Centro is hidden in plain sight. Many visitors to the Providence Place Mall have probably walked by it on their way to the sky bridge, distracted by a focused shopping mission. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, a spread that is less surprising when you consider its role as the resident restaurant of the Omni Providence Hotel (though they are eager to let you know that they are not a hotel restaurant, but a restaurant that happens to be in a hotel).
We visited for dinner on a Saturday night. Early on a summer evening, the dining room was filled with natural light. Several hotel guests and shop-til-they-dropped shoppers were dining alone at the bar; the restaurant’s layout has minimal separation between bar and dining room, which makes it especially welcoming to single diners.
The cocktail menu was surprisingly creative. I had the Calabrese, made with George Dickel rye and Calabrian chili-infused honey syrup. My husband was intrigued by the Cocoa Nib-Infused Campari in the Boulevardier Nero, with Bulleit Bourbon and Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth.
We’d tried some appetizers at Centro in the past, and decided to revisit two of our favorites. The Eggplant was composed of three thin slices of eggplant, breaded and fried, folded around scoops of ricotta, and stacked in a dish of tomato sauce, circled with bright arugula pesto. The Risotto Cake came with a variety of wild mushrooms and was topped with thick shavings of Grana Padano cheese. If you, like me, enjoy the crispy rice at the bottom of a pan (or, to be more civilized, at the bottom of a Korean hot stone bowl), you will relish this appetizer. Next, we split the Kale Watermelon Salad, which our waitress Gwen kindly requested on two plates. Baby kale was tossed with a white balsamic glaze, watermelon cubes, tomatoes, feta and toasted walnuts. It was refreshing between courses, and would also make an excellent light lunch entree.
The ambiance at Centro is calming. I appreciated the nostalgic music selection (which included Elvis and Louis Armstrong) and the numerous black and white photos from the ‘40s and ‘50s.
On previous visits to Centro we only had appetizers and pizza, so we were ready to try some entrees. I had the Scallops with corn risotto and prosciutto chips. Four large scallops sat on tomato slices of the same diameter, drizzled with a balsamic glaze. My husband had the Swordfish, which arrived dramatically balanced on a seared risotto cake similar the one we had as an appetizer, topped with a toupee of micro greens. It was served with a sort of fresh puttanesca sauce: cherry tomatoes, lightly wilted spinach, capers and olives tossed in a light tomato puree.
The wine list has some good choices: I ordered the Whispering Angel Rosé, a Provence pink with plenty of dry light berry flavor, and it was a great choice. My husband had the Irony Chardonnay, a flavorful oaked glass that would stand up to his swordfish.
The dessert options were varied, so we ordered two, naturally: the Torta Calabrese, a rich flourless chocolate cake with walnuts, and a Citrus Berry Shortcake with berries and lemon curd. I had a 10yr Taylor Fladgate port and my husband, a Strega, an Italian herbal liqueur.
Though our entrees were very well executed, I especially recommend Centro for appetizers and cocktails before your next visit to the mall or convention center. To top it off, during dinner hours Centro offers valet as well as free parking for three hours in the Convention Center parking garage.
Centro Restaurant and Lounge
1 West Exchange Street • 228-6802