Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Centro Vinoteca: The shortest LWF&D review ever

On Sunday, AZ and I met for a catch-up dinner at Centro Vinoteca. I arrived a minute or two after she did, just as she was settling down at the bar. I gathered her from the bar area, coincidentally right behind the host's stand, and thought the host clearly wanted us to wait at the bar and have a drink, I asked to go directly to the table (and not pass Go).

He led us there and watched as we removed our coats and sat down. Now, because (as you'll see) service is really Centro's downfall, I'll make special note of the fact that this host was one of the creepiest guys I've ever encountered. As we settled in, he stood there watching us with this incredibly self-satisfied smirk on his face (in the genre of "yeah, I'm getting laid tonight," even though all that transpired after we sat down was he handed us our menus and left). As he oozed away, we contemplated the menus, of which we each had 3.5 (.5 being the wine list, which we shared; 3 being the three other menus we each had. Seven menus total on the table). Too many menus, too much confusion, but we made the best of it.

We both chose the same thing, the chantarelle, romanesco cauliflower and asparagus salad with spring onions and arugula (thus making this my shortest review ever). When AZ ordered, she asked if the kitchen could add sour apples to the salad. In response, our waitress replied, "You can't just make your own salad." Oh really? I thought this was a Europa. Apparently, she informed us, Centro will remove ingredients from dishes if necessary but the chefs won't add. Anything. Because that would be wrong. Or something.

Whatever. After ordering, we attempted to have a conversation in the cramped and cacophonous room, struggling to hear each other talk over the din. After a while (a wait which passed sans bread basket), our salads arrived, with a bread basket at the same time. Sigh. The bread itself was pretty good, and there was a bottle of olive oil with herbs stuffed inside on the table (curiously, the oil didn't have much flavor beyond typical olive oil... I guess with all the herbs I was expecting more). I just wish we could have had the bread to munch while waiting.

Au bon pain

The salad itself, I will admit, was pretty spectacular. Each ingredient was perfectly cooked, and it was well-dressed and well-spiced. All the flavors worked harmoniously, rather than being just a bunch of ingredients thrown together on a plate. It was also a relatively generous portion, although it should be for $12. This was definitely one of the better salads I've had in a while.

Good stuff, especially the chanterelles

So, food-wise, Centro could very well be a four-spat restaurant (I don't feel we tried enough variety to give it the full nod, seeing as how we didn't even have dessert). But given the pretty atrocious service, and the fact that it's actively uncomfortable to be in the room because it's so loud, I have to deduct a spatula, leaving Centro a Three Offset Spatula place. I'd go back if my friends were meeting there, but there are certainly better options around.

Centro Vinoteca

74 Seventh Avenue South


Eric said...

Had a very similar experience with the service, strange host, and general attitude problem. Additionally, the noisy atmosphere made it somewhat difficult to conduct a conversation across a two-top. Food was good, not great. This place has gone downhill and should seek to reinvent or repolish itself soon or it won't survive. $12 salads need to be served with a little more care and comfort these days-

Janine said...

I agree. It's probably getting a little boost from the "Top Chef" fame of Leah Cohen, but once that dies down it definitely needs to step up its game.

ACE said...

picky eaters who ask to remove ingredients or put stuff on the side are annoying enough, but asking for ingredients to be added is really just rude! and, bread should be served as the meal begins. the place is Italian after all. class it up people!

Janine said...


Regardless of whether you think my dining companion was "picky," it was the waitress's RESPONSE, delivered in a disgusted tone, that was rude, not the request. We are paying customers of a restaurant, and within reason we should be able to obtain food that pleases us. I don't think asking to add one innocuous ingredient to a salad (especially if my companion had been willing to pay for the addition, given the option) is an unreasonable request. Yes, completely deconstructing and reconstructing a dish can get a bit ridiculous, but that wasn't what she was doing.

These are very difficult times for restaurants, and a restaurant meal is an indulgence for any diner. In order to survive, restaurants should strive to please patrons rather than alienate them through rude and unpolished service.


Erin said...

So let me get this straight. You each ordered a salad and that's it? And by the way restaurants aren't a salad bar, you order what they have, if you have allergies you take things off otherwise, GO TO ANOTHER RESTAURANT. Clearly you didn't spend enough time there and you aren't sophisticated enough to make a review.

Amanda said...

I liked my experience at Centro Vinoteca, months ago on a Saturday nighth no less. My boyfriend and I ate at the bar and really enjoyed our bottle of Barolo. I remember we had the parpardelle and the squab -- both excellent. Unfortunately, I just read today that Centro Vinoteca is closing. Already -- can you believe it?

Janine said...

Hi Amanda,

Looks like it's actually reopening, with a new chef no less! Centro lives on...

Thanks for reading!