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Centro Italian Grill, Bethesda - Chef Liam LaCivita Departs for Liberty Tavern - Closed


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My wife and I dined here last night as part of the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Restaurant Week promotion.

It's an attractive restaurant, in that modern, cookie-cutter fashion. One long, somewhat narrow room, host stand up front with a screen behind it separating it from the rest of the room. Long bar on the right, half-booths on the left, with tables in between, and a semi-exposed kitchen in the back. Walls are shades of orange, and the place is reasonably well lit, so it feels neither too dark nor too bright.

We were sat at one of the half-booths along the wall. My only complaint about the booths - the seats are too low. I'm not a tall guy, and though my wife and I are about the same height, she looked a foot taller than me at this table!

The RW week menu was pretty limited - only 3 choices for appetizer and dessert, and 4 for entree. We found things we wanted on it, but that's definitely one of my pet peeves. Strangely enough, most of the items seemed to be unique to the menu, rather than just a subset.

The meal began with a complimentary crostini, with housemade sausage, cheese, and some greens, drizzled with balsamic and EVOO. I liked this a lot. I didn't see other tables next to me get it, but none of them ordered the RW menu. So I don't know if this came with the RW menu, or if it was because I mentioned DR.com in my OpenTable reservation! The bread basket was very good - both a crusty italian bread, and what seemed to be a focaccia variant. We couldn't quite place the spread - it seemed too rich for butter (and was drizzled with EVOO and cracked black pepper), but not cheese. Maybe goat's milk butter?

For appetizer, I ordered Bufala mozzarella with red onion, oranges, Castelvetrano olives, mint, sea salt and EVOO. I wasn't sure if the combination was going to work, but it definitely did. I don't know how he got oranges that were so mild in flavor and acid, but that definitely made the dish. Fabulous olives, too - I could have eaten a plate full of these for an appetizer. My wife got Calamari fritti with spicy tomato fennel sauce. Very well prepared, if unexciting, though I'm not sure how fried calamari can be exciting anymore. I also had a glass of Prosecco Di Conegliano "Canella" Veneto with mine - my pick.

My wife had Wood Grilled Organic Salmon Filet with roasted red pepper vanilla bean sauce, lentils with speck, sauteed broccolini. The waiter asked how she wanted it cooked - I didn't realize there was anything other than not overcooking it, like a lot of places do! She said medium-rare to be safe. I barely got a taste, it was gone so fast, but I did like the sauce quite a bit. She found the lentils a bit too smoky. I had the Grilled Skirt Steak with sauce "puttanesca", roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed rapini, also medium-rare. Very simple, very good. I had a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon "Joliesse" California 2001, also self-chosen. It was nice, but served too warm.

For dessert, we both had Warm Chocolate Cake with ganache filling and gelato. Good, not spectacular, but we both cleared the plate.

Service was attentive without being intrusive, save for one thing: at each course, the next course was brought within moments of the previous course being taken away. The end result is that an evening that I had planned to be seated for 2 hours or so, we were out the door in 75 minutes. I don't know if the waiter misjudged our intent, if the kitchen was just moving very quickly, or if they wanted our table turned, but it was rushed enough that we noticed.

The rest of the menu looked interesting, it's a half-block from the Landmark theater in Bethesda, and there are limited choices down that way for a good meal, so we'll certainly be back.

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danielk, thanks for the report.

What I remember most from my last (a year or so ago) was a dessert called sfoglietelle: filo filled with mascarpone and candied orange.  liamvino, is that still on the menu?  'Cause if it is I will be there right quick...

Right now it is not... but our pastry chef is constantly changing the dessert menu so it will probably be on there shortly. He is Neapolitan and they are known for their sfogliatella. ciao

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We'd gotten a nice coupon in the mail so my husband and I decided to try Centro one evening last week. We'd been once before when they first opened and liked it - food seemed similar to what you'd actually get in Italy. I think there's been a change in chef since then, but the food was still surprisingly good. Started with a delicious special of Burrata cheese wrapped in Prosciutto di San Daniele and a mixed fritto of calamari and other seafood that was light and tasty. For the main course I had a half portion of tagliatelle with a wild mushroom and black truffle sauce that was rich and intense - very good. Strangely, I can't remember what my husband had next, but we enjoyed it all. Pretty good wine list, although I don't remember seeing anything under $30. The space is attractive and the service was excellent.

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On 1/27/2006 at 1:33 PM, DanielK said:

I hope liamvino is in residence tonight, as I have a 7pm reservation...

Isn't it amazing how distant memories become? Ten years isn't a long time, but in Restaurant Years, it's an eternity.

You could ask 50% of the customers at Bar Civita where the chef came from, and they wouldn't know Liam came from Liberty Tavern.

You could ask 95% of the customers at Bar Civita where the chef came from, and they wouldn't know Liam came from Centro before that.

Even I find it hard to believe that this community pre-dates Liberty Tavern. Reading this article with 2016 Eyes makes it interesting:

May-Jun, 2008 - "Personal Touch" by Lisa Nevins-Locke on bethesdamagazine.com

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