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Centro Vinoteca -- review

Had dinner last night (Friday) at Centro Vinoteca -- Anne Burrell's (of Iron Chef fame) restaurant. We were excited after reading reviews of flavor filled piccolini (small, tapas style Italian apps) and the creative pasta dishes. Unfortunately, neither the food nor the service met our expectations. Dont get me wrong, there was nothing "wrong" with either: the service was relatively competent (there when we needed him, but not hovering), and the food was at times quite tasty (the antipasti calamari noodles were perfectly cooked and bathed in a light lemon broth -- yum!). However, our server was clearly not familiar enough with the wines offered by quartino, and the food was, on the whole, quite unremarkable.

We started with 3 piccolini: Truffled deviled eggs (quite good, but really just deviled eggs with some truffle oil -- a great, cute concept, but hardly a culinary feat); Eggplant and ricotta cakes (slightly overcooked, blackened from the pan, but great spice and creamy ricotta saved the dish -- if I were the chef, I would not have let the burnt cakes go out, but at Centro, the burnt portions were covered up by the cheese. While the overcooking might not have been visible to the eye at first glance, it did not go unnoticed by the palate); and the Arancine (risotto balls -- good, but not revelatory by any means).

For antipasti we shared the fried zucchini blossoms with fresh late summer vegetable panzanella (the panzanella was the best thing on the plate -- fresh and well seasoned, quite good, while the blossoms themselves were nearly flavorless. I must admit that they did work texturally, with the crisp fried exterior and the warm, creamy goat cheese literally bursting from the inside with each bite. For us, the texture was not enough to overcome the lack of flavor. Would not order these again), and the Calamari noodles with black olives (as I said earlier, the best of what we ordered for the night, in my opinion. Note: my SO liked the piccolini the best. The calamari was served noodle style (cut in curly strips) served in a bowl with grilled bread (perfectly grilled, grill marks and all, with great flavor) and a lemon broth of sorts that had a little bit of spice on the back palate).

For mains we shared two pastas: the farroto with lobster, peas, mint and oregano and the lamb bolognese with crispy gnocchi. The farroto was ok: the lobster and peas were both well cooked -- each retaining the proper texture. Again -- while the dish was alright, it lacked a certain flavor profile -- a depth of some sort, and just left me underwhelmed. The bolognese was similarly disappointing, the crisp gnocchi were definitely not crisp. In fact they were kind of soggy. The bolognese itself was quite good, and topped with fried onions (who can complain about fried onions, really?), but it didnt make me want to have more than a few bites.

We also shared a cheese plate (3 italian cheeses), which was much more substantial than we had expected -- 3 large pieces of cheese, with grapes and raisins on the vine and walnuts. NO bread was served at any point throughout the dinner, even with the cheese, nor was any explanation given whatsoever as to what kind of cheeses were served. Not cardinal sins, by any means, but little things that added up throughout the evening to leave us less than compelled to return. We ended the evening with the sweet tarallucci with salty caramel. Perhaps the most unremarkable part of the meal. The caramel itself was fine, but the cookies could have been store bought. Who knows, perhaps by this point in the meal (after many courses and a few quartinos of Italian red wine and a glass of port), my lack of excitement over the dish could have been more from being fully sated than from a real problem with the dish itself. For now, I have to give the dish the benefit of the doubt.

All in all, I would not recommend Centro Vinoteca, nor would I say that it should be avoided at all costs. With the millions of restaurants in the city, there are far better meals to be had, and I certainly won't be running back to give it another shot.

Grades:
Service: B-
Food: B- (torn here between a B and a B-)
Ambiance: B+

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  1. i went last night and after being told it was a 30 minute wait, we were told it was going to be another 30 minutes......but the bartender was nice enough to get us 2 seats at the bar to eat and it was SO worth it. First of all, you completely fail to mention that the pours of the quartino are VERY generous. I had a great glass of vetliner for $11 and it ended up being a very hefty glass. Second, there are hooks under the bar for a woman's purse. This is so key, i can't even explain how appreciated it is by women. Anne was there working her buns off in the kitchen. It was great to see the chef there...For being fried, i thought the zucchini blossoms were ridiculously light. Though the gnocci was very heavy, i didn't expect it to be crispy. it was too moist. The piccoliniwas great - we had both specials. Lots of great corn.

    They definitely do have to work on their service. I too was surprised at the lack of bread we were given. No one should ever have to ask for bread. But i think they'll work out the kinks. They've been packed since day one and i think it's only going to get worse after Bruni reviews. Definitely a West Village young crowd!

