Although I love to discover new flavors, I’m not big on things that are trendy. Thus I tend to feel a bit out-of-place when I enter a space as stylish and hip as Centro Bar & Kitchen, despite the fact the staff is friendly, and the joint is actually pretty welcoming.
The room’s decor is hipster industrial: visible-filament incandescent light fixtures, bar stools reminiscent of high school shop class, brick walls, heavy wood tables, lots of glass bottles and chalkboard menus. Although small, it doesn’t feel cramped, and there’s additional seating in the backyard patio/beer garden (with umbrella heaters for cooler months).
The bar is well stocked with a sizeable selection of $10 cocktails, the wine list is above average, and although the beer list is not enormous, it's full of high-end craft brews. As I waited for my wife to join me, I ordered the happy hour cocktail of the day, the Rusty Hound ($5): well bourbon, honey syrup, absinthe, strawberry, grapefruit, and bitters mingled with ice in a not unpleasing fashion. It's not generally the sort of thing I’d order, but I’m glad I did.
Centro (pronounced CHEN-tro, extra points if you roll the R) serves “small plates” akin to those served in a Spanish tapas bar, sans Spanish cuisine. This is a great way to try a variety of tastes, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re really hungry and on a budget. Between the bites and the booze, you could drop a lot of cash fast. Speaking of booze, my wife and I ordered the House Mule, made with vodka, lime juice and housemade ginger beer ($10). Served in a steel mug with ice, the concoction was dangerously refreshing on a warm afternoon.
The regular menu runs from $5 to $14 with daily specials and a dessert section. We ordered all five happy hour plates to share ($5 each). A bowl of escargots and crostini with local chorizo, herbs and Maitre d’Hotel butter arrived first. The snails’ texture reminded me more of hearty mushrooms than molluscs (in a good way), and the rest of the dish was delicious scooped onto toast rounds.
Mustard-braised lamb and purple potato purée followed, served with daubs of garlic sauce and sunflower sprouts. This dish combined well with a similarly plated serving of salted duck marinara with blue cheese lentil risotto. I preferred the lamb and mash. The duck was tasty, though the quasi-risotto was a bit grainy.
Balsamic marinated steak tartare served with crostini, pickled onion and avocado relish was a revelation. My only previous experience with tartare was off-putting, but I now realize I’d not had it done right. My semi-squeamish wife even had a second bite, and I happily finished it off.
The one letdown was a short rib tostada with slaw, pickled onion and queso fresco. There was nothing wrong other than it didn’t stand out against similar fare available from local taquerias at less than $5 a pop.
Out of sheer curiosity, I ordered beer-battered white anchovies with herb aioli from the regular menu ($5). My wife made the same face she does when I put ’em on pizza, yet she enjoyed more than one of those salty little buggers. If you like fish but think you hate anchovies, try this.
On a friend’s recommendation I ordered Filthy Bastard Fries, which turned out to be a pile of split fingerlings, Arrogant Bastard beer cheese sauce, chorizo, chunk-cut bacon, drop/calabrian chili, and queso fresco ($10). Forget what I said about leaving hungry; this dish did us in and then some. Think of chili cheese fries, then elevate that to the level of filet and lobster. This plate is so good it could cause you health problems.
Trendy be damned. Centro ain’t a cheap date, but it’s worth it.