If you haven’t heard of Citrea, you will very soon. The new upscale casual eatery is nestled along the Chenango River featuring a wall of windows facing the river promenade.
Citrea is an Italian restaurant with a focus on the light and simple flavors Mediterranean cooking showcases so well. The restaurant specializes in pizza and small plates with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and quality. It is now the only restaurant in Binghamton to boast a wood fire pizza oven.
The owners Victoria Alt and her husband Jimmy Guzman-Valdez are no strangers to Binghamton or the restaurant business. Alt grew up in Binghamton and her father Allen Alt is a co-owner and local Binghamton physician. Victoria Alt studied in Washington DC for college and continued on to attend the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, also known as the other CIA.
Alt and Guzman-Valdez up until recently were working at upscale restaurants in Washington DC with renowned chefs such as José Andrés and Top Chef favorites such as Brian Voltaggio and Mike Isabella from the hit Bravo show.
Guzman-Valdez’s passion for cooking, especially with the wood fired pizza oven is evident. He uses cherry wood and white oak to heat the oven up to 700 degrees that gives the pizza the richness of flavor and slightly charred edges. The ovens are centerpieces of the restaurant, on display for everyone in the completely open kitchen. The bright yellow and blue walls combine with the light wooden floors for a cozy Mediterranean ambiance so distant from the Binghamton landscape.
My introduction to the Citrea menu began with a sampling of their starter salads: the pear salad, garden salad and buratta salad. Yes, these were just the appetizers. The pear salad was composed of freshly cut pears on a bed of crisp, peppery arugula lightly tossed in a slightly acidic champagne vinaigrette and topped with creamy gorgonzola. The salad was a nice balance of textures with the gorgonzola and arugula and the slight crunch of the pignoli nuts.
The owners stress how every ingredient is fresh, and made to order, minutes before the food is delivered to the table. The garden salad was also a refreshing starter, unique in its absence of lettuce; it is composed of green peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and red onions. The salad was light and balanced by crisp homemade croutons sprinkled on top.
My favorite salad, however, was the Buratta salad. This sophisticated salad was composed of seasoned winter melon and prosciutto topped with olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar. This savory and sweet was the perfect complement to the firm Buratta on the outside and the softness on the inside. Everything in this dish worked together in both texture and flavor; a sophisticated balance and a treat for your palette. This dish seemed much greater that its $6 price tag.
Citrea also offers a wide variety of sides from Brussels sprouts to fries to garlic bread. All were winners, with the fries even served with homemade ketchup, but my personal favorite were the Brussels sprouts.
They were sautéed with a crunch on the outside but maintained their firm texture. Paired with a slightly acidic and creamy mustard vinaigrette this dressing provided the perfect acidic balance to the smokiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the dried cranberries and the creamy element of fresh parmesan shaved on the top to finish it off. All of the flavors worked extremely well together in a perfect harmony. Whoever says that they don’t like Brussels sprouts needs to try this dish.
For the shining star of Citrea I was able to sample the traditional Margherita and the Salciccia pizza. The Margherita was brought to our table steaming hot, with a perfectly charred crust and a pizza cutter to divide the pie amongst ourselves. The owners claim that by letting the customers cut their own pies it allows the pizza to retain more moisture.
The Margherita was delicious in its simplicity. A fresh tomato sauce lightly covered the pie, adding a sweet element. Mozzarella was melted over the pie, but not overpoweringly so, with a fresh milky flavor. The pizza had a perfect balance of a thin chewy crust, with the edges fluffy and full of flavor from the oven. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most difficult but Citrea manages to execute this classic with delicious ease.
The Salciccia pie had more bold flavors with pepperoni and sweet Italian sausage covering the top. The sausage had a nice fennel flavor which balanced with the more potent pepperoni flavor. Once again, the crust rose nicely and embodied the full flavor a wood burning oven creates. Say goodbye to sheet pizza, after you try Citrea’s everything else is Dominoes.
As a dessert lover I couldn’t leave without sampling one of their sweeter offerings. My meal ended on an extremely high note with cinnamon sugar covered zeppole. Small pieces of pizza dough are fried and then rolled in cinnamon sugar and drizzled in Nutella. There is nothing about that I do not like. The zeppole were light and addicting. I had to tear myself away from the plate, but not without trying a few.
Citrea fills a niche in the Binghamton restaurant scene and does it well. Everything is clearly fresh and definitely delicious highlighting the light and simple flavors of Mediterranean cooking. You will be transported far out of Binghamton surrounded by Citrea’s lively décor and food. Citrea will be participating in restaurant week for dinner offering the some of the salads I sampled, various pizzas and dessert or a glass of wine all for $25. Don’t miss out on Citrea in the coming week or for that matter at any time during the year. They plan to have a grand opening on April 9th but this gem won’t stay hidden for long.
Special thanks to Citrea for providing us with a tasting for this review.