May 15, 2007
The Fiesta Resumes

The barkeeps of Centro Cocina Mexicana at 28th and J in midtown Sacramento continue to mix the best cocktails in town, and now they have a colorful new stage on which to show off their skills.

After a quick recent restyling of the place, Centro's looming backbar is given over to a sensible and inviting display of the restaurant's monumental selection of tequilas, including all three versions of my personal favorite brand, Espolon. The bartop is new and so are the barstools, which for the first time are anchored in place.

The floorplan is basically the same, but the Paragary Restaurant Group and designer Bruce Benning bulked up the partition between bar and front dining room, though it does little to shield diners from the noise of embibers. They also hung from the ceiling a veritable galaxy of metal starburst light fixtures, introduced a palette of deeper tropical colors, and devoted much of one wall to a collection of antique crosses whose random arrangement suggests a memorial shrine along a Mexican highway.

The vintage motorcycles that once gave Centro a touch of history and adventure are nowhere to be seen, though at least one eventually is to be returned to the quarters.

The bar is bright but the dining room is pretty dark, with a backwash of blue from big new neon "Centro" signs in the front windows. We didn't have dinner, but had to wonder what kind of effect the blue light, new blue upholstery, dim lighting and earthen tones will have on the customary warm and appetizing colors of Centro's food. The menu, incidentally, while now better organized, continues to run primarily to traditional regional Mexican cooking.

One thing left unchanged during the remodeling was the sculpted "Centro" plaque embedded in the sidewalk at the entrance, a tribute by artist Patrick Powers to an old Sacramento tradition. It got cracked as it was installed when the restaurant opened in 1994, and it's still cracked. Of the original Centro, that's about all that has remained untouched.

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