    1. I went last Saturday and wasn't really impressed. Had stuffed mushrooms (tasted like canned), zucchini fritters (good), skate acqua pazza (over-fried to the point of shriveling, but still not crisp), gnocchi (agree they were heavy), cherry crostada (good).

      1. We went to Centro Vinoteca Friday night. We didn't have a reservation and walked in after 6 PM. We were seated by one of the two GQ hosts at one of the tables in the bar area (with view of kitchen). The bar was crowded (almost all 30 something females) but no standers near us until the end of our dinner. The atmosphere was lively (can get noisy) and the music was mostly Stones. We had a nice bottle of wine and the following:

        Piccolini:

        Fig with bleu cheese and walnut (special) - okay, too many walnuts, nothing memorable

        Fried cauliflower wedge with parmigiano crust and agliata (creamy garlic sauce) - this was delicious

        Sardines (can't remember if these were piccolini or antipasti) - never met a sardine I have not really enjoyed. Tasted more like herring (young sardines?)

        Eggplant cakes with ricotta - good, not overcooked like kiworan79's experience, nothing special

        Antipasti:

        Grilled scallops with baby arugula (special) - delicious, scallops were cooked perfectly

        Primi:

        Ravioli lluovo with sage butter sauce and guanciale - can't comment on the unsalted Italian bacon since I don't eat meat. The single ravioli was delicious and even better once we got some bread to mop up and devour the burst of sauce once the ravioli was pierced with a fork.

        Service was relaxed but attentive. It would have been nice if server anticipated our need for bread and had replaced a few more plates.

        A few of the dishes were very good. Not a place we would be in a hurry to return to.

        1. Had dinner there last weekend, and my experience was similar to those already posted. Some of the dishes were good, but a few were just eh; service definitely lacking.

          The maitre d' and another gentleman working the floor downstairs who seemed to be a manager, were not particularly warm or welcoming. We had to flag down a busboy to bring us a bottle of water, as our waiter did not stop by the table for some time after we had been seated. As others have posted, they forgot the bread. They didn't serve it until we wanted some to mop up the lamb bolognese, and asked if they served bread at all. (I didn't see any on other tables.) Our server neglected to mention that the plum crostata was a pear crostata when we asked about and then ordered it for dessert. (This might not seem like a big deal, but I don't like pears, so it made a difference. Not to mention his reaction was simply "oh yeah, they changed it" when we brought it to his attention.) All of this added to an overall impression that the front of the house really doesn’t care whether their guests are enjoying themselves or not.

          I agree on the truffled deviled eggs. These could stand to be served a little less cold, to bring out their flavor, but there'd probably be a DOH issue there. Fried cauliflower was excellent; arancini, ok; eggplant cakes, eh; stuffed mushrooms, also eh. Goat cheese cheesecake with roasted figs, not bad. The clear winner was the fried gnocchi with the lamb Bolognese. The gnocchi were excellent - crispy outside, tender inside - my favorite dish of the night. And one worth returning for, but the chilly reception/lax service was a turn off, so I would not rush back.

          1. I usually try to refrain from writing negative reviews, but the service we received during lunch here was so bad, I had to mention it. Everything started out fine - nice space, seated right away, menus in hand. However, when our food arrived, that's where it goes downhill. The server brought out a pasta dish instead of the cuban sandwich I ordered. I even pointed the dish out on the menu for him when I placed my order. Ok, so no big deal, they'll just bring out the correct dish. So, they take my plate back, but not my companion's. We ask them to please keep her pasta dish warm and bring out both items when they are ready. We wait. And wait. We start trying to make eye contact with our server - actually, anyone that worked there. What was most unbelievable was the fact that one girl was purposefully trying to ignore us - would literally turn around a certain way so she wouldn't have to face our table. I don't like to shout or touch people for attention, but after we waited over 15minutes with no food, no acknowledgment of our wait from ANYONE that worked there, I was starting to get annoyed. So, when we finally had to obnoxiously shout to someone to get any sort of attention, the server doesn't apologize, but snaps at us that the food is almost ready.

            Are you serious? I will never return to this restaurant. Oh, and I asked for half of my sandwich to be wrapped up to go. They never brought it out. We didn't bother to ask or wait. Knowing the way they run this place, they probably threw it away anyway.

            No one ever mentioned anything regarding our over 20 minute wait for our replacement entree. It's like they were a little kid who was embarrassed to admit fault. Ridiculous.

