There’s an unspoken rule among restaurant critics about the scheme for reviewing a new place: good timing is half the battle. Get in there too late and a review is old news; get in there too early and, well, let’s just say no matter how good a new restaurant is, the first few weeks are never pretty. A general rule of thumb is a month after opening day, but a good reviewer will always manage to ‘get it while it’s ripe’ — no matter the time frame.
At only two weeks old, Caseus Fromagerie-Bistro — the cheese-centered brasserie located in the old Hiya’s storefront on Whitney Avenue — is not quite ripe. The service is a bit befuddled. The menu options run low towards the end of the day. The hours aren’t quite set (“dinner goes until ten-ish,” said my waitress, “but they were open until 2 a.m. last Saturday, so who knows.”) But rough edges notwithstanding, Caseus is the restaurant I’d always dreamed would come to New Haven.
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With a classic yet down-to-earth menu and near-perfect execution of bistro classics, Caseus is a fantasy restaurant for any food lover. Even the rough edges have a certain charm. Though the liquor license forthcoming, in the meantime this is an advantage: for the next month, Caseus is the perfect college student BYOB date, or even adult BYOB date. On the day I dined, the table next to me included a well-behaved toddler digging into a plate of Moules Frites (Mussels with Fries, $14) while her parents toasted their good fortune with several bottles of sparkling wine.
The menu is cheese-oriented with a classic French twist. The cheeseboard ($13) is on the small side with four slivers of cheese, various accompaniments, and a few hunks of bread. But though it’s not a meal, the pairings will satiate your palate: highlights include a silky sweet gorgonzola and a local herbed goat cheese. For entrees, options include Hanger steak frites ($17) or a delicious-looking Nicoise salad ($13).
But the cheese is where it’s at: a cheese soufflé ($8) is as light and fluffy as one would expect, and the grilled cheese sandwich ($8, or $10 with ham) is given an upscale twist on brown bread with sharp cheese, accompanied by delicious grainy mustard. But the real shocker is the Mac & Cheese ($6/$11). Gooey on the inside and perfectly crisp on top, this stuff makes Kraft look obscene. Served with a field greens salad, even the small makes a hearty meal.
While Caseus admittedly has a cheese slant, the menu doesn’t end there — the real surprise of the meal was Caseus’s perfection of classic French desserts. The Crème Brûleé ($5) is fantastic, surpassed only by the Chocolate Pot ($5) with a light but rich chocolate mousse base and just the right amount of crème Chantilly. Even the cappuccino ($2) is good.
For the home cook, Caseus’s downstairs shop may even surpass the food. Though the prices are high, the products are worth it. The store boasts two display cases full of cheese selections, while imported mustard, honey, olive oil and Saffron Berger chocolate (rumored to be the best baking chocolate) round out the non-dairy delights.
Despite the opening day confusion, I won’t be waiting a month to go back to Caseus. Just ask my boyfriend; date night is this weekend.