Updated dishes blend with enduring charm
Restaurants in the Newburyport area come and go, but Ten Center Street endures. More than a few young chefs in the region learned the business while working here. Next year marks its 40th anniversary.
Like Michael’s Harborside, its sister restaurant just upriver, Ten Center Street is large and well run, with a vibe that’s more slickly commercial than down-home. It’s the kind of place where the menu offers not seafood but “seafood presentations.’’ The website’s come-on - “A hip new menu. Cool new prices,’’ echoed in a parking lot sign - sounds as if it came straight from an ad agency.
We arrived a little after 7 p.m. on a busy Friday and were led upstairs to a large second-floor dining room with old wood floors, brick walls, and a cathedral ceiling. This part of the restaurant dates to 1790; the place was expanded and remodeled in 1987. We’re suckers for fireplaces, and we counted at least three with flames going; we’re not sure how many involved actual burning wood.
The dimly lighted and rather noisy room was cozy and welcoming, even if one of our party of four had to use the light on his iPhone to read the menu. (If we’d thought of it, we’d have used the gadget to look up some of the mystery ingredients: Siracha aioli? Pomegranate mignonette?)
The menu offers familiar favorites such as shrimp scampi ($11) along with trendier items such as lobster mac and cheese ($25, or $15 for a half portion). With nearly every dish, presentation was indeed key.
An appetizer of pan-fried crab cakes with a corn and chorizo hash and a small arugula salad ($11) arrived on a large plate with drizzles of spicy aioli sauce shooting out from the crab cakes huddled in the center. Passing the crispy cakes around, we gave them thumbs up and agreed the chorizo sausage bits were a nice touch.
A decorative appetizer of yellow-fin tuna tartare with crushed wasabi peas and edamame on a bed of tangled seaweed strands ($9) was an entertaining mixture of exotic flavors, colors, and textures, and a nice deal for the price. (In general, though, we’d label the prices here standard rather than “cool.’’)
Among our salads, a standout was the beet-apricot-pistachio construction ($10) that was lightly seasoned, rather than drenched, with a roasted-garlic vinaigrette.
A half-portion version of the lobster shiitake risotto entree ($19, or $32 full), with pan-roasted scallops, shaved asparagus, and Parmesan, was both delicious and ample in size, with generous chunks of lobster meat.
The pan-seared, miso-glazed Atlantic salmon with baby bok choy and a bowl of soba noodles ($22) had a pleasantly crunchy exterior and nicely cooked interior.
An order of lamb osso bucco with a mushroom-parmesan risotto ($25) didn’t delight the member of our party who ordered it; he decided the meat was a little greasy. We all enjoyed the risotto, at least.
The evening’s highlight was a plate of enormous hand-formed ricotta ravioli (just three or four, but that was plenty) in an unusual red-pepper emulsion sauce ($17). It came with a stack of crisp breaded eggplant, mozzarella, and tomatoes in alternating slices. It was fun to deconstruct, and tasty to chew.
We felt miserly ordering a single dessert to split four ways - the $9 “dessert trio’’ of crème brûlée, bread pudding, and pumpkin ice cream - but our waitress seemed happy to bring us four forks without being asked. No, she assured us, almost no one ever eats the whole thing. Together, we did so without any trouble at all.
COCO McCABE and DOUG STEWART