In January, La Vecchia Ristorante owner Alberto Gazzola opened Centro Bar & Kitchen, a new restaurant in the former location of the Blue Plate Restaurant, 236 California Ave. The restaurant's focus is small-plate food and cocktails. Ryan Harris is general manager, bar director, and resident graphic designer. For more information, visit www.centroreno.com.
How did you get involved?
I was working with [executive chef] David Stern two and a half years ago at SODO, and David Stern left. And he was approached by Alberto, and they wanted someone to run the front of the house, and David approached me.
Tell me about the food.
The food is tapas style, but it’s not actually Spanish cuisine at all—it’s just small plates. We try to keep it as local and as fresh as possible. Everything is made on the spot. It’s handed to you as it’s made. We try to keep it very, very fresh. This is new stuff. I think this is nothing that Reno has seen.
What are the inspirations?
Well, we took a trip to Portland a few months ago—six months ago, actually. And we went to 13 restaurants a day. And we got our fingers in a lot of things. We went to a couple of tapas places. We went to Pok Pok, which is a Northern Thai restaurant, and we got a lot of ideas from things they were doing.
So this is like authentic Portlandia cuisine?
Well, I try to pull from a lot of Asian cuisine too. I went to Thailand too last year, and our table sauce is a sauce they use called nam prik. And that was their ketchup. Every table in Thailand has this little sauce with chilies in it. I just wanted that comforting, spicy, sweet, savoriness to a lot of the food. … The sticky ribs are pork riblets that are marinated and then smoked in a fish sauce—so, fish sauce, garlic, chili paste and sugar. And we smoke those in the sauce itself, and then we do a quick Panko dusting and then flash fry them, and then throw them in the sauce again. They’re just awesome. Sticky, savory, sweet, spicy—all those things. The beet salad—I know everyone is doing beets, but we do our beets with California grapes, queso fresco, house-made vinaigrette. And they’re just sweet, tender little gems.
What I really like about this location is it’s three blocks from the Reno News & Review office. What do you like about the location?
Everything. I love the shape of the building. I love its centralized location between two of the most popular bars in Reno, and we’re open late. I still think the younger crowd isn’t understanding that we’re open late, and that this is the thoroughfare between two places where they party. I like that.
You mean St. James Infirmary and The Loving Cup?
Yes, and 1864 [Tavern], our neighbor. And that’s great. I hate to use the word “synergy,” but it really is. We’re all working together. I think California Avenue is a perfect, perfect place for this.
Who’s been the clientele so far?
The clientele has been mixed—so mixed. I thought it was going to be a younger crowd, but it is absolutely everyone. I think that’s really due to La Vecchia too, because all these people who have grown to love La Vecchia, and then they hear that Roberto is opening a new restaurant, and then they come down here and they’re like, whoa! They’re surprised. Sometimes they’re elated. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re turned off by the unusual way to eat food, because they’re so used to eating an entree, a salad, and an appetizer, and not just a bunch of small things and sharing. Sharing is really weird to a Reno crowd, I think.
I like it. Where did the name come from?
Centro is Italian for center, bull’s-eye. Whenever you say I’m going to the centro, it means you’re going downtown, I’m going to the city center, I’m going out. That came from Alberto. We went through a bunch of names, but that was one that stuck with me, and then I started on the logo, and that was it.