More Is Less at Centro Latin Kitchen

It was raining when Laura and I ducked into Centro. We'd already eaten twice at Happy Noodle House over the course of the long weekend and had gotten our fill of pickles and noodles, so we were looking for something a little different, a little more south-of-the-border. But mostly, we were looking for beers and a place to get out of the rain.

Centro wasn't full. It wasn't even half full. The bar was doing a brisk trade, but the floor, while well staffed with waiters, was only sparsely populated with customers. Still, even though we were right in the middle of the room, close enough to the service station to reach out and pull the hostess's hair, it took twenty minutes to get a drink. We were actually on the verge of getting up and shuffling on down the road before someone asked if we'd like anything to eat, and even if the eventual apologies were profuse, it was still an annoying way to start a meal. If it hadn't been for the rain, we might have bailed. If it hadn't been for the rain and the fact that I am a lazy, lazy man...

Like Happy Noodle, Centro is part of the Big Red F group. It's nominally a Mexican restaurant, with a menu listing bocaditas of chips and salsas, ceviche, rellenos and fritters; simple carne asada and enchiladas and carnitas are among the mains. But on almost every plate, something extra has been added by an overly clever cook or chef, something extra that casts doubt on the plate's origins. Sure, the chips and salsas are just chips and salsas (even if the salsas go a little Belizean on the hot end), and the ceviche is a fairly straightforward presentation (except for the olives). But the fritters have plantain and ginger and tamarind all fighting it out, and the lobster arepas, though delicious, come overloaded with a jungle of greens and slices of orange. The enchiladas have goat cheese inside (and arrive with about a dozen accoutrements), the roasted scallops come with curried rice, and the carnitas tacos are made from duck, topped with a proper mound of cabbage and cheese, then served with a Belizean barbecue sauce.

As at Happy Noodle, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the odd notions of overloaded fusion that seem to typify all of Dave Query's menus. And once the food finally made it to the table, most of it was good — and the arepas were excellent. But still, there was so much going on that the best moves of the kitchen were often buried under a dozen or a hundred competing flavors and combative national traditions.


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