10.21.11 Dinner. Centro Cafe (Riverwest. Milwaukee, WI)

It was a nice Fall evening.  Christina and I had plans for dinner.  Her choice.  We ended up a Centro Cafe in Riverwest.  This place is a hidden gem!  Definitely has a quaint feel to it.  This was my first time here and I was surprised to see how the inside looked compared to the exterior.  It was a late dinner on a Friday night and you can definitely tell that it was a Friday by how busy it was.  There was quite a bit of wait which allowed us to work up an appetite.

Pasta Line Viewed from Bar.
Bar in the back.
When you first walk in, you notice that it's a skinny and long space.  What appears to be a bar but is really dining that looks upon a chef/cook whipin' up some pasta dishes, runs along the right side of the restaurant. Pretty sweet to be in on the action.  You can see a row of white bowls ready to be filled with some pasta goodness.  A bench lines the left side of the room with close set tables and chairs on the opposite side.  Another row of tables resides between the bar and the tables along the wall.  As you go further back, you take a couple steps to a back bar and a couple low tables with ottoman type seats further back.  It's busy throughout the entire place and it is buzzing with conversation and music that is playing.  If you want to hear your guests, the close seating is necessary due the constant noise.  Overall, the ambiance is of a low lit lounge/cafe.  Christina commented that it reminder her of a space that you would find in Europe.

Tables Set up by the Bar.
We sat in the back waiting for our names to come up on the list.  We didn't order any beverages while we waited.  I, myself, was super hungry and didn't want to get tipsy on an empty stomach.   The wait actually got long enough that we started to get up to check with the hostess and of course, as we did so, the hostess was walking back and calling our name... always happens.  Should have gotten up sooner, right?  The hostess sat us at a table along the bench.  I guess a small container of olive oil broke close to or at our table because you can feel how slick the floor was and someone was just finishing up the wipe down right before we got there.  If it weren't so cramped there, I could have rocked a sweet moonwalk along the floor since it was so slick. Maybe next time...  I would recommend that you take caution when going to sit on the bench as there are low hanging lights that many a restaurant go'er hit their head on.  It was entertaining to watch... of course, that's only if you weren't one of the patrons that did so.

Pinot Grigio.
Our server was quite nice.  She asked us if we wanted to beverage to start and provided us with the specials for the evening.  I ordered a pinot grigio, not quite sure on what kind it was, they only had one option and Christina ordered a seltzer water, her drink of choice.   Always nice to have a DD (designated driver) right?  Right.  As always, I was hassled for my ID.  Let's get real, I've been carded twice to go shopping at the mall after a certain time (at the malls in the Milwaukee area, you need to be 18 years old to shop after 3pm on the weekends unless you have parental guidance).    With our beverages, we were served some warm bread to dip in some olive oil.

There is quite an assortment of Italian dishes on the menu.  The menu is primarily pasta dishes which includes those that are traditional, special to the restaurant or a "pick your own" type of set up where you can choose the pasta, sauce and mix ins.  There are also a list of various sandwiches, antipastos (appetizers) and salads.    On the menu, they boast using locally grown and raised ingredients.  Enough about what's on the menu, let's get to the goodness... the food of course.

Caprese salad.  Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.
Christina's Choices
Details: Starter (which I of course dove into as well) Caprese salad.  Roma tomatoes, fresh Wisconsin mozarella, basil with a olive oil and balsamic reduction. $7.00
Entree Spaghetti di Fruit di Mare. Calamari,scallops and shrimp in a tomato white wine sauce finished with cream.  $14.00

Spaghetti di Fruit di Mare.
Her thoughts:  The salad brought her past when growing up because she ate it all the time.  It was a nice ratio of tomato, cheese and greens.  The basil was interlaced with some arugula which cut down on the strong basil flavor.  We both agreed that we liked this little touch.  I myself can find that one of the two happens... one, there is too much basil that it overpowers the soft flavor of fresh mozzarella or, two, it ends up being just a tomato and cheese "salad."  When I have a salad, I want me some greens.  Unless, of course, it's a egg, tuna or chicken salad... now that's another story when it's for a sandwich, ya dig?  She enjoyed her pasta dish.  The calamari was a little much for her because of the quantity that was present and also the tentacles.  I've gotten over the tentacle fear and ate them right up.  Can't let good seafood go to waste.  I was struggling toward the end though because I was stuffed.

My Eats
Details: Ravioli.  Lobster ravioli in a garlic cream sauce.  $14.00

My thoughts:  I'm typically not a ravioli person. I often deter from ordering this as sometimes I feel unsatisfied.  It might be the idea that everything is wrapped up in one thing and put together for me.  I think I like the act of eating various things on a plate and being able to mix and match bites and combine at my own will.... Who knows, might be the science side of me?  For the same reason, I usually will not order lasagna.  Although, I do like eating both, I rarely order them at a restaurant.  I'm sooooo glad I went against this.  The lobster ravioli was oh so tasty.  The cream sauce wasn't too heavy or overly garlic that I would be sweating garlic from my pores.  The ravioli were large and filling.  Presentation wasn't the best.  It was all globed in a bowl.  A green garnish perhaps?  But, the flavor outweighs the lack of visual appeal.  There was something in the ravioli that provided some texture.  I couldn't quite pin point it.  Was it a nut?  If so, it was softer.  A walnut perhaps? Or some short of veggie?  No idea.  But, overall, very satisfied with my choice.

Other things to consider:
-Street parking only but even on a Friday night, we were able to get a spot pretty darn close to the front door.  VIP status, even.
-Menu had vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options.  Quite an equal opportunity restaurant.
-Service was nice but there was a bit of a wait which was expected for a Friday night but I wouldn't recommend coming here if you're already super hungry.
Ad on Back Tables.
-Tight set up.  Wouldn't be wheelchair or walker friendly but I'm thinking if it weren't so busy, they'd be able to shimmy some tables here and there.
-They offer their space for private parties or gatherings.  

This was an awesome first experience.  The wait to be seated was worth it.  I would probably go back and try out sitting at the bar so that I could watch the cook/chef make all the delicious dishes.  That may have to be something I do with someone who is in the mood to do the same as I'm sure I wouldn't be paying much attention to the conversion.  And, if I was, it most likely be conversation that goes in the lines of "What was that? How'd they do that? How long did they cook that for? etc."

Centro Cafe
808 E Center St
Milwaukee, WI 53212
(414) 455-3751
Monday - Thursday 5-9pm
Friday/Saturday 5-10pm
Sunday: closed "for football"
Sunday available for rental.

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