09 June 2016

Double delight at Centrolina in DC

When I travel, one of the things I'm looking for is something new - new restaurants, new food, new wine. So when I go to a new restaurant, I rarely return for a second meal, even if I really liked it. The caveat is - I always reserve the right to go again on my next visit to that city. 

I traveled to DC in early June. I was arriving on Sunday evening. The weather was threatening rain. So I looked at what new restaurants would be reasonably close to my hotel. (I was staying at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza at 14th & K NW.) That's how I came across Centrolina. I almost didn't go. My wife and I just got back recently from Italy, and I wasn't sure if I really wanted more Italian food. But it had good reviews on OpenTable, and in the past, I've found Italian restaurants in DC to be very good. (I've lamented that our own Minnesota Italian restaurants just don't measure up compared to those in DC.) 

When I arrived, at 8 on a Sunday night, I found a hopping, busy restaurant, right in the middle of downtown DC. In the past, I've often found downtown restaurants to be very dead on a Sunday night. So that was a good sign. The location was new to me, in a development called City Center. There are several restaurants as well as high-end fashion shops and condos and offices. Centrolina is on Palmer Alley in the development. It does have outdoor tables on the alley. But on Sunday night, they weren't seating there because of the threat of rain. 

I liked the ambiance of Centrolina, which is actually two businesses - a market and a restaurant/osteria. The dining room has high ceilings and the decor is shiny and modern. There's lots of chrome, but also brick and wood and decorative lighting. 

The service was friendly and efficient. During the course of the evening, several different people came to my table, to give me menus or refill my water or bring a plate of food or a drink. The bartender came over and took my drink order. I asked for a negroni, which he acknowledged. But before going to the bar and making it, he asked my name. At first I wondered if they'd checked my profile on Open Table and saw that I do write restaurant reviews and this blog. (That has happened to me, but not often.) But I finally concluded that was just his shtick. I decided it's his way of connecting with the customer and making the experience more personal. 
Octopus salad

The menu was very appealing, and I had a hard time deciding what to order. I finally opted for an octopus salad and a pasta dish. The octopus was outstanding. It was grilled tenderly. It was still very moist and tender, not at all chewy or rubbery. It was served with little medallions of potato confit and a melange of kalamata olives, celery, roasted cherry tomatoes and something called cotechinata. Cotechinata, I later learned, is a pigskin roll-up. I didn't know that at the time; I ate them anyway. 

The pasta was bucatini, a kind of thick spaghetti. It was dressed with a tomato sauce with sausage and squid. Also very good, though not as unusual as the octopus salad. I decided to treat myself with dessert. I had a crostini with strawberries and little dollops of lemon meringue and gelato. 

I enjoyed it very much.

Now fast forward two days. I attended an event on Tuesday evening, but didn't have time to eat before the event. So when it ended, I decided to get some dinner. I was just a few blocks from Centrolina. I recalled some of the intriguing items on the menu that I had passed over on my Sunday night visit. So contrary to my usual practice, I decided on a return visit. 

It was worth it. Same friendly service. When the bartender took my order (this time a glass of white wine) he asked me my name again. When I told him, he did a double take, pointed to the table where I'd sat on Sunday and got a quizzical look. Yup, I told him, I'm back. 

This time I ordered tuna. It was roasted on a wood fire, and was served rare. The tuna was very tender and delicious. On the plate with the tuna were yellow peppers, butter beans and garbanzos with Greek yogurt and a spicy Calabrian pepper sauce. 

So once again, I have found an outstanding Italian restaurant in DC, and it left me wondering - why can't we have one like Centrolina in Minnesota? 
Rare fire-roasted tuna


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