Another gem! Another wonderful restaurant week choice! Another wonderful restaurant, full stop!
Nestled in Greenwich Village, on the corner of Barrow Street, Bleecker Street and 7th Avenue South is the wonderful Italian restaurant Centro Vinoteca. For those of you foodie trivia buffs, you might know that Centro Vinoteca is where Leah Cohen from Top Chef, season 5 works, and where Food Network’s Ann Burrell got her start.
The exterior of Centrois plain and unassuming. The interior a lovely combination of warm and modern. Tables not too small, not too c lose together. Great half banquets – they look like leather sofas – facing great leather chairs on the other side. There are two levels of this restaurant and both charming and inviting.
Nothing, though, is more inviting and welcoming than the staff! Manning the door is Kyle. Warm, friendly, funny, and extremely knowledgeable about every item on the menu. He came over introduced himself, and then our wonderful server Joey. We ordered iced tea and were very happy to not only find out that the glass was bottomless, but that before the last sip was taken someone was there, pitcher in hand, refilling the glass.
Now, anyone who follows along with Fork and Spoon and the rest of the cutlery drawer knows we really try to order the prezzo fisso menu – really, we do – but things call to us and it can’t be helped. And trust me, at Centro Vinoteca EVERYTHING on the prezzo fisso menu is great. You know how many times you may find one thing, perhaps two, on the restaurant week menu that you think are clunkers – no clunkers here.
While we were looking over the menu, and both thinking ‘we aren’t ordering from the prezzo fisso menu’, Joey arrived with a little wooden dish adorned with four beautiful Truffled Deviled Eggs, and announced that Kyle thought we would like to try these. Those of you who have preconceived notions about deviled eggs – like Fork – can let them go. These are not Grandma’s picnic deviled eggs! These are fantastic, subtley truffle flavored deviled eggs. I was happy and sad that there were only four little gems on the plate. I could have eaten many more of them, but that would have stopped me from enjoying the incredible delights to follow.
On Centro’s prezzo fisso menu there is an appetizer consisting of the truffled deviled eggs, zucchini and parmigiano fritters (yes, fritters) and a BLT. Since we had already eaten the truffled deviled eggs we decided to go off the prezzo fisso (without much encouragement, mind you) and order the other two members of the trio of piccolini.
First up was the Zucchini and Parmigiano fritters. More, more, more and more. Fork and Spoon could have easily cancelled the rest of the order and eaten plate after plate after plate of these. The fritters themselves were pingpong ball sized. Beautifully golden brown on the outside. Light and airy on the inside. Sprinkled over the tops of these little balls of deliciousness was freshly grated nuggets parmigiano cheese. On the said, a little ramekin of a spicy tomato sauce for a kick of heat. All together, totally awesome. The zucchini in the fritter isn’t soggy or overpowering. We were told that the secret of the zucchini was to be diced, and then sauteed, and then drained and added. Sauteed first, the zucchini was not soggy and didn’t let off water during the frying process and that kept the simple fritter batter from getting soggy! Even an old Fork and Spoon can learn something new and interesting!
Our second appetizer was the BLT – pancetta, frisee and tomato confit on crostini. Yummy! Tucked under the frisee was a great spicy mayo thing that just lent a little heat and more interest to this simple, but tasty appetizer. The pancetta was nice and crisp and the tomato confit delicate and flavorful. Tomato confit seems to be the ingredient of the season, but with a horrible growing season as we’ve had in the northeast, what else can you do with tomatoes that aren’t quite flavorful enough! The roasting process with good olive oil and herbs opens a whole new world for tomatoes, and we are very grateful for it! The frisee, which Fork does not always like, was the perfect foil for this Italian styled BLT – well, actually, a PLT!
While we were waiting for our entrees to come out, a lovely basket of fresh bread and a cruet of olive oil arrived. What a wonderful combination. Fork and Spoon wishes more restaurants would substitute good olive oil for butter! At least offer both!
The entrees were a little harder to pick. Kyle to the rescue again! He suggested we try one of the paninis as they have just been recently added to the menu. Well, all right! We are never one to shy away from something new!
Our first choice, Pici Pasta with a Sweet & Spicy Ragu. Yes, we know it’s July and hot, but we couldn’t resist this sauce and handmade pasta! Pici is an unusual cut of pasta. It is mostly known in Siena and Venice. In Venice it is called Bigoli. Because of it’s consistency after about a 20 minute cooking time, it is a perfect pasta to pair with a meat sauce like this ragu. The sauce itself was made from lamb and spicy sausage. It was spicy but not overbearingly so. Sprinkled over the top was freshly grated parmigiano. It was wonderful and warm and comforting. Regardless of the weather this dish was wonderful.
One of the nice things about ordering this dish was being asked if we were going to share – which we were, and having the pasta brought out on two plates! Each serving was ample enough for each of us, on one dish it would have been huge!
Now, to the second entree. We ordered one of the new paninis on the menu, a fresh mozzarella panini with speck and arugula. I really wish Spoon and I could rave about this panini the way we raved about everything else on the menu, but we can’t. The speck was sliced too thickly and that made the subtle smokiness of it far too overwhelming. There was no way the mozzarella in this sandwich was fresh mozzarella. And while arugula usually gives a nice peppery hit to anything it’s paired with, there wasn’t enough of it here to counterbalance the speck. If you ask Fork, this sandwich – besides the speck being sliced thinner – needed something, maybe a balsamic reduction. Sadly after a bite each we just couldn’t go on. By the way, the hand cut, fried to order potato chips were incredible!
Dessert was the easiest of the lunch to order.
First we had the Warm Chocolate and Pine Nut Fondant. This scrumptious little chocolate cake was very rich and oozed chocolate when you cut into it. Laced throughout were toasted pine nuts, Atop was warm chocolate sauce with bits of salted pine nut brittle. On the side was a quenelle of mascarpone cream sitting atop a tiny sprinkling of the salted pine nut brittle. Spoon loved the mascarpone cream. Fork would have preferred something cold to counter the warm chocolate fondant. But either way this dessert was delicious!
The other dessert was right up Fork’s alley! Sweet Taralucci with Salty Caramel. Taralucci are an Italian cookie baked until crisp. These were crisp, and delicate, and so buttery, and so good. As if this cookie needed help to be any better, it was paired with a ramekin of salted caramel. The salty caramel against the rich buttery cookie was outstanding. I must confess, we were so full at this point that it was very hard to eat all of these cookies, and it is a generous amount of large cookies, and Spoon just happened to have a baggie in her purse, those cookies came home with me to be savored quietly later that night! There is no better photo of a plate of cookie than and empty plate of cookies, and these were *poof* gone!
There was an upshot to our not liking the panini. A restaurant team that listens. Our server must have said something about the entire sandwich being sent back, and while we were waiting for change, Kyle came by and asked what was wrong with the sandwich. Because the items were new to the menu they wanted feedback, good or bad. We explained the problem and what we felt would be improvements. Kyle found the manager and we all talked about the menu and the sandwich and the entire afternoon ended on a wonderful note – especially with my little bag of taralucci for later!!
The folks at Centro Vinoteca also own Gusto (another on our list to try), on 11th Street ad 7th Avenue and and Mangia with locations on 57th Street, 48th Street, 23rd Street and Wall street.
Centro Vinoteca . 74 Seventh Avenue South . NYC, NY . 212.367.7470
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