Central Square’s eclectic, grungy charm makes it a strange environment for pricey restaurants, but a few of them make it work – particularly Central Kitchen, which carves out a narrow and elegant space underneath the Enormous Room on Mass. Ave. The restaurant’s opening thirteen years ago was wrought with difficulties, particularly with the renovation of the space, a former take-out place featuring wings, but since then, it has blossomed into a popular neighborhood gem. The intimate space features dimpled copper tables, dark wooden booths, and sparse decor.
Central Kitchen’s upscale American cuisine shows plenty of Mediterranean influence, a reflection of the owners’ travels through Spain, France, and Italy. Accordingly, the seafood dishes are the standouts on the menu – and the cocktails are a must-try as well. A meal could easily be enjoyed at the bar thanks to the tapas-style bar snacks and appetizers on the menu.
On a recent visit, a dining companion and I enjoyed the Parisian-style filet mignon tartare to start; the portion size was huge. Almost as exciting as the meat were the accompanying slices of toast – soft, buttery grilled bread perfection. We also couldn’t resist the cocktail list and thoroughly enjoyed the drinks we ordered, a rosemary collins (Plymouth gin, rosemary-infused simple syrup, lemon, soda) and a passionfruit caipirinha (Ypioca cachaca ouro, passion fruit, lime).
Our entrees – monkfish for him and mahi mahi for me – were cooked exceptionally well, seared on the outside and juicy on the inside. We agreed that this was the best seafood we’ve come across in awhile. The sides were flavorful and appropriate complements to the fish.
While the fallen Belgian chocolate cake was tempting, we didn’t have time to wait for it (although the server noted that it takes more like 10-15 minutes, not 30 minutes as the menu says), so we ordered the Tahitian vanilla crème brulee instead, which we definitely did not regret. Central Kitchen knows how to handle a pastry torch. The creamy inside was smooth – no signs of curdling that you’ll see in the crème brulees of less-experienced pastry chefs – and the plate was large, leaving plenty of surface area for the best part, the burnt sugar crust.
Central Kitchen’s service is friendly and knowledgeable; a tag team of servers took care of us and seemed to genuinely want us to enjoy the meal. (Strangely enough, not all restaurants share that trait.) While Central Kitchen is at a higher price point than most of its neighbors, the quality of the food and the relaxed but chic ambiance are clearly worth the cost.
Dinner: Daily 5:30pm – 11pm;
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 3pm;
Bar open until 2am Thurs – Sat (1am otherwise)
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.