucola, where people can call ahead to put their name on a list, will likely be used here, too.
“We’re hoping to be a real neighborhood asset rather than a splashy tourist amenity,” Brizzi says. “We are servicing a community, whether they’re visiting for one day or living in the building or living down the street.”
The team aim to make it to feel familiar with some “idiosyncratic” twists, Brizzi says. And although Celestine will likely feel less showy than other recent Dumbo openings, it will still be more of an event than the crew’s other neighborhood restaurants.
“The goal for us is it make it feel like a celebratory, really comfortable, and joyful place,” Brizzi says. “I want to make a restaurant that’s both extremely familiar and extremely interesting at the same time.”
Celestine opens for dinner on Thursday, with lunch and brunch coming soon. Stay tuned for a look at the full menu later this week.