By Katherine Faw Morris
OK, full disclosure, I donï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½t have cable. I only watch TV at the gym, and I totally plan treadmill sessions around reruns of MTVï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s Engaged & Underage. So unless Anne Burrell, sous chef to Iron Chef Americaï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s Mario Batali, ever escaped the Food Network, I havenï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½t seen her (or her spiky mane). But thanks to a recent dinner at her spanking new West Village restaurant, Centro Vinoteca, I know quite a bit about her cooking, which happens to be big, decadent, and way carnivorous.
Situated at the alternately busy and tree-charming intersection of Seventh Ave., Barrow, and Bleecker, Centro Vinoteca bills itself as a semi-casual, neighborhood pit stop. It is quite a bit more than that. Following in the plastic footwear steps of the Batali/Bastianich empire, the restaurant serves haute peasant cuisine thatï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s just too rich for the everyday. But this is primo special-time food, and Burrell shows herself to be quite adept at forging her own path, blazing a riotous trail of loud, rich, inventive Italian plates that actually get the multi-ingredient trend working.
The space sports two levels of mod living room-style dï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½corï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½white-washed brick, dark rounded banquettes, and a twinkly copper spangle chandelier. All very NYC minimalist, but a bit austere for lamb Bolognese. The upper level houses an airy, quiet dining nook, but I took my seat downstairs. With French doors flung open and the subway rumbling beaneath my feet, it wasn’t exactly library quiet, but I wasn’t thinking of much more than the picollini (think Italian tapas) in front of me. In particular the pistachio sprinkled mortadella pate, which is basically ham dip and thatï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s all you need to know about that. Yum. The arancine, rice balls of the Sicilian street food family, were bite-sized bursts of creamy risotto. While truffled deviled eggs seemed light in comparison, with a fluffy whipped center and simply presented, though lacking my favorite deviled egg accessoryï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½paprika.
The antipasti course, which comes in slightly larger portions, is where Burrell really begins to showcase her outside-the-pig thinking. Calamari come not breaded and fried, but stretched out as short curly noodles, bathed in a spicy sauce of fingerling potato slices, black olives, and arugula. Grilled sea scallops arrive with an unusual salad of watermelon, radishes, pickled rind, and a couple bitter dandelion greens to curtail the fruit-tastic-ness.
Primi options start the carb train rolling with tortellini in brodoï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½meaty overstuffed pasta pockets swimming in an intense oily chicken broth. Not for the faint of tummy. The raviolo alï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½uovoï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½a slab of egg posing as a single ravioli with sage butter sauce and a crackling strip of guanciale baconï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½was the most sophisto, least lazy breakfast-for-supper dish Iï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ve had. Secondi like a seared red snapper filet with cauliflower, olive, and caperberry ragu also worked itï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½even the dry-ish fish was balanced out by the velvety ragu. And the braised lamb shank was for serious, on the bone, with only a shallow base of green bean-y scafata to temper the raging flesh feast.
Dolci showed up last, and what better way to end a meal of high decadence than with salty caramel. I had some buttermilk peach panna cotta, too, with pistachio shortbread, perfectly delicious, but did you hear me? Salty caramel! It came with tarallucciï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½round, sugar dusted semolina cookiesï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½and the war between sweet and salt actually sort of made my teeth hurt, which I take as a sign of a successful dessert. If I might give my personal role model Lindsay Dee Lohan a word of advice on exiting rehabï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½why not replace the cocaine-vodka-skanky British model boy addiction with salty caramel? Trust me, it could work.
Centro Vinotecaï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s calorific fare, sparkly-spartan dï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½cor, and well-kempt patrons are definitely all living the NYC expense account dream. Theyï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½re jammed deep into the two floors of the smallish space: ladies clad in shoes that could double as weapons and even better dressed men, going to town on sausage stuffed rabbit and quartinos of vino. A familiar scene, of course, but one that calls for temperance lest you end up like Li-Lo, jonesing for just one more hit of sage butter, man.
74 Seventh Ave. South (Barrow and Bleecker Sts.) centrovinoteca.com 212-367-7470 West Village