With the debut of Centrolina Osteria and Market, the glam CityCenterDC adds an Italian note to its repertoire of French, Thai and steak-centric restaurants and returns Amy Brandwein, the former executive chef of Alba Osteria, to a professional stove.
Spoiler alert: Her octopus, crisped in a wood-fired oven and treated to potato confit, proves the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace.
Brandwein, who gained prominence at the late Galileo as its one and only female chef de cuisine and went on to open Casa Nonna downtown, says she explored spaces in Dupont Circle and H Street NE before settling on the upscale complex of shops and residences downtown. “I wanted it to be downtown, and I needed foot traffic,” she says of Centrolina, a light-filled 50-seat dining room with the bonus of a small food market to one side. Her neighbors amid the high-end shops include DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Mango Tree and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle.
That octopus keeps good company. A salad of carrots — fried, roasted and pickled — is an art installation you can eat, set off with beautiful ribbons of the vegetable and smacking of lemon and turmeric. Seared tuna served with meltingly soft roasted, peeled onions and crisp snap peas is presented with an upright bone of rich marrow. “If you don’t finish it,” says our server of the surf-and-turf combination, “I will.” (She never gets the chance.)
Orecchiette tossed with broccoli rabe, cubes of tuna and hot pepper would be better if the ear-shaped pasta were cooked longer, but baby chicken marinated in lemon and oregano rocks. Dressed with chicory, the succulent bird is propped up on croutons that soak up its juices and make for heady feasting. White brick walls and splashes of aqua make for a spare-but-chic dining room.
Desserts, meanwhile, take a light approach to sugar. I’m thinking now of the pine nut crostata served with olive oil gelato and a savory Parmesan puff.
Dinner at Centrolina makes me want to return for breakfast, when the restaurant offers espresso, quiche and fried-to-order bomboloni, and to check out its to-go items, including made-from-scratch pesto, pasta and caponata. Brandwein designed the market for nearby residents to pick up staples and throw together a quick meal.
Don’t get too attached to the menu, which will change frequently. Says the chef, “I think there are a lot of foods to cook out there.”
So far, so (very) good.
974 Palmer Alley NW, 202-898-2426. centrolinadc.com. Dinner entrees, $18 to $36.