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Caseus, New Haven--grumble

Finally tried Caseus last night and loved it EXCEPT:
They charge $5 for bread and butter! What? Given that many a French dish, such as moules frites call for a good slurping sponge, it felt like we were being held up.
One's waiter is responsible for much of the meal. Instead of a bartender, the waiter (Chris in our case) poured our beers which were literally half full. There are no lines on the glasses. Later, we saw another waiter fill the beer to the rim. Obviously we ordered another beer from her. Worse, the $14 cheese plate prepared by Chris was so bare I was shocked he dared served it. Each sample, most of which was rind, was so small it was hard to share. The accompaning bread, again, was pathetically sparse. He neglected the confiture relish. Just to rub salt in the wound, the folks next to us got a lucious cheese plate with jam, bread and a smile.
I'm still a little too pissed to rave about the areas in which they shine, but the food was mostly very good. Monkfish was fresh with a keffir/lemongrass sauce. Avoid the mealy, tasteless tarte. Can't go wrong with moules frites. If anyone ever tries the bread, let us know if it was worth 5 bucks.

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  1. The bread is good, but the butter is what's worth the $5. I believe they make it themselves, and it's very high quality, so the price is justifiable.
    I agree that some dishes should come with more bread. And that's too bad about the poor service. I've been lucky to always have great service there. I hope you'll give them another shot, because I can almost guarantee you'll find it far better the second time around (all bets are off if you get stuck with this Chris kid again though).

    12 Replies
    1. re: danieljdwyer

      The butter is worth $5? What, is it made out of pulverized gold or something? Those guys should watch it--nickel-and-diming like that is going to cost them some goodwill, which they need because it is hit and miss with a meal over there sometimes.

      1. re: newhavener07

        Why wouldn't it be worth five dollars? It's a food product, just like cheese. No one complains about having to pay for cheese. Or roasted garlic. Or olives. The ingredients that go into that butter cost more than the ingredients going in to a lot of the pasta dishes restaurants around town charge quite a bit more for. And there is more labor going in to making it than in to those pasta dishes. Butter making is a time intensive process.
        They're providing a better product than other restaurants around (except for 116 Crown, which also charges for bread and butter) and therefore rightly expecting you to pay for it. Would you rather they take the cheap route and just give you crappy butter wrapped in gold foil for free?

        1. re: danieljdwyer

          Making butter is hardly as difficult as making cheese--ask anyone who has ever overbeaten heavy cream. Time intensive? Try 20 minutes, tops, if you do it by hand. I would guess they aren't making butter every day, and making it by machine. Not to mention that each diner is not going to be eating much--let's say a few tablespoons, tops, no matter how good it is. And there's a lot of options between gold foil swill and butter made from milk hand-squeezed by Tibetan virgins from purebred cows raised on organic hemp sprouts or whatever. I'm sorry, $5 for bread and butter (in New Haven, as part of a larger meal) is just wrong.

          1. re: newhavener07

            How long does it take to make a salad? Less than twenty minutes.
            How much do the ingredients of a typical salad cost? Maybe about as much as the cream, fruits, herbs, et cetera that Caseus uses in its butter, if you're lucky.
            Do you complain that it's just about impossible to find a salad for under five dollars these days?
            Do you think that salad should be free with your meal at Caseus?
            Covering the costs of ingredients and labor is not nickel and diming.

            1. re: danieljdwyer

              Yes, but having the many ingredients for a salad ready in your fridge for every time you want a salad makes the cost of a restaurant salad well worth it. You also usually get a portion size and special ingredients that makes the cost reasonable. If I were to be charged $5 for something I could easily find in my fridge, I would be annoyed. Butter, however, if found in almost every fridge, and good quality butters can be had for not too much money.
              I eat out all the time, so of course I buy into the concept of marking up ingredients to reflect a restaurant's time and effort. What I don't buy into is taking a relatively humble ingredient, pairing it with another humble ingredient, and adding $5 to a bill that is already quite high, in the case of Caseus. Don't get me wrong--I love the place, but I don't want them to get full of themselves, start pissing off the fundamentally frugal locals, and end up closed in a year or two, the fate of a lot of ambitious startups before them. I pay $5 for a loaf of bread almost every week at the farmer's market or a bakery--it's the context of this particular $5 that pisses me off.

              1. re: newhavener07

                The butter is probably VBC salted butter or another product that they buy from their distributors. I do not know personally, but I would speculate that if they are charging for a commodity like butter then it might be a high quality purchased item. You know who has a tremendous cheese plate and they never brag about it...116 Crown. All artisan produced, mostly from New England. Generous portions, enough for 3 people.

