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Centro Vinoteca

Centro Vinoteca.
A dazzling array of dishes served up by New York’s newest celebrity
chef.

This is chef Anne Burrell’s domain. If you’re lucky enough to pluck a reservation, be grateful.

Visible through an open kitchen, Burrell (Felidia, Savoy) dons a
cowgirl skirt and a newly minted executive chef coat, her spiky-haired
likeness stitched onto the sleeve. She’s the embodiment of a rock star
chef: ambitious, saucy and thrilled to be making her long-awaited
debut. These traits texture nearly every fearless dish on the Italian
menu, a welcome detour from the garden variety trattorias of late.

Owner Sasha Muniak (Gusto, Mangia) and designer Thomas Juul-Hansen
(Perry Street) have morphed what was formerly Lemongrass Grill into a
sleek, two-story eatery that is a tale of two restaurants. On the one
hand, the neighborhood set eagerly crowds around a stylish bar,
dominated by a glittery three-tiered chandelier – a modern rendition of
a disco ball that sets the first floor abuzz. On the other, Centro
Vinoteca’s upstairs dining room summons a more intimate escape from the
boisterous crowd below.

But there’s no getting around the bar buzz. It infectiously spills
into the first-floor dining room, where you’ll also feel the sporadic
rumble of the subway below. Oddly enough, you won’t mind at all.
Instead, you’ll relax into irresistibly plush banquettes, where vintage
glass chandeliers float above nadun wood tables.

You’ll promptly succumb to the procession of piccolini (small
plates), which move swiftly from the kitchen to the table. Anne is
intent on assuaging impatient New Yorkers with tiny morsels that wring
out audacious flavors.

“I’ll never see a deviled egg the same way again,” a companion
declared as she reveled in the creamy, black truffle-specked filling…

                                Deceptively straightforward, eggplant cakes unravel currents of
Parmesan, garlic and rosemary, each nugget capped off with ricotta and
fiery pepper flakes. Bite-size pork and pancetta patties arrive perched
on earthy cremini mushroom platforms – another excellent passage into
the meal.

You could easily invest an evening in piccolini territory, but the
rest of the menu – antipasti, salad, pasta and secondi – is just as
sharp. Snatch up terrifically charred scallops, tossed with a melange
of vinegary watermelon rind pickles and dandelion greens, as they’ll
tragically disappear come fall. Tender calamari “noodles” stand in for
pasta, basking in a lively garlicky white wine broth.

Burrell sneaks bold flavors into even the most delicate of dishes.
Crunchy bits of smoky guanciale become the perfect foil for a sage
butter-glossed raviolo, coddling a precious yolk on a ricotta pillow
within. An impeccably supple rabbit involtino gets a spirited awakening
from a sausage and pine nut stuffing.

There are a few bumps on the otherwise smooth road map of the menu.
A red snapper was unremarkable, fried gnocchi were suffocated by a rich
Bolognese sauce, and an overly salty mortadella pâté recalled childhood
memories of Oscar Meyer baloney sandwiches.

Centro Vinoteca is not without its own restaurant drama. Owner
Muniak’s initial plans to move chef Jody Williams into the kitchen were
thwarted when Williams left to join Keith McNally at Morandi. In a
classic case of musical chefs, Burrell simultaneously abandoned dreams
of the stalled European Union, fortuitously teaming up with Muniak to
spark this charged spot.

Centro Vinoteca’s got everything: a star in the kitchen, a packed
house, a dizzying array of sublime plates – and those glorious
piccolini.

CUISINE  Inspired Italian
VIBE  Stylish West Village clamor
OCCASION  Night out downstairs, intimate date upstairs
DON’T-MISS DISH Fennel pollen-crusted porkchop
DRINK SPECIALTY 25 well-priced quartinos
PRICE Appetizers $3-$18; entrees $19-$36; desserts $8
RESERVATIONS Recommended a week in advance

Rating guide
4 stars: Sheer perfection
3 1/2 stars: Truly exceptional
3 stars: Outstanding
2 1/2 stars: Great night out
2 stars: A safe bet
1 1/2 stars: Hit or miss
1 stars: Disappointing

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