            1. Last Friday my wife was out of town and I went alone; my first visit and an early reservation.

              Chicken liver pate with balsamic onions was sublime; it came with its own little slices of bread, of course. The chardonnay from Piemonte complemented it nicely. Next the calamari noodles, delicately spiced, were served with small pieces of toast. Ribolla Gialla went with it very well. Oh, yes, the bread arrived, too, without any prompting by me. Finally, porchetta with baby brussels sprouts and roast cauliflower was delicious, as was the Amarone.

              Perhaps it was because there weren't a lot of other diners at 6.30, but I found the service attentive. From the welcome at the front door, to my waiter, and another waiter when mine was busy; and the busboy removed the empty dishes promptly. Because I drink a lot of water, I am accustomed to having to ask for more, but not this time - the busboy never let my glass get below half full.

              Can't wait to introduce my wife and friends to this great food.

              1. I had a lovely experience there. But my friend and I sat at the bar and were there for the wine. (We did not order food, so I cannot comment on that.) We were there around 8:30 on a Saturday night, the man at the door was very nice (even though it was already packed), and we got 2 seats at the bar relatively quickly. The two bartenders were quite knowledgeable and helplful with the wine list and my friend and I both thought our wine selections were excellent and the pours generous (and gently priced). We enjoyed chatting with the bartenders and several of the people around us. At one point we noticed some people had bread and olive oil so we asked the bartender about it and if we could order that. She said that one got that only if dinner was ordered. Obviously we were disappointed; but she said not to worry that she'd bring us some anyway. She did. It was quite tasty. And she did not charge us for it. Since we had such a good time and the wine was so good, I certainly want to return and have some food.

                1. My wife, mother in law and I dined at Centro Vinoteca last night after an off Broadway play. I had made advanced reservations and was pleased when we were immediately seated. We dined upstairs and were a tad taken aback when there was a winter chill that encapsulated the room. One of the servers stated that the heat was broken. Oh well, we also sat at a table that was a corner one, which is really designed for two people so for three it was a bit crammed. The waitress was quite nice and the service was very attentive. We ordered three items off of the Piccolini and each one was very nicely presented and was perfect. The oxtail that appetizer was also very nicely prepared and excellent. The three entrees afterward were the Rib eye, Rabbit and the Red Snapper. The rib eye was an excellent cut and was so large that I had to take it home. My wife ordered the rabbit stuffed with sausage which was also quite good. The red snapper however was a disappointment. It could have been that it was the last piece in the fridge, because it probably was about 4oz, a measly portion when compared with the other entrees. The wine selections are quite vast with many by the quart, about a glass and a half. They range from a majority in the $40.00 a bottle to upwards of $200.00 or so. In the end the numerous choices one has with the menu could be a turnoff for some or a nice variety for others. With the wine selection a table or even a bar spot if you can grab one is a nice addition to the West Village.

                  1. I went to Centro Vinoteca last night with 3 other friends from work--- 3 of us came all the way from our office in CT just to have dinner here. We had a 7:30PM reservation; 3 of us were on time, 1 (who works in the city) was late due to a meeting at work which ran over. At 7:40PM, we learned our friend was in a cab on her way, and we immediately informed the hostess. She told us she could hold our table for 3 more minutes ONLY before she had to release the reservation. (3 minutes precisely? Who says that?) We asked if we would sit down and order drinks/apps while we waited (to compensate for holding the table), upon which she insisted that she could not seat us until we were a complete party. She then proceeded to define what comprised a complete party in a condescending tone. We're not morons (we are three successful, female young professionals with college degrees), and understood this as common restaurant policy--- however, we could have done without her rude delivery.

                    Granted, our friend ended up being 20 minutes late, which we acknowledged. When she (our friend) approached the hostess to explain, she told us we could wait 12 minutes (Note once again the overly precise, potentially anal tendencies...) to see if a table adjacent to the bar opened up. With that remark, we made calls to other restaurants in the neighborhood while waiting. During this time the hostess did not check in with us, update us on table status, nor look at us--- she did not do anything to acknowledge our presence as customers. She made no attempt to be accommodating whatsoever. It was evident that we were not going to be seated at a proper table as long as she was in charge. The best we could hope for would be adjacent to the bar (and given her attitude, even that would have been a long shot). The decision to eat someplace else was obvious, so we ended up at Cafe Cluny, within walking distance of Centro Vinoteca. Though bustling when we arrived, they were able to take a party of 4 on the spot (8PM), with friendly service and good food to boot! (Cafe Cluny is on W4 and W12th.)