                1. re: triggs73

                  Just wanted to give another account of Caseus from a fan who eats there a few times a month at least... From what I understand, the kitchen is responsible for the cheese boards. Yes, sometimes the food can be a little uneven, I've had one slightly undercooked duck dish before but the issue was quickly resolved when it brought it to the attention of my server. Did you mention any of your concerns to this Chris fellow? As far as the beer goes, last time i was there they had just gotten Hennepin on tap which is supposed to have a good inch or two of head... Just my two cents.

                  1. re: triggs73

                    I'm a big fan of the cheese and charcuterie plate at 116 Crown. I give them the leg up on Caseus in this department, because they let you choose both cheeses and meats, instead of just cheese or just meat.
                    But, In the context of this discussion, I have to add that 116 Crown charges more for theirs, and the portions are smaller. It also comes with less bread. The cheeses are of a comparable quality and cost, but Caseus clearly has a larger selection.
                    116 Crown also charges more for their bread and butter. The portion of bread is larger, but the portion of butter is about half what you get at Caseus. The butters are essentially the same quality, but the goat butter at 116 Crown is a commercial product, while Caseus calls theirs "house butter". I'll make sure to get the details on exactly what they mean by that next time I order it.
                    Barcelona's queso y charcuteria portions are close to double what either 116 Crown or Caseus are offering for around the same price. The cheeses and meats are all Spanish and are from larger producers, but are quite high quality. I would say the cheeses are a notch or two below what Caseus and 116 Crown are offering, but the meats are a few notches above. Spain has a big advantage in the ability to produce very fine pork at a low cost due to the large old growth oak forests, in which land is not expensive. Barcelona gets the definite edge in the bread department.
                    I eat all three with decent regularity (as in once every two or three months), and it's tough to say which one is best. Barcelona's is the best value, and they have the best selection of wines to pair. Much as I love Caseus, I want meat and cheese and I don't want to have to order two separate $14 plates to get them. A year ago I'd have said 116 Crown was hands down the best of the three, but the prices have gone up with every change of season since they opened, and they no longer offer violet mustard with the plate. I'll still give them the slight edge, however, because Barcelona's selection is not as diverse.

                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                      Actually, this thread came back to me with a jolt the other day as I was eating at Barcelona--their scallop tapas consisted of a grand total of TWO scallops, for about $10. Grilled asparagus was a portion of about six spears for $10. Yes, it's tapas, but still, when asparagus is on sale all over town for $1.50 a POUND...However, they were very generous with bread and drinks, so in all it was a filling meal and the bill was not outrageous overall. I think the managers have carefully calculated how much they can get away with in pricing, and the place was pretty full. They've got a few restaurants, so they know their stuff.
                      Moral of the story--a little free bread goes a long way.

                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                        You know I never paid attention to the price now that you mentioned it. I did a sampler at 116 with three other people and it was plenty as a starter. Also, never paid attention to the fact that they were charging me for bread. Thanks for bringing that up. I'll put my glasses on next time.

                2. re: newhavener07

                  I have to agree about butter, having made it quite a few times, and I started back where you hand cranked it! Nothing to it. Nothing special, unless you start seasoning it.

                3. re: danieljdwyer

                  I want to point out that Crave serves a terrific lime zest infused butter and really good bread for free. Many get a free green apple liquer at the end of the meal.

                  I am reluctant to throw around the word "free" too much, but all things being equal, those and the following, was free.
                  Chips, salsa, tortillas, lime, chopped onions and cilantro at Mezcal.
                  Scoozzi gives you a fancy snack tray/tower that rises above the ordinary.
                  Most Italian restaurants give you bread, olive oil and olives, gratis...

                  I think this is the gist of what Newhavener 07 is alluding to.
                  I thought Caseus gave you some olives, or something "free", at the beginning. Am I wrong? I don't think it is the norm to have you pay for bread and butter, regardless of how good. I've eaten at Caseus twice, but was not really "wowed". I do plan on returning. I think you need to look at the overall value of the meal. NH07 saw it lacking, so paying for bread and butter was a little "free" salt in the wound.

            2. Service IS odd and uneven. And the cheese plates can be remarkably skimpy for a place that's focussed on cheese. Since the beers I order are generally in bottles, any problems of quantity are not Caseus' fault....

              But these matters (including bread issues) are just the things that you have to bring to the attention of the owners. There are enough good things about the place that it would be a pity if easily correctable bad things were to put people off.

