It was NFL opening Sunday, so our brunch plans started a bit earlier than usual. At 11:30 a.m., we arrived slightly hungover and starving to CityCenter’s Centrolina, an Italian market and restaurant. Basically, envision a smaller version of Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York.
Since my day job is near CityCenter, I’ve popped into Centrolina a couple times on my lunch break, to pretend like I’m escaping to Italy by buying biscotti and shamelessly sampling the cheese. I actually found one of my favorite, rare Italian wines there the night I got engaged, so I thought it appropriate to bring along my fiancé, Gavin, and my sister, Christina, to see what the restaurant side of the house was all about. Centrolina has a modern, airy vibe, yet still feels intimate, despite the fact that more than half the space is occupied by the market. We were seated promptly at a table near the open kitchen and immediately greeted by our friendly server.
Gav and I began with a round of coffee and Christina ordered tea—we’re getting old. As avid coffee drinkers, we noted the java was delicious and made from the espresso bar, which I’ve also frequented during my lunch breaks.
To start, we ordered the cinnamon sugar bomboloni, which were essentially three small donut holes. They were served perfectly warm with an excessive amount of sugar and cinnamon. We were off to a great (and healthy) start.
To continue our health-conscious trend, we decided to split the ricotta gnocchi with apricot sage butter and toasted black walnuts. This was definitely one of the most memorable dishes of the meal. The gnocchi were oversized pillows stuffed with ricotta cheese, slathered in a sage butter sauce, with slices of apricots accompanying each bite. We each sampled two gnocchi, which was plenty. Christina noted that this was such a decadent and sweet combo, it could almost pass for a dessert dish.
Being a self-proclaimed French toast connoisseur, Gav decided to see where Centrolina stacks up. He was pleasantly surprised that the French toast, made with brioche, was light, not soggy and full of flavor. The side of pancetta was cooked perfectly and absolutely delicious. The helping was plenty for all of us to try a piece.
As an ode to our motherland, Christina tried the breakfast from Calabrese, which happens to be the Italian region of our heritage. The dish arrived sans sausage, although the menu indicated it came with the sandwich, which was disappointing for her. She described it as an egg on a piece of toast with melted cheese, as she hovered her fork over our more appealing plates. When I tried a bite, I had to agree. What her dish had in presentation, it lacked in flavor.
As a fan of anything incorporating tomatoes (Jersey girl, hi), I knew I had to go with the Uovo Pomodoro, and it did not disappoint. From the perfectly cooked skillet mixture of eggs, cheese and San Marzano (read: chunky tomato sauce) tomatoes, every bite was sopped up with a piece of the crispy rustic sour dough bread that came on the side. One bite was eggs, another was melted cheese. I didn’t look up for five minutes.
Feeling a little more adventurous, we decided to round out the meal with the mimosa and breakfast spritz —the only two cocktail options on the menu. The mimosa was perfectly concocted with prosecco (my preference over champagne) and the spritz was just as refreshing as it sounded. We couldn’t exactly place the flavor we were tasting in the spritz, so we asked our waiter for insight. He could not have been more informative and even brought over the bottle of Don Ciccio and Figli Mandarinetto, which is made in D.C.—for us to try! We were picking up on the mandarincello in the spritz, so instead of lemon, we tasted a smooth citrus after dinner liquor. It was the perfect ending to our Italian brunch.
After milling about the market for a few minutes, we decided to enjoy the outdoor promenade and leisurely strolled our way through the CityCenter shops before eventually making our way home, just in time for kick-off.
The Bitches say: A- Centrolina is the perfect spot for a low-key brunch with great food and service in a unique environment.
974 Palmer Alley N.W.
Centrolina serves brunch on Sundays.