Newburyport seems like a gem of a town, from what I glimpsed of a tiny piece of downtown one evening in November. I joined Kevin (The Mighty Rib), Tara (Wine Me A River), and Lena (Lena on the Beach) for a blogger tasting at Ceia (Portuguese for "supper"), a dark and intimate brick-walled oasis of locally-sourced yet European-inspired dishes. Executive Chef Billy 'Brando' Brandolini created a lovely five-course tasting for us.
We began with a baby beet salad (candied butternut, cabrales blue, hearts on fire, and guanciale vinaigrette) - pleasant overall, but texturally too soft. Something crunchy or crispy - nuts, perhaps - would have taken this to the next level. Nonetheless, it was a nice way to start out, and the blue cheese was sparse enough that I could avoid it after confirming that yes, I still don't like blue cheese.
Next, a pasta course: pappardelle with local pulled rabbit, dijon and veal ragout, rams head fungi, brillat mousse. I panicked a little upon seeing the menu; I've owned pet rabbits, Yeti and Bigfoot, and my current roommate owns a big old one named Jane, so despite my usually carnivorous ways, I can't bring myself to eat rabbit. I'm also not a mushroom fan. Even so, I ended up ignoring my hangups and ate most of this course. Turns out it was pretty tasty, and I haven't been haunted by the ghosts of Yeti and Bigfoot. Just don't tell Jane.
Then, we moved on to the fish course, cod accompanied by garbanzo mash, creamed bright lights chard, and infused EVOO. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had a hangup with this course as well. Garbanzo beans, especially in mashed form, are very unappealing to me, but I gave these a try, and I'll file them under "OK, that wasn't so bad." The cod was delicate and flaky, seared perfectly, and very enjoyable.
The next course was supposed to be suckling pig, but the chef on duty (not 'Brando') wasn't happy with how part of the course turned out. Instead, he whipped up a surf 'n' turf 'n' eggs combo that was delightful. Nothing better than ultra-rare beef.
Dessert was a big hunk of brillat savarin; it was too strong a cheese for me to handle.
The after-dinner drink, however, was outstanding. Now if only I could remember what it was...
The wine served with dinner was also fantastic - Convento San Francisco Temperanillo, Ribera Del Duero 2005.
Worth the long drive from Boston? I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd make a special trip out just for the restaurant. If I happened to be in the area, it'd be worth another visit. Special thanks to Kevin for organizing.
Disclosure: This meal was complimentary, but all opinions expressed are my own.