Central Bistro Starts Off Right Down the Middle

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When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Central Bistro Location: 3160 East Camelback Road Open: Just over a week Eats: Foods of Italy, France, and Spain Price: Between $11 and $30 per person

Goodbye, sushi. Hello, Euro fare.

See also: Old Dixie's Southern Kitchen: Stellar Southern Eats on Four Wheels Federal Pizza: Wood-Fired Fare, Corn Coins, and Growlers to Go

Zen 32, the former sushi spot at the northwest corner of Camelback Road and 32nd Street, truly is no more -- not even a scrap of the place exists. Completely remodeled, the new space, which opened a little over a week ago, is now the home of Central Bistro, an upscale casual restaurant courtesy of restaurateur German Osio and chef Andrea Volpi, who also own Local Bistro in North Scottsdale.

The updated digs are a vast improvement. But to be competitive in this Biltmore neighborhood of noteworthy restaurants, the food needs to follow suit.

The menu, created by Volpi (formerly of La Locanda and Taggia), focuses on foods from Italy, France, and Spain. In addition to small plates, risottos, pastas, and pizzas, there are entrees such as grilled shrimp peperonata ($26) and a New York strip au Poivre ($32). And if you're wondering what to pair them with, there's an eye-popping 250 wines as well as beer and cocktails.

Made-from-scratch pastas include a "housemade ravioli of the moment." Mine was a butternut squash in a creamy walnut and pear gorgonzola sauce ($16). The ravioli was undercooked, but the delicate flavor of the squash inside was nice -- that is, when it wasn't being overpowered by the flavor of walnuts. Bites of sweet pear were lovely, but few.

For those with a hankering for pizza, know that Central Bistro's Neapolitan-style pies are of the knife-and-fork variety. The overall crust is fine, on the flour-y side, but the middle is unable to hold its toppings. This results in a bit of a mess when attempting to move a piece from pan to plate or plate to mouth. My smoked duck white pizza ($14) with mozzarella, roasted peppers, and mild, salty and sweet Castelvetrano olives featured a nice mix of flavors; however, slicing up the large, thin slices of smoked duck in addition to the weak inner crust felt like too much work for a simple pie.

Dessert left the meal on a high note.

Central Bistro's desserts come courtesy of pastry chef Kristen Salinas. And the menu suggests that if you can't decide which one to order you can "get the whole damn dessert menu for $45" -- a curious offer given that if you purchased each dessert separately, the total for all six would be only $44.

I opted for the Floating Island ($8), an old-school French dessert featuring mounds of meringue floating on crème anglaise (a vanilla custard). Its bites of crunchy meringue soaked in a not-too-sweet smooth vanilla custard were wonderfully sumptuous. And the Riesling-soaked strawberries were a nice, slightly boozy touch.

With large windows that let in the fall air, a lounge-worthy bar/patio area, and a glass-walled exhibition kitchen, Central Bistro has done a stellar job in making its new digs a decidedly roomy and pleasant place. And decor materials such as wood, brick, leather, and white marble make it a clean and contemporary one as well. The service seems to match the atmosphere: a kind of refined casualness that never gets too informal.

But atmosphere alone won't be enough if Central Bistro is to stay competitive in this neighborhood of noteworthy upscale restaurants. With the chef Claudio Urciuoli-led Noca located in the same shopping center and the award-winning Tarbell's just across Camelback, diners in the area can afford to be choosy with their dollars -- even if it means spending a few more of them -- for an exceptional meal. Central Bistro will need to bring its cuisine from good to great in a hurry to be considered a contender.

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