                    ---

                    In contrast, I dined at Blue Hill a couple of weeks ago with one other guest, and we arrived 10 minutes late for our reservation. Our table wouldn't be ready for another 10 minutes still, and the hostess invited us to have a seat at the bar and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine until our table became available (...and we were the late ones!).

                    ---

                    I recognize that the circumstances in these two situations are different, but the point is that certain treatment by the service staff sends a message. The staff at Blue Hill sent the message that they had a desire to keep me as a customer and that my business was appreciated. The staff at Centro Vinoteca, by being so dismissive, sent the message that they had no desire to serve me, that my business was not appreciated, and that I was not valued as a guest.

                    I do not intend to return to Centro Vinoteca, and judging from the majority of reviews here, it seems I would not be missing out on much anyway.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Cinder811a

                      Cinder811a, thanks for your report. Sorry you had a bad experience. I didn't realize they had a policy that the entire party must be present to be seated. Good for hounds to know. I don't know many restaurants with that policy and I don't care for it. It makes more sense to seat the party and let them start ordering drinks/apps and running up the check! Most NYC restaurants will only hold a reservation for 15 minutes, which is fair. There are so many good restaurants in NYC who needs to deal with this kind of service? Like you, I take my $$$$ elsewhere.

                      1. re: Cinder811a

                        I went there once and will never return. The service is horrendous. No bread half way through the meal and the water glasses were empty for most of the night. The beet salad was disgusting, nothing but a par cooked beet on the plate with way to much dressing. The Snapper smelled like it has been sitting around for a few days and didn't taste much better. The other items we had were decent, but not redeemable.
                        It took at least 30 minutes to get the check, after asking for it several times.

                        1. re: Cinder811a

                          With great Italian places like Crispo and Lupa nearby, who needs to be subjected to this kind of treatment? Thanks for the heads-up.

                        2. I went here last night. I am a big fan of Gusto so I had very high hopes for this place. Like Gusto, the design is excellent. Everything from the lighting to minor details like the leather-wrapped banister going up the stairs made for a great atmosphere. The food was good, but I wasn't overwhelmed. The dishes we ordered off the piccolini menu were ok, but none of them should have been priced at more than $5. We had the rock shrimp, grogonzola dip, white bean puree, and marinated olives . On a positive note, we had 2 great dishes from the appetizer menu - the grilled pizzetta w/creamy cheese and spicy susage and the, warm duck salad. For main dishes we ordered: red snapper (cauliflower ragu was nice, but the big pieces of parsley ocer-powered the dish...and i love parsley); spaghetti w/poached tuna and fennel - i love fennel so I enjoyed this dish, but it overpowered the tuna; lamb bolognese w/fried gnocchi - very rich but probably ties with the lamb shank (our last main) as the best main dish. For dessert we had the panna cotta, cookies with caramel sauce, and goat cheese cheescake. The cheescake was by far my favorite dish of the night.

                          I do like their brunch and if I go back it would probably be for that.

                          1. It seems that we were a couple from this board there on Friday night. I was also in NY on Friday night and the concierge from my hotel (6 Columbus) told me to try it out. It was Friday night and I had no reservation (I was alone) and I decided to try a couple of places but even though I was alone I was turned away at a couple of places. I even tried to go to Gordon Ramsay's at the London and eat at the bar but there were no places available. I was not dissapointed because the clientele and the staff did not appeal to me. It was a bit too snobbish for me.

                            I then decided to go to Centro vinoteca and sat at the bar around 7 PM. If you saw a clumsy woman spilling her glass of red wine...Hello....It was me...haha...I thought the waitresses at the bar were nice to me even though I spilled wine and she came back with the wine bottle and filled up my quartino even though I had already drank some of it. I did not find them the most professional waitresses around, there are rarely those anymore, but they were really nice. I had the rock shrimp and the sweetbreads. Both plates were excellent. I ended up chatting with the man seated next to me and we ended up having a nice conversation about restaurants and the fact that he visited my home town, Montreal, a couple of weeks before. I would go again to Centro because the food is excellent, well what I had was excellent, and I love the concept of quartinos. It is meant to be noisy and lively. People complaining about the noise should stay away from those kinds of restaurants because, like Otto and others like them, they are meant to be noisy and attract a younger clientele. Only be prepared before going.