Even just walking by the windows, you can feel the cool vibe of Centro. There is a cozy and chic lounge space with comfy (but stylish) chairs and couches. The tables are a mix of high-back chairs and bench seats equipped with textured pillows. The ubiquitous Hamilton District exposed brick, pipe,and wood are present, adding a nice rustic touch. And not only is the vibe cool- the menu is, too. Like its next door neighbor, Grain, there is nothing over $20 on the menu- a menu that also focuses on the small/shared plate concept. As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of this small plate movement…
Because of all of these cool things, I really wanted to love the food at Centro. The meal started out strong- the drinks were unique, well crafted, and delicious. One, the Carote Fiammeggiante (pretty much translates to “carrots set ablaze near you), was concocted table-side, with a flame-kissed glass. We also tried the Mela a la Firenze and the Mulo Bizzaro, both of which had boozy, rich, and original flavors.
We then chose four small plates to share:the burrata with eggplant caponata and butternut squash ($10); the grilled calamari with prosciutto, mozzarella, lemon, parmesan, tomato ragu, and salsa verde ($12); the sage pappardelle with braised duck, pancetta, and parmesan ($13); and the pecorino broccoli rabe sausage with white beans, roasted peppers, and pickled mustard seeds ($14).
First came the burrata and the calamari. At first glance, we could see that the calamari was beautifully grilled, and the burrata…. well…we need to talk about that. So can we just agree that the best part of burrata is the ooey-gooey creamy inside? This rich, magical goodness is then wrapped in a tender mozzarella shell. I have had less-than-ideal burrata before- in that instance, the burrata had a rubbery and thick exterior, but the inside was still creamy. Centro’s (housemade) burrata was just dry. The whole way through. The inside was not creamy, it was just solid cheese. It was basically just half of a ball of mozzarella. The eggplant caponata was nice, the dressed greens had a good hit of acidity, and the butternut squash was cool and refreshing. The squash was also crunchy- not sure if this was a purposeful choice, but I didn’t dislike it. But that burrata… Look. Burrata is my favorite cheese- and I was excited about the plate of beautiful, mild, gooeyness that was coming. And Centro took that excitement and they stepped on it. They squished it until it was dead and gushier than the inside of said burrata.
I’m sorry. I’m upset… let’s move away from the painful burrata to the calamari. The dish had 3 stuffed calamari tubes set in a tomato ragu. The squid itself was a bit more rubbery than I would like. The stuffing,on first bite, was fluffy and had an interesting texture- the prosciutto had been ground with the cheese to make a meat-ball-ish type of filling. However, after the second bite, the texture became more off-putting and wasn’t really my favorite- although not necessarily a deal-breaker. The lemon had a similar effect: at first, it was a nice hit of brightness, but as I continued to eat, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s possible someone got a bit too overzealous with the grater and got some of the pith in there, so this issue may have been a one-off.
Now we get to the good stuff- the pasta. The house-made pappardelle was beautiful- big, wide, perfectly cooked noodles with herbs pressed into the dough. There was a good portion of tender braised duck as well, and it was all enrobed in a rich, dark sauce that tasted like it had been cooking for hours. The pancetta hadn’t all been well-rendered, so there were several fatty bites, but that didn’t deter me from finishing this delicious dish. I do wish they had offered some fresh parm- there were some thin slices on top, but not enough for the whole portion. By far, this was my favorite dish of the night and the one thing I would happily return for.
We finished with the pecorino broccoli rabe sausage. The sausage itself was quite nice- good flavor, the casing had a nice bite, and the filling had a firm yet light texture. The pickled mustard seeds complemented the sausage well, but unfortunately the white beans were undercooked and bland. The idea sounded great- kind of a cassoulet-inspired pairing of beans and sausage- but, much like the first two dishes, the execution was lacking.
When it comes to service, the hostess, our server, and the gentleman that set our drink on fire were all excellent. They were still basking in the excitement of the opening of a new restaurant, and I hope that enthusiasm remains as time passes. However, I do hope they find their footing with the cuisine- the ideas, concept, and venue are all so promising, I just wish that the food would step up to the same level. I look forward to trying them again, hopefully they will refine their techniques…and fix that damn burrata.
Food & Drinks: 14.5/20 (saved slightly by the pasta)