From the May / June 2016 issue of Simply The Best magazine.
CENA (PRONOUNCED “CHAIN-AH”)
A Modern Italian Restaurant That Offers The New Relaxed Pace: Fine Dining Off The Avenue
Have you ever heard the word “Cena”? It is a well-known word today to Sophia Loren, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more famous Italian celebrities, as well as countless other Italians because it means “dinner”- and good Italian food is certainly a most sought after commodity. Chef Wolfgang Puck’s famous trademark mantra is, “Live, Love, Eat” and Cena Modern Italian Restaurant in Delray Beach fulfills this catchphrase completely. Located just off East Atlantic Avenue, Cena is a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle on “The Avenue”. This is your relaxation retreat for all things calm, romantic, and luscious!
Cena’s Owner and Managing Partner, Tony Joseph, who has opened several high end restaurants in his 35 year career, said, “Our passion is to give the ultimate guest experience.” It starts with the Valet service. Yes, Cena has its own parking lot, unheard of on Atlantic Avenue! It was a rainy night when we visited and we were pleased to be greeted with a smile and an umbrella to keep us dry. Since it opened in December, 2015, Cena has delighted its guests with easy access, modern décor, a relaxed ambiance, and superb food – no detail has been overlooked. Tony Joseph goes the extra mile on “the little things.” He says “the details count” from the escorted umbrella walk from your car on a rainy evening, to noticing and replacing one light bulb that’s out in a corridor, to having Frank Sinatra,Tony Bennett and Adel background music playing. “I want people to say one word when they get in their car to leave: “Wow!” – and not just about the food but about the whole experience.” The quality and service at Cena is authentic and unequaled.
Executive Chef Antonio Montella is from Avellino, very close to Naples, Italy. Chef Montella creates new specials each night, such as appetizers like Prawn Gratinate and Burrata with fresh Mozzarella and Parma Prosciutto. For a casual evening, one could enjoy a “Gourmet Pizza” and a glass of wine at the bar, perhaps the “Formaggio & San Marzano” pizza. This delight has a paper-thin crust, is perfectly baked in the 600-degree wood fueled brick oven so the bottom is crisply toasted, and topped with a rich sauce made of the best San Marzano tomatoes.
Many black and white photos decorate the main dining room to match the sleek modern black and white décor; the freshly painted white walls that match the clean white tablecloths contrasting with the black, lighted ceiling fans that match the contemporary black Hampton dining chairs. Black and white photos of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield overlook one area of dinner tables while another delightful black and white photo shows Frank Sinatra, happily enjoying a fork-full of pasta. A climate controlled, walk-in wine room fills one wall with floor-to-ceiling tagged wine bottles that neatly rest in rows, peeking through the glass wall, just waiting to be chosen. If you like the outdoors, a large step down room outside is perfect for “al fresco” dining, or for parties, yet it can be cozily shielded from rain by clear plastic covering; or you may choose the outside street-side tables for fresh air on a beautiful spring evening.
Two absolutely awesome menu choices are the “Risotto con Gorgonzola and Porcini” and the “Fagottini al Tartufo”. It doesn’t matter if you can’t pronounce them, as long as you don’t miss trying them. Risotto is a type of Northern Italian rice that can be made in a simple broth, one of the staples of Italian home cooking and comfort food, or it can be dressed up, taking time to prepare as in Cena’s Risotto, made with a creamy Gorgonzola Cheese and Porcini Mushrooms. The appetizing presentation includes two little pieces of crispy cheese toast, artistically standing up in the center of the risotto and they are yummy too. Risotto is perfect as a dish to eat alone or as a complement for meats, chicken, or fish. More high praise for Cena’s “Fagottini al Tartufo”, which translates to “Little Bundles of Truffles”. These are little packets made of homemade pasta and filled with real pieces of truffles, not just truffle oil. As if those ingredients aren’t enough to send you to the stars, Cena tops the little bundles with a butter-sage-cream sauce, a combination that will send you to the next galaxy.
The enormous dinner portions will challenge any man’s biggest hunger and yet still leave some for him to take home and enjoy again tomorrow. Try the Branzino Mediterranean, an Italian Sea Bass, made with wild asparagus, and topped with artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes in a white winegarlic sauce. The fish is ultra-tender and delicate, and the sauce is light so you’re eating healthy yet not denying your taste buds or leaving hungry. It’s large enough to take some home, or, better to share, leaving room to try another exquisite culinary creation. Cena’s signature veal dish is memorable, as much for the gigantic portion size as for the achievement in preparation. The “Costeleta di Vitello alla Milenese” is a divine bone-in piece of veal that is pounded thin and lightly breaded, carefully topped with a mixture of greens, cherry tomatoes and red onion, then decorated with a light touch of balsamic vinaigrette that adds a simple and savory quality.
If you like vino with dinner, Cena’s wine selection and prices will convince you to go for it! As an example, Adam one of the servers, described the beautiful white wine (although it is called “Black Label”) as the “Bentley of the portfolio”. This wine is typically sold locally at $110 to $115 per bottle, but at Cena it’s only $78. You can try this prestigious Gavi di Gavi from the La Scolca Winery in Piedmont that ranks among the most historic wine producers in Italy, at 25% what other restaurants charge. Imagine the possibilities!
You won’t find another restaurant that lives this closely by the basic creed of fantastic food, friendly service, and a comfortable environment. It sounds so simplistic yet it will be difficult to reach Cena’s standards. As Tony Joseph said, “we have outstanding food, and outstanding staff followed by service, service, service.” He added, “I think of the whole experience, from the moment you pull into the parking lot to when you are enjoying your delicious dessert. We, who work here, are like family inside the restaurant and that is how we treat our guests – like family. Our manager, Luca, also from Avellino, Italy, plays a key role at Cena and the rest of our experienced team, will gladly welcome you into our family. We are genuine.”
There’s no debating that having an owner consistently on the premises who truly cares, makes a great difference in quality. In fact, in yet another touch of quality and thoughtfulness, as a way to remember your visit, ask Tony about his Classic Italian music CD…. who knows you may drive home with one.