chef’s table

RENO CHIC

Centro serves culinary gems one small plate at a time.

WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHEA EVANS

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Centro’s lemon tartlet with blueberries and candied oranges

It’s a sublime summer evening at Centro Bar & Kitchen in Reno, and the garage-door-style windows are rolled up, urging a breeze to lightly linger among patrons enjoying craft cocktails and modern, American-style tapas. With deep house music playing in the background, its guests may feel as if they’ve landed at an ultra-hip, yet eminently welcoming cocktail party.

This chill vibe suits 31-year-old executive chef Cameron Atkinson just fine.

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The exterior of Centro Bar & Kitchen on California Avenue in Reno

The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Las Vegas alum says he started his career by shucking oysters at Charlie Palmer Steak in Reno, eventually graduating to line cook. He went on to hone his culinary chops at Montrêux Golf & Country Club in Reno, then headed to Lake Tahoe to work in The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe and Martis Camp in Truckee. After working in the Tahoe area for seven years, Atkinson is delighted to have landed back in Reno at Centro Bar & Kitchen a little more than a year ago.

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Clockwise from top: Beet El Chapo cocktail with Bozal Mezcal, beet simple syrup, lime,
and jalapeño; Centro Fig Old Fashioned with rye whiskey, fig purée, Angostura
and old-fashioned bitters, and orange peel; Bone marrow with radish,
citrus, cilantro, and pickled shallots

“I grew up in Reno, and it’s cool to be back here, reaching my culinary goals in my hometown,” he says. “I love the creative freedom that I have with a menu where we can explore everything from oysters to escabeche to quail.”

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Octopus with black garlic, carrot vinaigrette, orange wedges, and greens

Small packages

He says the smaller plate concept encourages people to be more adventurous, discovering interesting new tastes with friends. Case in point is the tender octopus, which is marinated in soy and ginger and later braised and seared. With a swirl of black garlic, carrot vinaigrette, and vibrantly hued orange segments, the artfully composed plate also is a feast for the eyes.

A kitchen appliance deficit may just be a plus at Centro.

“We probably have one of the smallest [walk-in coolers] in Reno,” he says, “but that means we order fresh fish twice a week in small amounts, and, really, fish shouldn’t be sitting around anyway.”

Indeed, this commitment to freshness is evident the moment you sink your teeth into the perfectly executed ahi poke. Nestled on a mixture of puréed avocado and ponzu, the succulent fish is topped with kohlrabi and egg-roll dust.

Atkinson says Centro uses locally grown produce whenever possible but adds that ingredients must be consistent to provide a high-quality finished product.

This ethos is present in every menu item, from the Filthy Fries, a customer favorite featuring New York Cheddar, pickled jalapeño, bacon, and local bratwurst, to the colorful beet salad with mandarins, candied fennel, goat cheese, honey, and arugula.

Customers also rave about the tasty tacos, which sous chef Jose Gutierrez dreams up on a weekly basis. Favorites include the beer-braised chicken tacos with pineapple pico de gallo, parsley, and habanero carrot sauce, and the cauliflower tacos with beet-pickled onion, sun-dried tomato pesto, and cashew sour cream.

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Quail with trumpet mushrooms, poblano peppers, Parmesan, petite herbs, and sage jus

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Centro's chef Cameron Atkinson sits at a table in front of the garage-door-style windows that roll up.

Big-city vision

Alberto Gazzola, proprietor of La Vecchia in Reno, launched Centro in 2015. His goal has been to offer discerning Renoites the flavors and complexities previously found only in big-city restaurants. Gazzola believes Atkinson and his staff have fully embraced this vision.

“He has an awesome grasp with American and non-American cuisine reduced to a small-plate serving,” Gazzola explains. “That doesn’t entail just reduced portions but a complete rework of the balances [acidic, sugary, saltiness] within the food. Cameron’s sense of taste always is evolving, and his combination of flavors fresh and unique, just like his plating.”

Both the food and cocktail menus change seasonally at Centro Bar & Kitchen. Front of house manager and bartender Ragen Locricchio’s recent offerings include Lavender Pisco, featuring lavender-infused pisco, lime, egg white, and Angostura Bitters, and the brilliantly colored Beet El Chapo, with Bozal Mezcal, beet simple syrup, and lime jalapeño.

It seems fitting that Centro Bar & Kitchen is located adjacent to the Nevada Museum of Art — the food and cocktails here surely are masterpieces for eyes and taste buds.

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Chef Atkinson puts the finishing touches on a dish while bartender/front of house manager Ragen LoCricchio (left) crafts cocktails

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Beets with mandarins, candied fennel, goat cheese, honey, and arugula

Tahoe-based writer Ann Lindemann is pleased that she overcame her culinary bias and tried Cameron Atkinson’s absolutely delicious octopus. She looks forward to returning to Centro to discover more interesting dishes.

Centro Bar & Kitchen
236 California Ave., Reno
775-737-9062 • Centroreno.com
Open daily 11 a.m. – close. Call for specific daily closing time.

Recipe

Beet Salad
(courtesy of Cameron Atkinson, executive chef, Centro Bar & Kitchen in Reno. Makes 4 to 6 side salads)

2 bunches beets, either red or gold
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 bunch thyme

Place beets in deep, oven-safe pan, fully submerged in water. Then add salt, pepper, and thyme. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until fork tender, about 1 hour. Once done, take out of water, let cool, and gently peel with towel.

For goat cheese
2 cups chèvre cheese (any kind will work)
3 tablespoons honey (Atkinson says local is best and recommends Al Bees)
1 pinch salt

For citrus vinaigrette
1 cup orange juice
1 clove garlic
1 small shallot
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil (a blended oil is best)

Place first five ingredients into blender (Vitamix is best), and blend on low until mixed well together. Then start adding oil slowly until emulsified.

For candied fennel
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

Heat up water and sugar in small saucepot, making sure sugar is fully dissolved. Then add fennel and cook on low 6 minutes; strain well and let cool. Place fennel on nonstick silicone pad and place in oven at 150 degrees F until hardened. Or if you have a dehydrator, place inside overnight. 

Assemble fennel, beets, and goat cheese atop any type of green (the salad is served with arugula at Centro), and then dress with citrus vinaigrette.

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