              2 Replies
              1. re: linguist

                I've been a big fan of Caseus since it's opened. Love the burger and pommes frites! The place smells heavenly and the atmosphere is very nice and stress-free. I hope they do well. They seem to fit right in.

                1. re: linguist

                  I have a very accurate digital scale so I cut cheese for us to snack on yesterday, One was a Gruyere and the other a slightly porous Locatelli Pecorino Romano. They averaged 1.533 cubic inches per ounce. This equates to a block 1/2 inch by 2-1/4 inches by 1-3/8 inch. If it were a wedge you would use half of one of the back's dimension. To me, these are pretty hefty pieces of cheese.

                2. I've only eaten in the pit, below. Very intimate or should I say almost claustrophobic?
                  I saw stairs off the main room (when you first come in). Is there dining up there? Is it only open for overflow and what's it like?

                  1. I agree - the cheese plate is ludicrous. I snorted loudly when it was served to 3 of us. There was no way those little specks of cheese were worth FOURTEEN dollars. I thought the food was so - so...and that the teeny-tiny portions were an insult. I've decided not to return, even though my daughter insists she's had a good meal there.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: food maven

                      Take note, Caseus management: If people start thinking of your place as a ripoff, you won't last long in this town. Yalies with their bottomless wallets aren't enough to sustain you.

                      1. re: newhavener07

                        I agree with what you are saying 100%. Every business downtown thinks that they will make big money if they are in walking distance of Yale, therefore let's charge the higher price. Yale students do not spend big money on a daily basis, rather they nickle and dime you as any other college student would. The only time it is advantageous is when there are big functions going on at the university, parent weekends, etc. I worked for an area gourmet shop some time ago and the students would come in, but they would ask for the smallest cuts you could possibly ask for without the product not registering on the scale.

                        1. re: triggs73

                          Yes, and not all Yalies are rich to begin with--they're offering more and more aid to draw kids from all backgrounds. And the workers and grad students aren't raking it in, for the most part. New Haven is a middle-class town, and I think most successfull restaurateurs here recognize that.

                          1. re: newhavener07

                            Agreed...the more successful restaurateurs.

                            1. re: triggs73

                              Caseus seems to be doing very well. Last few times I've gone at both lunch and dinner, it was either completely booked or a very long wait. The cheese plate is very expensive for what it is, but many of the other menu items are not particularly overpriced.

                              1. re: designnewhaven

                                Absolutely true. I walk by Caseus every day around lunch. I've never seen it any less than almost full. And it's not full of Yale students. I've rarely seen anyone under 30 in there.

                    2. This is a relatively new 'cheese' restaurant in New Haven, CT, that opened a year or so ago. It served a limited menu of fresh bistro style food, and in the beginning had excellent service and food! I went in for lunch last Friday - and couldn't get in the door, and was told after hanging around the entryway for about five min. that even with a reservation I'd be looking at a 20' wait. So I went back for lunch (early) on Sat., and ordered a grilled cheese and pomme frittes. After a long wait, it came out burned... both sides, hard and dark. The waitstaff seemed to notice, but didn't offer to inquire; the fries were mushy, and not very hot. I've been away for about a year, so I was surprised to learn the place was still so popular, when the quality of the food (and service) had so obviously declined. Perhaps its early success has been its demise? Jason, the owner, who used to be a fixture at the place was no where to be seen. Too bad... it had been a nice little place in an underserved corner of the downtown.

                      93 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: NJMM

                        While I have not eaten at Caseus, my wife had lunch there a few weeks ago and was very disappointed. After all of of the positive reviews and comments, she came away with the same feeling - they have let things slide significantly. Her $14 lunch salad was, at best, forgettable (and it had a significant amount of greenery that was visually unappealing) and the service was rushed and uncomfortable.
                        Given its enduring popularity, it would be my guess that a couple of less than satisfied customers won't hinder their success, but it is unfortunate that they no longer seem to have the same standards that they apparently had when they first opened.

                        1. re: NJMM

                          "it came out burned... both sides, hard and dark. The waitstaff seemed to notice, but didn't offer to inquire; the fries were mushy, and not very hot."
                          Did you send any of it back, if it was so bad?

                          1. re: NJMM

                            I do know that the original chef that started with them in the beginning has left some time ago and I haven't heard of him since. Could this be part of the problem? Who is to know for sure. I think in the beginning they wanted the cheese counter to carry the majority of the business and the opposite happened when the bistro took off. I have yet to go because of the mix reactions I've heard from numerous walks of life.

