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.
Food: B- (torn here between a B and a B-)