In the past, I have thought about the idea of writing a book on how not to open a restaurant. If I ever did, there would be a chapter on places like Centro. Located downtown, kitty-corner from the Orpheum theatre, Centro may just have the best location in the city.

Walking in, it’s hard not to be impressed by the atmosphere, a wide open space decorated with elegant tiles and a beautiful open kitchen. It’s also hard to miss the culinary theme, which appears to be thoroughly Italian. But that’s where things start to go off the rails.

Centro wants to be a “Mediterranean” grill, but I saw nothing very French, Spanish, Lebanese, or North African on the menu. Your choices are between Italian and Greek standards like pizza, pasta, and souvlaki, plus some standard bistro fare such as the steak sandwich.

Most of the dinner menu is dedicated to pastas and pizza, which clearly makes Centro more of an Italian eatery than anything else. Either way, the menu announces a total lack of imagination and an unwillingness to challenge the customer’s expectations (I submit into evidence both a pasta and a pizza with pesto and chicken, concepts straight out of 1995). If you can do Italian, then you should run with it. Instead of souvlaki, why not offer customers chicken piccata?

“Well, people already know that they like souvlaki.”

Fine, but what you’re actually saying is that you have no faith in your servers to promote the food, or in the food to sell itself. People will order what’s on the menu, and with no other comparable restaurant for several blocks, they’re not going to get up and leave when they discover that they can’t order souvlaki.

Typically, when you see an Italian place serving Greek dishes or a Greek place serving Italian ones, it is a sign of a broken concept: you know that you need to feed vegetarians, so you throw some pizza onto the menu, even though it doesn’t belong. Centro’s menu has this kind of thinking written all over it, almost as though someone just dashed it off in 20 minutes (when you look at their website, www.centrogrill.com, the suspicion grows that everything gets done on the fly, with numerous technical errors and an ill-conceived “Awards” page which is not only empty, but within which they misspell “bon appetit”).

As for the food, it was mediocre, exactly what the menu suggests. I had a pizza, which cost $14 and was barely enough for one. I would have felt much better if I’d also had an appetizer, since the pizza was quite small. The mixture of Edam and Mozzarella is delicious, with just the right amount of sharpness, but it’s a pan pizza. There is no such thing as a Mediterranean pan pizza. The whole thing basically tasted like a smaller, less greasy version of Pizza Hut. My companion decided to try the chicken souvlaki, which predictably came with rice and potatoes. The rice was clearly parboiled, low quality rice.

The chicken, although it had a perfect golden hue to the flesh, was caked in black grit from the grill. For some strange reason it didn’t come on a skewer either, but was essentially dropped carelessly on top of the starches. By all reports, it tasted better than it looked.

When it came time to order a bottle of wine, I chose one off the menu simply to hear the server reply “We don’t carry that in white.”

“Yes you do, it’s right here on the menu.”

“Yeah, we don’t carry that.”

Although we settled on something else, this is an example of poor service (not even an “oops, that shouldn’t be on there”), as well as a sign of something far more alarming: poor management. Centro offers food which is more expensive than good. That said, I have eaten at far worse places which were far more over-priced, where the food was far more trite, and which featured far ruder staff (I won’t mention names but here’s a hint: think purple dinosaur).

As a vegetarian, I would recommend finding somewhere else to eat, but if you do end up eating there, you’ll probably find something for dinner. Unless you are vegan and can’t eat wheat, then you’re boned.

More in Meatless in Vancouver

Tips for scratch cooking

My singular culinary mission in life is the promotion of scratch cooking. Simply-put, that's just the approach that whatever you can cook from scratch ought to be cooked from scratch. Of course, that...

From Nuba Restaurant's kitchen in Gastown comes delicious Vegan Lebanese dishes worth visiting Vancouver for

You walk down into Nuba from a staircase at the corner of Hastings and Cambie. The concept is simple and clear, contemporary casual Lebanese. As a vegetarian, I was pleased to see that much of the...

Coconut cream pudding

 A Chaotic Cooking dinner party inspired me to try to make a new dish.  And it turned out to be delicious.  Give it a try yourself and let me know how you liked it by commenting below...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.