                            1. re: triggs73

                              I've had great meals there, but it is a small, crowded place and the service can spotty. Give it a chance and pick a night that's likely to be quieter. As for the unappealing greens, this restaurant makes a strong effort to buy local produce so they could have decided to serve something that didn't look supermarket-perfect but tasted good. I'm just guessing, but I'd urge you to give the place another chance.

                              1. re: newhavener07

                                If it were only the appearance of my wife's salad that would be one thing, but I did ask her how it tasted and I think her exact response was "blahhhh!!!" (as in it had virtually no taste!)

                          2. I've SO tried to be happy about Caseus, but today may have been my last visit. Over the last year I've been for lunch 6 times, and while there is much about the concept of the place to like, at each meal "it's always something" that leaves me feeling extremely exasperated.
                            Today at 2:30 they were out of my 1st 2 sandwich choices, so I ended up with the cheese burger. After 25 minutes, with no interim visit or explanation from a waiter, the burger arrived with a small side salad and a promise that the frites would be along shortly. One good thing was that the bun was finally NOT toasted to the usual point of shattering when picked up, as in my past experiences. I'm a slow eater. While anticipating the frites, slowly fiinished off the burger ($14), which was better than the usual average drek but not remarkable, and salad - no frites, no waiter. The salad was composed of unusual but attractive and ok-tasting greens, however some of the pieces were 8" long and had to be tumbled and unravelled from the little souffle serving dish and cut with a knife.
                            After a few waiters sauntered by me but not my own, I was able to flag one down to ask (nicely) if he knew if my frites had ever been prepared as it was now another 25 minutes. He said, and I kid you not, "I don't know" and began to walk away, but then came back and said "I can check for you?" Well, if you insist. After another 15 minutes, the frites were presented with a small apology by yet a different waiter. By that time, my interest had waned considerably, and I only ate a few. The table next to me had waited 45 minutes for the chicken entree, which not one waiter seemed to have noticed until they complained about the time. It then appeared soon after.
                            I was finally able to wave down my server for the check, he disappeared for 5 minutes, brought it to my table and again disappeared. I had placed cash on it immediately, however another 7 minutes went by, so I finally brought the check to the bar. My change was a $5 and a $1, and so I left the $1 for a $14 dollar check - the first time ever that I have tipped less than 20-25%.
                            So, without boring you with several other stories of similar ilk, I have to conclude by saying I like the IDEA of Caseus, their ideology of locally sourced, interesting, high quality items, the small corner cafe that seems very "real" especially compared to some of its mediocre neighbors, the overall ambiance, however rarely does it live up to its own self-proclaimed expectations. I have had one very attentive server, however all other times the service felt very shabby, and the atmosphere of the staff who hang about the bar/wait station very disinterested, unconcerned, lackadaisical and sometimes a bit arrogant. There are so many places in New Haven that are MUCH better and deserve our attention and praise.

                            1. Interesting comment, and now that it's over a year later they may have changed things. But I must say that the bread and butter is one of the small touches I LOVE about Caseus.

                              When I first saw it on the menu (now for $4) I was a bit taken aback, but when the waiter explained what they did I was hooked. Basically, they do make the butter themselves every day, and it a specialty flavor. The first day I went, it was cranberry nutella almond....it comes served as a huge hunk of this gorgeous butter with four nice rolls (a variety...one was rosemary olive, etc etc)...not at all the same thing you get at Barcelona, which is your basic hunks of french bread with olice oil (don't get me wrong, I like that too). It is definitely worth paying for. In the times I've gone, they've had a piquillo pepper with cheese butter, popcorn butter, apple pie butter, salted orange butter, etc.

                              I love this place, and while the prices are on the high side for New Haven, the portions are HUGE compared to what I'm used to in NYC--and the quality is just as good.

                              93 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sunnidae

                                Caseus = not worth the hype. If you want to see a great bistro cum cheese and charcuterie shop done right, take a trip to La Laiterie in Providence, R.I. It's got Caseus beat on all counts: the delicious food, the generous portions, the great and reliable service. And none of those terrible, torture chairs. Hell, if I'm paying $14.00 for a burger, I'd like you to pretend you care that I'm about to wait in line for half an hour (maybe bus those three tables that are sitting there dirty) and give me a comfortable place to sit down. Got to the store next door and get your cheese there, don't waste the money on a cheese plate.

                                La Laiterie
                                184-188 Wayland Avenue, Providence, RI 02906

                                93 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510