Yes, I understand that Labor Day evening is not the ideal time to check out a new restaurant. For one thing, it's a pretty sure bet that the executive chef—in this case Anne Burrell, hired by Gusto owner Sasha Muniak to run this weeks-old spot after Jody Williams jumped ship for Morandi—is nowhere near the place. For another, with the city so dead, it must feel like a "sort-of" night off, even if you're working (ahem, waitstaff). That said, and despite a couple of off-notes over five courses (which might have still been there come Tuesday, but felt more like the result of an inattentive kitchen), I still very much enjoyed my meal at Centro Vinoteca, and look forward to returning for much more of an ambitious menu that's packed with terrific-sounding dishes.
There's a lot to get excited about here, starting with the piccolini, or small plates. I sampled two: the Chicken Liver Pate with Balsamic Onions, which was deeply rich and funky, remarkably creamy, and beautifully punctuated by the sweet and crunchy onions; and Truffled Deviled Eggs, which are exactly as amazing as they sound. And the portions felt exceptionally generous—about double what I was expecting—for dishes in this four- and five-dollar price range.
Then it was on to the antipasti, and the toughest choice of night. I opted for the Grilled Sea Scallops, four of the fat mollusks perfectly cooked and teamed with, among other things, sweet pickled watermelon and bitter dandelion greens. This was potentially a brilliant dish, marred by a heavy-handed marinade.
I was totally full at this point... and then out came my primo, a special Tagliatelle with heirloom cherry tomatoes, chantarelle mushrooms, wilted arugula, and roasted corn. I was picturing a bright, summery dish when I ordered it (and, in fact, my server made a similar comment), but this was anything but light, slathered as it was in a too-thick, too-salty sauce that overwhelmed the plate. Nice idea, though. And, yes, I was more than happy to to eat every bite.
Dolci was another near-sensation: Sweet Taralluci (crispy, airy, fried-dough-like cookies) with Salty Caramel. Now, it may seem unfair to gripe about saltiness when you order a dessert featuring "Salty Caramel", but I think just a few sprinkled crystals would have done the trick just fine, instead of the handful that someone tossed into my dipping bowl.
Centro Vinoteca is located on Seventh Avenue South, just below Barrow Street. The two-story restaurant is pretty and comfortable, both in the bar area downstairs (where I sat), and in the more intimate dining room above. I had no problem getting a table by the window at 6:00 in the evening, but again, it was Labor Day, and I hear that the place is usually packed.