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Nov 24, 2010 09:01 PM

Centro Tapas Bar in Federal Hill

For my birthday, I tend to worry my family by picking restaurants with cuisine they've never tried. This year was tapas and the Baltimore restaurant to try was Centro. It's located in Federal Hill which meant that parking on a Saturday night was challenging. They do offer $6 valet which is what we wound up using.

The menu is divided into "bar food", "cheeses", "cold dishes", and "hot dishes". There is a full bar to match Spanish wines with the dishes. The bar food tends to be small, quick finger food like almonds (two types) or pickled peppers. I had a dish of almonds and it turned out to be a good way to start the meal.

Everyone at the table orders a couple of dishes and shares. It's a good system and we allows the less adventurous to re-order safe items while the more adventurous can explore tapas. And it's not too expensive if you have the discipline to stick to two dishes. We did not. We wound up ordering four dishes each and so spent much more than intended.

The dishes are fairly small. For instance, the best dish, Canelon, which is a Spanish take on cannelloni is stuffed with meat, fois gras, mushrooms and other things. The serving size was a single tube. It was good, so we ordered a second. - but...all the "that's good, let me get another" can add up.

The cheeses were good, but again, not a lot of food per order. I especially liked the blue cheese which came with some sort of sweet paste (jelly? apple butter?) that complimented the saltiness of the blue cheese shards..

Another hit was the pate, which was actually a fair amount of food. It was smooth and creamy and cool and came with garlic toast rounds.

I don't remember the name of the dish, but it was a mushroom dish that arrived at the table in a cast iron pot filled with boiling oil into which the mushrooms at been placed with garlic. It was very nice and had a lot of flavor for such a simple dish.

Not everything worked. The blackened lamb hops came out very black on one side, and not black on the other. They were also, very small. The rockfish fritters (I forget the Spanish name) were OK, but were a little greasy and did not match up well with the sauce.

But...we enjoyed ourselves, and it was fun tasting all the different dishes. My mom noted that the reason everything tastes so good is that the dishes are either intrinsically high in fat (Lamb Chops,
Cheese) or are fried or boiled in oil.

With some discipline, a good meal at a good price can be had here. Without the discipline a good meal can still be had, but the cost and calorie count will be stay with you.

Centro Tapas Bar
1444 Light St, Baltimore, MD 21230

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  1. Yeah, I wasn't overly impressed with either the flavors or the portions. I know tapas are supposed to be small, but $8 for one bite of pork belly is ridiculous.

    It's not a bad deal if you go on Tuesday for their $3 tapas night, but I'm not anxious to go at regular menu hours.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JonParker

      I agree, the $3 Tuesday night specials are worth hitting up but I'm hard pressed to go there on any other night. It's not that the food isn't good, it's just not that great. It's a meal that you'll come away satisfied but you also won't remember a "wow" dish.

      1. re: ohbilly

        I concur. Had we paid full price, I don't think I would have been happy with the experience. (Although I'm still thinking about the corn cakes and the red pepper spread)

    2. I thought it was decent, but not awesome. Nothing was awful, which I can't say for too many of the places I've eaten recently. That red pepper stuff that comes with the bread is like crack. I'd drink it. Bread tasted homemade and was really good-- all three of the kinds. Rockfish nuggets weren't great-- kind of fishy. Lamb meatballs weren't really up my alley. Cheeses were unremarkable and teeny portions, especially for being such mild cheeses. Yucca and fries were hot and decent but nothing special. Empanadas were solid. Oxtail was good. The cachapas were something special. Sweet and hot and perfectly seared and tasted like summer. We ordered a second plate. The sangria was pretty good also.

      I also really liked that rectangular prism of sweet goo. What was that??