Modern Mexican Food at Centrico

I’m starting to dislike restaurant week.  I know, I know . . . I blogged during the summer about how much I liked it, and already I’m changing my story like a bad liar in front of his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend.  Maybe I used to like it cuz I was a poor student who barely made 7 bucks an hour working a bullshit work-study job?  Maybe I don’t like it anymore cuz I’m a big boy now, with a a big boy job, making a big boy salary, wearing big boy pants, and eating big boy food? (Besides All-Clad and Shun, maybe Huggies should throw me some cash, too? Okay, okay . . . I’ll stop. On with the food. . . .)

While I used to think it was great to go out and eat at a discount, the more restaurants I eat at for Restaurant Week, the more I realize that most places simply put simple-to-prepare, bland, uninspired dishes on the menu, knowing that plenty of people who normally do not eat out very often will flock to their restaurants looking for a good deal.  In most cases, they will not find one.

Centrico, owned by chef Aarón Sanchez, is different.  You may know Aarón from the Food Network – he was the host of this show called Melting Pot.   I’ve never seen it. I’m not even sure if they still show it. Food Network sucks now anyway. Except for Good Eats, which I mostly watch on YouTube (but that’s another blog). Or, more recently, he was on The Next Iron Chef America competition during the summer of 2007.  He was my underdog favorite, despite making some silly mistakes early on in the competition.  And if that still doesn’t ring any bells, you may (and I hate to do this to ya, Aarón) know him because of his mom — the fantastic Zarela Martinez.

Located at 211 West Broadway (near where West Broad intersects Franklin St.), Centrico gave me the most food out of any restaurant so far for restaurant week.  To boot, none of it was the usual tex-mex-type fare that some people I know automatically think of when they hear “Mexican food.”  You want more?  Here:  it was all very tasty.

Of course, this is no longer an updated, relevant blog post.  I’m recalling my meal from this past summer’s restaurant week, so if that turns you off to this post, feel free to stop reading now.

For the rest of you, I’ll continue, since I didn’t get a chance to blog about this place during the summer — a shame, because the food was good and plentiful.  My bet is that the menu for January 2009’s restaurant week should be pretty promising as well.  Additionally, I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures.  I took a bunch with my camera phone, but that phone has since decided to stop working on me, so all was lost.  Sadness.

First Course

The four courses offered at Centrico started off with a platter of guac and chips for my two guests and me.  Although it wasn’t terribly impressive (the guac could have used much more lime and the chips were really thick.  Plus I would have liked way more salt on the chips, but I really like salt . . .), it was nice to have something to munch on while we perused the drink menu.  We all agreed that it was a nice gesture to offer another “course,” considering all the other places we’d been to seemed to try to skimp as much as possible.

Hoo boy, I can tell I’m not inspiring confidence in any of you, but hold on.  I’m serious.  This was a good restaurant.

Second Course

For the appetizer, we ordered all three items on the menu: the platanos rellenos, ensalada de mercado, and the camarones y pozole.

The plantains were probably the favorite of the 3 apps.  It was a twist on the chillis rellenos — a hollowed out section of mildly sweet plantain, filled with smoky black beans, and finished with crema fresca.  The smokiness of the beans were evocative of bacon, almost, and I had my doubts as to whether or not there might be some porcine play going on there.  Vegetarians be warned: ask ahead.

The salad was actually quite boring, despite sounding delicious when described: Mesclun, shaved chayote and jicama, hibiscus vinaigrette.  I have no idea what hibiscus tastes like, but the vinaigrette did not impress me or any of my fellow diners that evening.

The shrimp appetizer was very tasty, as well (We decided we liked the plantains just a little better because it was delicious and we’d never had a plantain that had been stuffed with smoky beans before).  The shrimp were sauteed and paired with a creamy gaujillo chilli sauce before being poured over the top of crispy triangles of pozole/grits/polenta.  It was creamy, rich, and delicious.  In fact, I briefly contemplated asking for a bowl of the sauce, topped with a few more of the beautiful shrimp, so that I could have it as a soup.

Third Course

I had the birria al estilo Jalisco, the braised short ribs, Jalisco-style, which was paired with an earthy, flavorful ancho chile broth.  It wasn’t not too spicy, since anchos aren’t very spicy at all.  Rather, it was deep and complex.  The ribs came with tortillas and some fixings, so that you could make your own mini burritos or tacos or whatever.  This was my favorite of the night.

One of my friends had the pollo a las brasas, which was probably the best damn chicken I have ever had in a restaurant so far.  Pieces of chicken are marinated with chipotle, lime, and garlic.  They are then pressed as they cook, so that the meat comes out dense and flavorful and super moist and tender.  When the dish arrives, you can really smell the garlic and lime, though I could have used a little bit more of the chipotle.  This was very close to being my favorite (and it probably should have been, except I have a thing for short ribs, and a thing against chicken in restaurants).

Finally, there was the pescado veracruzana, the pan-roasted market fish.  We had the option of having either salmon or mahi mahi, and chose the latter.  Tomatoes, olives, serrano chillis.  Not bad.  Not great either, but fresh and clean tasting, so no complaints.

Fourth Course

I had the molten mexican chocolate cake, and we also got the flan de coco and corn ice cream.  I have to say, I do believe corn ice cream must have been the invention of some genius.  It was probably a grandmother.  A mad, genius, darling, wonderful grandmother.  Bless her.  I’ve found my favorite flavor of ice cream, and it tastes like cold, sweet corn.

The flan was nothing special, though it was very good.  The molten chocolate cake was delicious, except that it was not Mexican, plus I had the same exact dessert the very next day at another restaurant for restaurant week.  The SAME cake — down to the details of sides and top of the cake (assembly-line-manufactured, it seems).  Oh well.  In Centrico’s defense, theirs was far superior.

Summary:

If you plan on going out for restaurant week, please consider going to eat at Centrico restaurant, located at 211 West Broadway.  A vast majority of the options are everyday a la carte items, so the staff are experienced in preparing these dishes.  The end result is a consistent dining experience and a true bargain (as far as eating in Manhattan goes, anyway).  You’re also full after your meal, unlike the time I went to eat at Megu, where I was seriously contemplating buying a dirty water hot dog after dinner.  Order one of the specialty cocktails (I had the one with jalapenos in it.  Interesting and tasty.  Zesty, I might say).  If offered again, I’d go with either the shrimp or the plantains for the app, either the chicken or the short ribs for the main, and most definitely the corn ice cream for dessert.  Anything you choose will most likely be pretty good.  You can thank me later for suggesting the corn ice cream.

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