It was Friday night. I didn’t want Mexican; I eat that way too much. Sushi sounded good but I wasn’t in the mood. Chinese, I love it but not for a date. American (whatever that might be) and Italian, I could do that at home. And Mediterranean…not for a nice sit-down meal. I’m sure if you rack your brain hard enough, you can find some other cuisines I’m missing, but on this particular night when the underdog was going to take the cake, it was Caribbean. I couldn’t name more than one Caribbean restaurant, so I sided with the spot I had driven by countless times and was always curious about: Celestin’s, located at 1815 K St., nestled under an attractive yellow awning.
Upon entrance we were greeted immediately and seated without a problem. The dining room and bar were full, but not overly loud or crowded. There was ample space between tables, allowing for easy conversation. Off the bat, I found the atmosphere to be very warm and pleasant. The walls were colorful, and the cultural art fit the vibe. Adding to the instant attraction was a “Last Call Happy Hour” for the late-night weekend crowd, from 9-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (the weekly Tuesday-Sunday happy hour is from 4-7 p.m.). Certain drink and appetizer prices were cut in half, such as $2.50 Red Stripes and $3 sweet potato fries and chicken empandas. It was a great deal, but don’t order five minutes before the official time and expect to get the special price…
For an appetizer we kept it authentic and started off with their platanos maduros. Like the traditional plate, the sweet plantains were lightly fried and served over black beans with a dollop of sour cream. It’s a combination that doesn’t seem likely, but works together quite well as either an appetizer or nightcap. My only complaint was that the bed of black beans was more of sheet than a mattress, but nonetheless the plate didn’t leave the table until it was empty. On my next visit (consider this some foreshadowing), I would love to try Jamaican jerk wings or the fritailles.
Celestin’s is one of those restaurants that is difficult to walk into when you’re hungry. Their menu is long and extensive, offering a variety of salads and sandwiches, as well as seafood, meat, poultry, vegetarian dishes, and of course, gumbo. Every option sounds excellent and unique in its own.
I had heard good things about their grio, described as, “Chunks of pork marinated in citrus juices, chilies and spices, braised, fried and served with Ti-Malice sauce.” But everything I’d heard was an understatement. I was expecting something similar to chicharon, but these chunks were so tender they literally melted in my mouth. The sweet citrus and chili flavors were bold; combined with the sourness of the Ti-Malice sauce, my taste buds were buzzing with stimulation. The grio was served with a side of tomatoes and avocados, red beans and rice, and a tostone (fried pressed plantain). A full plate goes for $14.25, but you can get full off a half plate, which runs $8.99. My date went with a cup of salmon gumbo. She had nothing but good words and an increasing interest in the tiger shrimp, tilapia and kielbasa varieties. Looking around, people seemed to be ordering the gumbo en masse quantities, which validates in my mind. Other interesting dishes include chicken curry (in a Jamaican yellow curry), sea scallops in coconut lime sauce and the paella (chicken, sausage, shrimp and scallops in saffron rice).
As I said earlier, Celestin’s has thrust itself into my regular rotation and has me looking forward to more great meals in the future. The prices are fair, ranging from $12-18, with sandwiches no more than you would pay anywhere else. There is nothing boring about the menu and flavors, and the portions guarantee you leave satisfied.
By Corey Bloom