58 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 420-1300

Birthdays come but once a year. Of course, once you start to meet other human beings, they start coming more often. Scientists postulate that there are as many as 366 of these celebratory moment in a given annum (leap year, people). This week, it was Dudeman's turn at the cake and we - Shrink and I and he - moseyed along Second Avenue to Cellar 58, an Italian wine bar, for dinner and drinks. Second Avenue between Houston and 14th Street has been invaded by restaurants. The sheer volume of them is nearly mind-boggling and the only reason that they can possibly survive, mathematically, is that there are more twenty-somethings with disposable incomes and iron livers than you can shake a stick at. There are literally a bajillion people (again, mathematics) eating out here at all times. There are so many sidewalk tables that one practically has to walk in the bike lane to get from point A to point B.

I arrived at point B ahead of The Rents so as to score us good table. A good camera angle, enough space for a bunch of small plates, and not too noisy. While I waited for the host, a bunch of tipsy girls sitting outside tried to get me to take their redheaded friend out on a date. The friend's face turned the color of her hair and I smiled and asked for an indoor seat. I was led to a nice, large booth in the back. The atmosphere at Cellar 58 is quintessential wine bar. A pressed tin (or copper) ceiling, dim lights, dark woods, candles, roses. A live jazz band showed up and began to play smooooooth melodies. Behind out table was a beautiful room where the walls were lined with racks of wine. Soon, Dudeman and Shrink arrived, we ordered a bottle of wine, and we looked at the menu.

As with most wine bars, Cellar 58 has a focus on small plates. Over the course of the evening, we shared six dishes, plus dessert, and we ate everything. Without exception, the food at Cellar 58 was exceptional. It wasn't artisanal or plated all fancy-like. It was just good. Real good. First up, the simple, almost generic Spiedini Di Pollo and the Spiedino Di Gamberi. Chicken and Shrimp skewers, both served over a simple but delicious green salad and both seasoned and cooked to perfection. There isn't really much more I can say. They were good. They won't fill you up, so order something else with a bit of heft.

The skewers came as a plate of three. So, after a skewer each of chicken and shrimp, it seemed fitting that next we would each have a meatball. The Polpette Al Sugo, veal and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce that was fantastic. We went through the entire bread basket just soaking up the sauce. I recall the meatballs being good too, in case you were wondering. Initially, Shrink was none too thrilled with my decision to order the Fungi Misti, Provola E Speck Bruschetta, literally a mushroom, Provola cheese and speck bruschetta, but she came around once it was in front of her. "I was wrong about this probably being awful." she said. As for my opinion, it was my favorite dish of the evening.

The Melanzane Alla Parmigiana was Shrink's favorite. Vegetarians around the world know this classic as eggplant parm. Ooey gooey cheese, super tender eggplant, and that heavenly tomato sauce that I mentioned from the meatballs all came together to make her love it. Finally, and un-pictured, we ordered the Spaghetti Alle Vongole, the ultra-traditional dish of spaghetti with clams. Our waiter said it was his favorite dish and Dudeman concurred. I'm not a big clam guy, but he loves 'em. The pasta, in a simple seasoned olive oil glazing, was excellent though and I found myself having far more carbs than I should have. 

It's not a birthday without dessert, so, of course, we asked to see the dessert menu. Well, there is no dessert menu. "I'm the menu," said our waiter. "It changes every day, so today we have Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, and Chocolate Mousse." We ordered all three. After all, there were three of us and we three are a nosy, curious three. The tiramisu was very good, very moist, and not similar to the tiramisus you might find elsewhere. This was almost a cream. It was my favorite dessert by far. The panna cotta is the dessert with the raspberry layer on top. While it was fine, it could have been much better without quite so much raspberry, which really dominated any and all flavor that might have bee there. Skimming off the berry became a necessity. The chocolate mousse was Shrink's favorite. She loves her chocolate. But, as the tiramisu was unlike other tiramisu's, so was the mousse not very moussey. It was almost like a truffle. Good, but quite rich and quite solid. Coffee-wise, Cellar 58 makes espresso and Americanos. No drip coffee, no pour-over, no French press, and oddly no cappuccino.

Cellar 58 cranks out Italian standards that truly are delicious and not merely good in a generic and forgettable way. The atmosphere was perfect, the waiter was very nice (if AWOL on occasion), and the live music was great. It was never so loud that you couldn't hear and despite being a young and hip area, my parents didn't feel out of place eating there.

Our meal: six small plates, a bottle of wine plus a glass or two extra, three desserts, and three cups of coffee came to about $170 plus tax and tip.

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