Since Cesare Casella opened his new joint right around the corner, I thought I would go scope it out and sample a little of what he's offering. I went in on Saturday (day 2 1/2 I think) and they are obviously still working things out, so it's not really fair to evaluate, but I can make a couple of observations.
1. The space is nice, but splitting it between the counter on one side and the tables on the other may prove to be a bit of an issue with the UWS tendency to mob any place that is A. new and B. promises something even remotely chow-houndy (cf. the endless lines at Grom and Beard Papa when they first opened). The lack of a separate cash register area will only compound this. As of now the obvious contender for this - by the entrance - is occupied by a rather useless, IMHO, host station for the restaurant half. We'll see how much play it gets when the restaurant half opens full-time.
2. The vibe felt a little like Di Palo. Casella himself was there to supervise the proceedings, and it looks like they are willing to take their time to deal with each customer individually until they are totally satisifed. The main charcutier, Aaron, while delegating individual orders to his assistants, was knowledgeable and friendly. This may take a while, but it's also worth your while. Hopefully they'll stay on this track. On a side note, as they saw the line grow longer, they opened a couple of bottles of a perfectly drinkable Sangiovese and laid out samples of the arista. Well played.
3. The goods were pretty impressive. Aside from the various cured meats you might expect - I saw prosciutto di Parma and San Daniele, lardo, guanciale, finocchiona, cacciatorini, prosciutto arrosto, arista and many more - they also had some really beautiful porcini, puntarelle (which I almost never see in the US), some rather inviting leek tartes, and a selection of cheeses including mozzarella di bufala and pecorino. Apparently they are planning on carrying only a few cheeses at any time that are in their prime, rather than having a wider but less discerning selection, which is fine with me. They also had filone and pizza bianca from Sullivan Street Bakery.
On this note, they charged me $3 for a little over 4 oz of pizza bianca... this is not so great when I can walk across 72nd street and for $1.50 I can get 6+ oz (I weighed them to compare) of pizza bianca from Grandaisy Bakery still warm from the oven (for 1/3 the price).
That said, the prosciutto di San Daniele was 28.99 lb, which is comparable to Citarella, but was much better. I'm not even including Fairway, even though I do most of my shopping there, because I have always found their prosciuttos and cured meats in general to be pretty awful. I also got some pretty fantastic finocchiona. So I think that pizza bianca aside, based on their sourcing and potential turnover, this is going to be a great resource for cured meat lovers on the UWS and beyond.
Next stop: the restaurant/prepared dishes section when it opens ot the public.