Can one really have fine dining from a curbside pickup or delivery menu?
“Si,” says Calogero Drago, the colorful owner of longtime Pasadena eatery Celestino Ristorante. And, it’s a relatively wide variety of choices despite the times we’re in, he told us Wednesday.
“I just created a nice, beautiful menu,” he said. “The things I know.”
As Drago explained, “You can find chicken, fish, or a pasta special of the day. You have four different types of pasta. There are two risottos, or you can get something gluten-free, or vegan. Everything.”
Drago admits the challenge of presenting great food in a delivery package, and outside the confines of his luxurious restaurant. But great food is great food, he says, and that may be its own reward.
“So, you still have,” he says, “all the steam coming up from your fish. You’ll still have this aroma, all these flavors and everything, and you’re going to get the best quality. That’s what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to change that.”
It’s a simple idea, says Drago. Use good quality products.
“We make our own pasta,” he continued, “and we always have a good supply of food, the fish, the meat, that’s what we always concentrate on. Quality is the top priority.”
Drago is quick to credit his staff and vendors as well, for the high level of food he serves.
“Of course, we have the guys who work with us,” he says. “They’ve been with me for a long time, and it’s a lot of work. But you’ve got to be on top of it, and you gotta do, what you gotta do.”
And that includes having a good working relationship with vendors.
“You always have to be on top of things with the vendor,” Drago says, “and make sure that they give you a good product, and we do that daily, so that we know everything we get is fresh.”
So, let’s talk about the food itself, shall we?
As with any great Italian restaurant, Celestino features Frutti di Mare, which is spaghetti pasta with shrimp, scallops, calamari, and mussels. Drago also touts his homemade ravioli pasta, and their shrimp, all prepared with the same love and attention.
“Look at the menu,” he says, excitedly. “Pick something out and come and get it.”
Pandemic or new economic model notwithstanding, it’s the relationship with his longtime customers that Drago cares about and he works hard on maintaining this.
“The reason why I did this is because I want to support the community. The customers have supported me for a long time, for 25 years,” he says.
As Drago continued, “This is a tough time right now. And, this is a new thing for me, a completely new model, but with the food, even if I put it in a to-go container, the flavor has to be there, the taste has to be there, and the quality has to be there.”
Drago even takes the same “customer first” attitude with his curbside pickup and takeout service. You won’t find Celestino on DoorDash or Postmates.
“I don’t know those delivery people,” he says. “I like to see the customers when they come to pick up their food. I like to safely greet them at the door, as these are my longtime guests and friends.”
Though he would be the first to acknowledge the difficulties both he and his customers face, he is nothing if not optimistic.
“We’ve got to be responsible,” he says. “What else can we do? It’s hard. I did this for the community, and we’ve all got to be positive in life. We’ve got to look forward. In one minute, the world changed, so we’ve just got to be positive, and we’ll go from there.”