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May 1, 2007 05:18 PM

Centrico: Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Prowling around for good Mexican in the city has become something of a personal crusade full of hope, disappointment, love lost, love found, blood, tears, rock & roll, passionate affairs, murder--oh you get the point. Centrico might be one or more of these things, but it is certainly not a love found.

It is an attractive space, very Tribeca, all wide glass windows, shiny copper topped tables. (If we ate only with our eyes, we’d be in good shape.) Unfortunately, the food itself was mostly mediocre and the service was downright bad.

First off, the food: We had Ancas De Rana (frog legs with cilantro oil and calabacitas con queso) and sopes for appetizers. The calabacitas, sautéed zucchini and tomatoes, was well made, but the frog legs served with them were absolutely bland, tasteless, and devoid of spice, salt, sauce. Sopes lacked that nice toasted crust and were doughy and tough. They also came without what are, to me, two crucial ingredients: tomatoes and onions (did the kitchen run out??). Guacamole and cheese, alone, do not a good sopes make.

Main courses fared better. My braised short ribs in jalisco-style ancho chile broth (Birria En Estilo Jalisco) were properly tender, but the dish was unidimensional in flavor. The meat came in a thinnish broth / sauce—no ancho that I could detect—that could’ve really benefited from being reduced by 1/3. There were two tiny pieces of carrot served with the dish, a half-hearted attempt at vegetable matter. The dish came with what could have at one point been delicious homemade tortillas, but they had been reheated one too many times (previous diners’ leftovers?!) and came to me leathery, hard, and absolutely inedible. I couldn’t flag the waiter down to get another basket.

My SO’s roasted duck breast with spicy red fruit sauce and asparagus (Pato En Manchamanteles) was better. It came medium rare without the waiter having asked his preference (good for me, but he prefers medium). There was no heat whatsoever to the dish, but the fruit sauce was a good combination of sweet and sour. There were jarred sour cherries in them. Though the four or five small slivers of asparagus were pretty token, they were delicious—probably in part because I was starved for vegetable matter at this point.

Had the food been brilliant, I would have minded the poor service less. As it was, there was little mitigation. Though the restaurant was 1/3 empty at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night and we had reservations, we were told to wait at the bar for almost ten minutes because the host was chatting with a table. Then, when we were finally seated, it took near twenty minutes for someone to take our order. There were lots of staff scampering around, but they seemed to be immersed in their own, comi-tragic water drills, filling water glasses that did not need to be refilled and studiously avoiding everyone's gaze. The surrounding tables also had difficulty getting attention.

The verdict: food was originally good in concept, but deeply lackluster in the execution. It’s not destination dining and not even somewhere I’d come for a fun few drinks (overpriced, small, sugary ones) if I lived in the nabe – because after a while, the slow, indifferent service really just wears you down.

211 W Broadway
New York 10013
(at Franklin St)

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  1. Cimui, thanks for the detailed report, I've enjoyed reading them over the last few months.

    Your review smacks of another case of NYC hyperbole, places like Centrico get rave reviews when in fact they are nothing better than mediocre. I was very underwhelmed the one time I ate there and so haven't been back even though I've lived in the neighbourhood for most of my 2 years here.

    To be fair, it is not really holding itself out as Mexican but rather some kind of creative/modern Mexican or nuevo latino, call it what you will. If you would like to eat some tasty Poblano food in low key setting surrounded by Mexican folks watching Mexican TV and listening to Mexican music, I recommend San Francisc de Assis on Lexington Av between 110 and 111, it's the real deal and it's cheap. Try the mole poblano amongst other things.

    Also, to give due credit to the Nieporent TriBeCa empire, the more recently opened Mai House is actually tasty food and pretty good service the one time I was there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oonth

      Really appreciate the SFdA tip! (Hole in the wall places are my very favorite--tho I can't say I like Mexican TV.) I plan to check it out sometime this week / weekend. I don't get over to the east side nearly as often as I ought.

    2. Agree with your take on Centrico. I live a few blocks away and went once. I found the price to quality ratio way out of whack and haven't been back since - though someone has been trumpeting their take out menu as great and much cheaper? I haven't checked that out yet.

      For hole in the wall, I like El Maguey y La Tuna on E Houston, though I've seen it take some criticism on this board. The service is almost painfully friendly there.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ronoc

        "The service is almost painfully friendly there."


        Is El Maguey open really late at night, with a left-hand-side entrance, counter for ordering where you pick up your own food, a medium sized sitting area, and reddish walls with lots of odds and ends on it? If so, I think I might've stumbled in there late at night, after a show, just a few months back. It's the right area. Unfortunately, I was a little too inebriated to remember many details--just that the food was decent.

        1. re: cimui

          No... I'm not sure what you're thinking of. Not Barrio Chino? That's open late, but you don't get your own food. The only place I can think of is the taco stand at La Equina.

          Maguey has a bunch of cheap tables in a rectangular room with a staff that all seems to be related from how much they all talk to each other. If you order a bunch of stuff you usually get some free shots of whatever they're drinking in the kitchen with your check. The mole is solid.

          1. re: cimui

            Check out Tulcingo del Valle on 10th Ave. in Hell's Kitchen...amazing Mex (for NYC).

        2. I had a blah meal there about a year ago. Same with Agave. Now that there is a sizable Mexican population in the city, I hope to see some really great joints emerge. For now, my favorite Mexican place to go is actually in Newark on Ferry St. Mi Pequeno Mexico. Nice little place with a pleasant staff and a Virgin Mary statue in the window.

          2 Replies
          1. re: foodmonk

            It'd be nice to find a mid-range place somewhere between self-though hoity toity and taco truck, no? I'm crossing my fingers that this is NY's next culinary advance.

            1. re: cimui

              I couldn't agree with you more...Mexican food is my heart. Try Tulcingo del Valle...El Maguey y la Tuna is pretty damn good, too.

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