bar cento, family style

To celebrate my mom’s 64th birthday (pictured below with my nephew – the future Bobby Flay), we took her to see the witty and well-written Wicked followed by dinner at Bar Cento. Since the last big family dinner out at Lolita was a success, I thankfully got to pick the venue again.

I think I’m on the verge of becoming a Bar Cento addict. This was our third visit and we’re going again on Saturday to introduce a new group of friends to this favorite spot of ours. But given the size of our group, 16 total, and that three were under the age of 10, this did prove to be the ideal choice. The adults loved the atmosphere, music and food/wine list, while the kids were sold with pizza and fries.

Our three-hour plus dinner started off with numerous appetizers, including: The salumi plates with toasted bread, peppers and cheese; warm, marinated olives; Sunnyside, Bianco, Puttanesca and Seaside pizzas and Ohio fries with four dipping sauces – plus numerous bottles of wines (a given with my family).

For dinner, we wisely opted to share several dinners since we were all on the brink of being full. We decided on a few orders each of the pumpkin ravioli and braised lamb with goat cheese and cinnamon. For the sides, we picked the roasted beets with blue cheese, caramelized fennel and cabbage with salumi.

Personally, I didn’t have any pizza (this time) and instead chose to enjoy the cured meats, cheese, a couple ravioli, lamb and fennel – and I did manage to snag a bite of the cabbage before my brother inhaled it.

Wow. Wow for taste and wow for consistency. Chef Sawyer and his team continue to impress with flavors and combinations that are simple, memorable and beautifully prepared. For example, take the braised fennel. There is nothing fancy about this dish but I could of just had a big plate of this alone and been the happiest person at the table. The flavor and aroma of this side was a pleasant surprise. And the tender braised lamb – another winner of the night, especially the rich tomato sauce. I already know what I’m having on Saturday – the lamb with a side of fennel.

For dessert, we had the flourless chocolate cake and semifreddo cake plus a cheese plate. Honestly, by this time I was full and well into the wine so I didn’t take time to write down the specifics of the cheese plate or either cake. But I did have one bite of the chocolate cake, which the server was right when she said it was like a big piece of fudge – very enjoyable. I’m glad I was full otherwise I would have eaten the whole thing. And of course, my favorite was the cheese, a mix of creamy and hard choices. All tasty and satisfying.

If you have yet to check out Bar Cento, you really should. I know we have many great restaurants in our city, but this one is up on the list. On each of our visits the food has been consistently good, you can’t beat the prices, the atmosphere is great (as long as you sit in the main dining area) and aside from one bad night, the service is spot on – especially yesterday. Our server, Dana, deserves a medal. I love my family dearly, but I wouldn’t want to wait on us!

My family is very close and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company, so I’m sure we would have had a good time pretty much anywhere. But given that we did choose Bar Cento and the food was wonderful – and we are a family that loves our food, and wine! – it made the evening, and my mom’s birthday, that much better.