Cafe Centro has a piano player Thursday through Saturday, so if you're planning to come to this restaurant on one of those nights, book very far in advance and request to be in the 'piano bar room'. There are 2 seatings - one at 6:30pm and one at 8pm. If you go at 6:30pm be prepared to miss the piano player entirely as we did this time - I guess he was late and didn't do his 'pre show' that night as the restaurant had promised. Disappointing but there are many other charms at this restaurant which is why we've returned for the second time in a row during our yearly visit to West Palm Beach.
I'm from northern New Jersey which I don't usually lead with but that's important when it comes to reviewing Italian restaurants. Cafe Centro is the only restaurant in years that meets the standard I grew up with when it comes to Italian restaurants - focus on very good food, charming and attentive service, joviality, and everything to please the customer. And, of course, Frank Sinatra music playing in the background and lots of back and forth between staff - talking, helping each other, checking each others' tables to make sure that everything is right. I have not heard any yelling in Italian from the kitchen that I was used to from childhood trips to Italian restaurants but as they always say 'you can't go home again.'
The food at this restaurant is hands down delicious and the service is excellent. Everything is done with a flourish and it's very nice to hear a real Italian accent when you're eating such delicious food. This year the three of us started with salmon carpaccio, fried calamari, and the appetizer special for the evening, scallops with crabmeat. Before that arrive we had wine and the house roll - homemade, very fresh and dusted with parmesan. Heavenly if you are a bread lover and they went very well with the bowl of house-cured olives on our table that were flavored with a large piece of lemon and fresh oregano. For our entrees we had Clams alla Vongele over pasta, and the entree specials that evening which were red snapper with spinach and Osso Bucco ravioli with a brandy cream sauce, also heavenly and something I'd never seen anywhere before. We did not have dessert but I looked forlornly at the dessert menu which contained Italian Rum Cake and Riccotta Cheesecake - both rarities on Italian menus and in my opinion the mark of a truly old school Italian restaurant. I will save them for another visit and in the meantime ended my meal with a decaffeinated espresso.
I'm not usually sentimental about 'old school style' for a restaurant but I am when it comes to Italian food. Because it's the food of my childhood I'm always searching for a restaurant that brings me back to Sunday family dinners and holidays at Italian restaurants - the waiters who remember you and smile, nodding appreciatively when you choose something that shows good taste, frowning slightly and pursing their lips with their eyes downward when the choice is not good, serving even a simple soda with a twist and a flourish worthy of an opera performance. You'll find that here at Cafe Centro - it's a lively place to enjoy a wonderful meal and a wonderful evening.
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