Wellfleet chef’s menu unfolds like a well-rehearsed show
WELLFLEET — It is fitting that chef-owner Michael Ceraldi’s eponymous restaurant shares a building with the Harbor Stage Company because dinner here, a seven-course prix-fixe menu, unfolds like a well-rehearsed performance. An intimate one, in which the diners, hyper-local ingredients, and Cape Cod purveyors are integral to the plot.
In its spare harborside dining room, Ceraldi seats 40 and takes two seatings a night. The rustic space is decorated with a sophistication that reflects the artistic eye of the chef and his wife, Jesse. She oversees the front of the house, which includes creating floral arrangements of mixed blossoms from the Boston Flower Market with local wildflowers from Wellfleet grower Victoria Pecoraro, who also supplies the kitchen with eggs.
Since Ceraldi, 34, arrived in Provincetown in 2010 to become executive chef at the former Italian restaurant Dalla Cucina, he has been cultivating relationships with farmers, fishermen, beekeepers, and other producers. At the year-old Ceraldi, his Italian-influenced menu changes daily based on what he finds at Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown farmers’ markets or receives from growers. “I don’t want to have to rely on planes, trains, and trucks,” he says.
Farm-to-table here extends to some of the tableware, dishes from Lowell-based American Stonecraft made from fieldstone dug up from area farms, and beeswax candles from Honey Candle Co. in Orleans. Ceraldi is also using the 55 custard cups he made himself at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, and plans to produce more dinnerware.
You enter the restaurant and pass a small vegetable garden. “I am remarkably proud to say we are growing at least five artichokes,” declares Ceraldi, whose family had a garden when he was growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. The staff also tends herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, Swiss chard, strawberries, rhubarb, horseradish, parsley, celery, Napa cabbage, beans, corn, squash, and edible flowers. Though some food comes from the plot, Jesse Ceraldi is quick to note, “We rely on our farmers.”
On a recent Thursday night, dinner starts with smoked Wellfleet oysters and wild sea beans, the bright green succulents providing an unexpected crunch beside the smoky bivalves. Refreshing soup features fennel from the garden, along with herbs and flowers. Diver-caught lobster from Provincetown goes into the lobster risotto and striped bass comes with a summer vegetable medley (seasoned with Wellfleet Sea Salt).
At the beginning of dinner, the chef welcomes guests with a short menu explanation. The staff continues the plate descriptions as food arrives. It doesn’t feel pretentious, but shows respect and appreciation for the suppliers, and for those preparing dinner in the tiny kitchen.
Growing up in an Italian family, Ceraldi began cooking when he was in high school and most childhood memories involve food. “My mom was an amazing cook and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen.” An art student in college, he lived for a semester in Florence and learned that what we call farm-to-table is how Italians cook all the time. When he returned to the United States, “I knew I wanted to find out everything I could about Italian food.”
He apprenticed at restaurants in Bologna and Castel Guelfo, Italy. Back home, he worked in Syracuse, Brooklyn, New York — including Del Posto and Felidia — and Louisville, Ky., before settling with his family on the Outer Cape. He held prix-fixe pop-up dinners at Tiny’s Local Food in Provincetown, an 18-seat outdoor space, in 2013, before launching his own place, which stays open May through late October. The Ceraldis have a son, 6, and daughter, 4, and are expecting a baby in September.
Now, in two performances each night, Michael Ceraldi is telling the story of his Italian heritage using the best Cape Cod has to offer on every plate. An appreciative audience is all but giving him a standing ovation.
CERALDI 15 Kendrick Ave., Wellfleet, 508-237-9811, www.ceraldicapecod.com