Sensible pasta at centro cafe
Finding a new restaurant that won't break the bank can be a tough task. So when good friends of ours suggested we try centro café in Riverwest (808 E. Center Street, next door to Fuel Café), we took their advice-and took them with us.
When you walk through the door at centro you're immediately in the dining room. It's a small place with a warm, neighborhoody atmosphere, yet it has an open feel as well: the main kitchen is mostly exposed, right next to the dining area. It's a really unique layout with a newly opened bar upstairs (more on this later).
The menu includes a varied list of pasta dishes, salads and sandwiches, seemingly something to please everyone. What were most pleasing were the prices. With salads and appetizers starting at $4 and entrees starting at $7, centro café should be high on the lists of those with a passion for dining out as well as a rational wallet.
To start, our group ordered the following:
- Bruschetta ($5.00)
- Grilled calamari w/scallops ($9.00)
- White bean dip w/garlic bread ($5.00)
We all ordered pasta for entrees, as there were plenty of compelling options.
- Linguini w/scallops and spicy tomato basil sauce and sun-dried tomatoes ($13.00)
- Farfalle Alla Giardiniera w/asparagus, carrots, red peppers, mushrooms and tomato basil sauce ($10.00)
- Gnocchi w/roasted red peppers, spinach and white wine sauce with parmesan ($12.00)
- Tortellini w/prosciutto and fontina cheese ($12.00)
- Lobster ravioli tossed w/ shrimp, diced tomatoes and spinach in cream sauce (Special, $15.00)
- Peach and lemon sorbets ($5.00 each)
As we enjoyed our reasonably priced bottle(s) of Chianti, the appetizers arrived and we dove into the calamari and scallops. We picked up on the grilled flavor right away, which bears mentioning since every calamari plate I've ever ordered has been fried; grilling this calamari added to its fresh flavor and texture. Moving on, the bruschetta was presented cleanly and simply. Each piece included toasted bread full of diced tomatoes, basil, red onion, herbs and oil. Again, the presentation and preparation are noteworthy as many bruschettas are piled with mounds of topping, making them a messy challenge to eat; this one was quite tidy and quite good. Also there was plenty to pass; $5 went a long way in this case. The white bean dip was a last-minute addition, and a smart one at that. It was light and had pleasant olive oil and garlic flavors. Also at $5, it was another un-pricey success.
All of our entrees happily arrived at the same time. The expectations were high for my lobster ravioli, and I was not disappointed. What really tied the dish together was the tangy lemon cream sauce. That, and the huge pieces of shrimp. Next, I snuck a forkful of tortellini with prosciutto and freshly shredded fontina; I'm planning to order it next time I visit centro.
The farfalle and gnocchi were good-not memorable, but the vegetables were crisp and fresh. But the night's big winner had to be the pasta special for the evening, linguini with scallops and sun dried tomatoes. The scallops were sweet, the linguini absorbed the tomato basil sauce and the sun dried tomatoes added rich texture and flavor-excellent harmony. It was definitely my favorite dish.
After dinner, we continued our evening at centro's new bar upstairs; it was opening night in fact. We had a chance to meet centro's manager, Ruth Weill, as well as the owners, Pat Moore and Peg Karpfinger. They were more than kind and shared stories of the opening the restaurant and the recent renovations to the bar area. They even treated us to a tasty antipasto of olives, cured meats and hearty crackers, which we happily enjoyed with our round of brandy old fashioneds. They didn't have to do it, but it showed us another personal touch of a local establishment doing right by the patrons.
Centro café nailed it in all facets of dining: cuisine, service, atmosphere, portion size, presentation and of course, price. We walked away full and happy-and with a few extra bucks in our respective pockets.