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Thursday, July 7,2011

A palace of taste

By Clay Fong
photo by Sue France

 

Nothing screams summertime more than cuisine from warm-weather climes, cool drinks and al fresco dining, all of which are available at Boulder’s Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace.

Drawing from Central and South American traditions, Centro serves up ceviche, tacos, tortas and platters featuring such specialties as huevos rancheros and enchiladas. Paul, a Chicago transplant, joined me for a weekday lunch on the sun-drenched patio there while things were hopping, although the amiable servers satisfied the crowd’s needs with aplomb.

As we were at a refreshment palace, it wouldn’t do to just have a glass of water. Both of us were intrigued by the $3 lemonade augmented by Fresno peppers, crimson chiles ranking a couple of notches above jalapeños on the Scoville heat scale. Even without this novel addition, this beverage was first-rate, prepared like a proper cocktail with freshly muddled lemons. The pepper’s heat didn’t quite register at first, and then the most interesting taste transition took place. The chile’s understated fire merged with the lemon zest’s astringency, taking an initially familiar flavor and amplifying it until one couldn’t help but notice a peppery zing on the tongue.

We started with the $9 avocado salsa, a.k.a. guacamole. The chips were fresh, crisp and a little thick, which was helpful for scooping up the dip. A chunky texture was set off by smooth flavor — this was a balanced preparation in which neither garlic, chile nor citrus juice dominated. In other words, one could fully appreciate the creaminess and delicate flavor of ripe but not mushy avocado. Both of us noticed something unusual about the diced tomato before it dawned on us that it had been marinated in lime, an unusual touch that heightened the flavor.

Paul lived the high life with a luxurious $13 chicken enchilada platter made even more decadent with the addition of a fried egg for a buck. It would have been even better if it had arrived at the table at a higher temperature. That would have improved the flavor and consistency of the otherwise delicious creamy red pepper and goat cheese sauce. The use of chicken thighs was a fine touch, as this cut possesses the assertive flavor and moist texture appropriate for a hearty enchilada preparation.

Feeling like something a little lighter, I opted for a $10 tortilla salad. At first glance, I was mildly disappointed by the presentation, expecting a bit more color than varying shades of green stemming from assorted lettuces and avocado. My visual dismay quickly abated as I realized the flavor profile was far more complex than initial appearances indicated. This preparation

was liberally shot through with addictive escabeche, bits of tangy pickled vegetable common to better taco trucks everywhere. Small but potent chunks of pepper and carrot nicely upped the flavor quotient, working in tandem with a perfectly rationed, mildly acidic vinaigrette. Tortilla strips provided crunch, while tasty morsels of pulled chicken contributed heft.

Nearly every dish we had included a pleasing, unexpected touch that worked to the meal’s benefit. These ranged from the surprising chile in the lemonade to the salad’s peppy escabeche (which would also be a great name for a comic book character). These appetizing touches indicate an attention to culinary detail that makes Centro a must-visit destination on the summertime eating trail.

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