Ceia’s Kitchen & Bar is cozy and imaginatively designed, mixing original brick and beams with contemporary accents, along with a menu that is ambitious and inventive, to say the least. Le Cordon Bleu-trained Billy Brandolini, or “Chef Brando,” as he is better known, says his flights of culinary eccentricity borrow from Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. This food is familiar, yet totally new at the same time.
To begin, a fragrant calamari puttanesca with white anchovies, olives, Cippolini onions, caper berries, and tomatoes. Chef Brando calls it a cross between Italian and Portuguese, because the calamari is marinated in Portuguese flavorings and is served with puttanesca sauce.
Next comes a crispy soft-shell crab panini with coriander crust, squid-ink aioli, and cilantro leaves. This cross-cultural culinary collision delivers high drama for the taste buds.
Brando’s unique housemade pappardelle bolognese shuns traditional veal and ground pork in favor of pork jowls and ground buffalo, which he brings together in a well-seasoned traditional tomato sauce. The baked lobster entree included calamari, linguica, lobster, smoked tomato puree, and lobster gel with a lemon-and-ramp gremolata. Chef Brando uses sherry, cognac, and saffron to flavor the bold lobster stock and tomato base that accents the fresh fish flavors.
The sensational boar chop, imported from Italy, is prepared with a recipe from its native land: It is seasoned with housemade truffle green salt, dipped in flour, and then dredged in eggs with herbs and pecorino Romano cheese. It is served aside a fava bean ragu with mustard leaves, leeks, white wine, veal glace, and fresh baby cauliflower.
For dessert, it’s a bread pudding, made from buttery brioche with blackberry basil and a puff of clove meringue. And don’t miss the chef’s signature banana brulee, with banana chunks dipped in raw sugar and torched to form a sugary shell, served with roasted hazelnuts and a little more of that intriguing clove meringue.
Chef: Billy “Chef Brando” Brandolini. Appetizers: Calamari ($11), Soft Shell Crab ($12). Pasta: Pappardelle Bolognese ($19). Entrees: Baked Lobster ($29), Boar Chop ($25). Desserts: Bread Pudding ($9), Banana Brulee ($9). Location: 25 State Street, Newburyport, 978-358-8112