On West Front Street in Red Bank, the Downtown was a happening nightlife spot with pulsing music and three floors of bars. It shut down during the pandemic and never recovered. But under new ownership, sporting a renovated look, a pan-Latin menu and a beat-heavy soundtrack, the place is pulsing again.
Remnants of that lively scene, albeit reimagined and significantly spruced up, can be found at Centrada, a restaurant that opened in spring of 2022. Tables with chairs and benches fitted in jewel-toned upholstery invite patrons to linger. Tropical plants, woven light fixtures, and murals of flora and fauna lend an organic feel. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, revelry takes over in the evening, when Centrada hosts DJs, live music and other performers.
But food and drink are at the forefront of Centrada, run by Anthony Fiorentino and Norman Reola of the Esperto Hospitality Group. The pair worked together for 14 years in the Atlantic City area with the Houston-based restaurant group Landry’s and, post-pandemic, sought a project of their own. Their business partner, John DiLeo, lived in Monmouth County and suggested Red Bank. “The whole idea behind Centrada was to center everyone, bring everyone together after being apart during the pandemic,” says Fiorentino, who recently moved from South Jersey to Marlboro.
Reola, a chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, envisioned Centrada’s upscale, pan-Latin menu and brought in executive chef Santiago Mojica to oversee the kitchen. “I wanted to take elements of Latin cuisine and create something new,” Reola says. “So we use risotto in the paella instead of regular rice, and we play off a Venezuelan dish with our pasticho, which is like a Latin lasagne.”
Both facets of Centrada—restaurant and night spot—benefit from a vibrant cocktail menu, with about 60 varieties of tequila and mezcal. Reola collaborated with mixologist Carlos Ruiz to create the cocktails. Juices are pressed and garnishes are produced on site daily. “It’s costly and time-consuming,” Reola says, “but it imparts a fresh flavor that is essential to the cocktails.”
One drink has never left the menu: the Dusk Till Dawn. Made with Don Julio Reposado tequila, pineapple juice, Contratto Aperitif and fresh lime, it’s a bracing refresher with a hint of heat, courtesy of jalapeño slices that float on top. Even better is the Mezcal Pimm’s Cup, made with Vago mezcal, Pimm’s No. 1, fresh lime, simple syrup and ginger ale, garnished with cucumber and orange.
Appetizers are Centrada’s strong suit. Starters are shareable, with ingredients chopped into consistently sized bits that minimize mess—a plus if you’re on a date. Over an arugula base, the fruta Latina salad includes sliced kiwi and bite-sized chunks of mango, honeydew, strawberries and avocado, with an orange-cumin vinaigrette. Centrada cheese bread, a variation on garlic knots, comes in a crock; warm, golf ball-sized rolls are filled with melted Manchego and bathed in a green chimichurri.
At any Latin American restaurant, you hope for lively ceviche. Four kinds are on the Centrada menu. We tried two, both excellent: the tuna ceviche tostada and the lobster strawberry ceviche, the latter a novel combination of butter-poached lobster, strawberry tiger’s milk, cucumber, tomato, red onion and sliced strawberries, served with tortilla chips on the side.
Entrées did not quite live up to their potential, especially given the high price point. Meat was dry in both the pollo Centrada, chicken breast served with crispy potatoes and sautéed tomatoes, and the chuleta de puerco, a tomahawk pork chop in an agave-mustard sauce served with frisée, queso fresco, crispy Serrano ham and sherry vinaigrette. The presentation of the pork chop was dramatic but problematic, as the huge chop was served on a narrow wooden board, with the other components at risk of tumbling onto the table. Much better was the coriander-crusted tuna, with sliced tuna cooked exactly as requested, medium-rare, and served with purple Peruvian potato wedges and a frisée salad. Shrimp picante looked impressive, with two giant, tender, whole prawns, though the accompanying vegetable quinoa was overcooked and bland.
Dessert was redemptive, especially the delicate sweet potato buñuelos, served warm and sanded with cinnamon sugar. Dipping sauces of tequila Anglaise, caramel and passion fruit were not necessary, but welcome.
Given Centrada’s clubby vibe, a small-plates or tapas approach to the menu would highlight its strengths and complement its deftly made cocktails. Fiorentino says there is often a late surge toward appetizers and drinks as the evening progresses. “We didn’t want there to be a strict divide between the restaurant and the club,” he says. “There should be an organic flow to it, with no disruption to the fine dining.”
HOW WE REVIEW: Restaurants are chosen for review at the sole discretion of the dining editor, based on input from our food writers and critics around the state. Our reviewers visit a restaurant at least twice, always maintaining anonymity to avoid preferential treatment. The reviewer brings up to three guests per visit and tastes everything that is ordered. NJM reimburses the reviewer for all food and beverage expenses. After the final visit, the reviewer conducts a phone interview with the chef, owner or other key members of the team. The review is then submitted to NJM and edited for clarity and fairness. Stars are assigned by the editor in consultation with the reviewer. As a final step, an NJM staffer checks the review for accuracy, always calling the restaurant to confirm all facts.
Four stars = extraordinary; three stars = excellent; two stars = very good; one star = good; half a star = fair.
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- Cuisine Type:Pan-Latin
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $7-$33; entrées, $34-$72; sides, $12; steaks, $60–$255; desserts, $14-$24
- Ambience:Vibrant and celebratory
- Service:Knowledgable servers, quick to offer suggestions
- Wine list:Full bar; creative cocktails, large selection of tequilas, craft beer and wine