New and Noteworthy
Café Central, El Paso and Sagra, Austin
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El Paso What’s new at venerable Café Central? The decor, for one thing. The border stalwart has shed its animal-print upholstery and New York–bistro look in favor of a classic redo, with sleek chocolate-brown chairs, chrome sculptures, unusual art, and floor-to-ceiling beveled mirrors along the back wall. Given the restaurant’s standing in El Paso’s social and culinary scene, this is huge—imagine New York’s Gotham Bar and Grill deciding to remodel. Along with the up-to-date look, a stream of daily specials keeps the wide-ranging menu fresh. Executive chef Armando Pomales has a particular affinity for hearty dishes like veal strip loin with a green-peppercorn brandy sauce; recently he offered it on pappardelle sided by sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. Another frequent special is the phenomenally popular dry-aged strip loin of beef, sided by wintry accompaniments like ricotta gnocchi with braised pork belly. Even fish gets a robust treatment. Hawaiian opakapaka (pink snapper) comes atop a mélange of sweet potato gnocchi, fresh peas, and lobster bits. But regular customers shouldn’t fret about too many changes; savvy owner V. Trae Apodaca III will keep the famous cream of green chile soup on the menu until the earth turns cold. Bar. 109 N. Oregon (915-545-2233). Lunch Mon–Sat 11–4. Dinner Mon–Thur 5–10, Fri & Sat 5–11. Closed Sun. $$$ +
Austin Not exactly a shoestring operation but hardly a big-bucks venture either, Sagra has opened in the cozy little central Austin house where Mars once held sway. The theme is Italian—the word sagra means “town festival”—and the menu is under the direction of chef-owner Gabriel Pellegrini. With more than a decade of experience in New York, he’s betting that Austin will take to his assorted pizzas, pastas, and substantial entrées. Standouts have included salads, especially a fantastic arugula version with fresh pears, Gorgonzola, and walnuts in a truffle-oil citronette dressing. Pizzas, from the wood-burning oven in the corner, emerge with crisp, light crusts. Pastas, like great rigatoni in a well-garlicked, well-herbed bolognese sauce, have ample character. Sometimes, though, the kitchen seems to be working on technique; the wild boar ossobuco, even though falling off the bone, was less tender and luscious than it might have been, and the saffron risotto failed to make much of an impression. Still, the dining rooms are welcoming in their new cream and terra-cotta paint, and the white tablecloths positively gleam. Given time, Sagra could become a lot of people’s neighborhood favorite. Bar. 1610 San Antonio (512-535-5988). Open Mon–Thur 11:30–10, Fri 11:30–11, Sat 5–11. Brunch Sun 11:30–4. $–$$ +