Tag Archives: College Town

Chuan Cafe Spices up College Town

The sign outside the door of College Town’s new Chuan Cafe reads “Never Spicy Enough,” a statement some prospective diners may interpret as a challenge and others as a cue to order with caution.

Both are right — and wrong.

Chuan Cafe serves Sichuan cuisine, which is known for the heat of its chiles and numbing Sichuan peppers. The menu has a category for Super Spicy food and also indicates heat with the number of peppers but you can express your preference for more or less spice at the counter. You’ll want to ensure you’re on the same spice scale as the kitchen. If you have a timid palate, try the sesame chicken, vegetable dishes, fried rice or dim sum.

Chuan Cafe is an offshoot of the restaurant, Chuan Guo Wei, located in Chendu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China. Tallahassee was picked for the restaurant’s first venture into the United States, partly because of family connections here, said manager Michelle Lin.

 

The Setting

The cafe is a natural for College Town. The place is contemporary, with a laid-back vibe, decorated with wood, exposed brick and industrial accents.

You order at the counter and are notified via buzzer when your food is ready. There’s no rush to leave. Seating includes a few communal tables with upholstered chairs and banquettes, perfect for study groups, and smaller tables around the perimeter of the room. On our visits, most of the diners were Asian, generally considered a sign the food is pretty authentic.

There’s free WiFi, and Lin notes that diners are welcome to graze, study or just read a book.

Dig In

When I stopped by the restaurant earlier this week, my third visit, I chatted with José Mendoza, an engineering professor at Florida State University, who’s already become a fan of Chuan Cafe. He was enjoying a meal of white fish with hot chile sauce, included on the list of Super Spicy dishes. “I’d eat here everyday if I could,” Mendoza said. “My wife is Chinese and she really loves it.”

I particularly liked his description of the tongue-tingling taste of Sichuan peppers. “They have an after-flavor that’s numbing,” he said, comparing it to the lingering flavor of a good cup of espresso. “It’s very pleasant.”

Incidentally, the Sichuan pepper is not a peppercorn but the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the ash tree. You’ve likely tried it before because it’s one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder (along with star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon and fennel seeds).

Along with its spiciness, Sichuan dishes are also sweet, sour, salty and smoky. There’s a Sichuan saying for this complexity, which translates to: “Each dish has its own style, a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors.”

Chuan Cafe doesn’t have a hundred dishes but there are sure plenty of choices.

One of the best deals is a combo meal for $8.99. It’s served, Bento-style, with segments for a stir-fry or steamed dish, soup and dim sum. I had the “Giant Meatball,” a large orb of tender, ground pork that has a slight kick, served in a sweet-and-sour sauce. My sides were a flavorful cup of wonton soup, though similar to what you’d find at most Chinese restaurants, and plump pan-fried dumplings. Other dishes available as a combo include Kung Pao chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce and spare ribs with sticky rice.

On another visit, my son, who loves spicy food, was happy with his aromatic bowl of Ma Po Tofu, a classic loaded with chunks of tofu and a sprinkling of ground pork and scallions. It had plenty of heat but it’s not a scorcher for those who prefer to fire up their taste buds.

– Chuan Cafe

House-made dandan noodles were also delicious, coated with a peanut and pepper sauce, topped with chopped pork and scallions.

The sesame chicken strips are a fun, shareable snack boosted by an orange sweet-sour sauce. For a light dish, try the Chinese crepe, made with egg and flour, filled with savory pork and scallions.

Sadly, the dim sum menu has already been scaled back but you’ll still find pan-fried and steamed dumplings plus binge-worthy pan-fried pork buns, soft on the inside with a slightly crisp doughy shell.

For dessert, try the “brown sugar rice crispy,” which brings strips of sticky rice pan-fried with a crisp coating, dipped into a brown sugar sauce for a sweet ending.

Chuan Cafe doesn’t yet have its beer and wine license but it’s not exactly hard to find a watering hole in College Town.

Prices

Soups $5.95 to $8.95; combo meals $8.99; noodles $6.95 to $8.95, entrees $6.95 to $11.95; vegetable dishes $8.95 to $10.95; dim sum $6.95 to $7.95; desserts $4.95 to $5.95.

Bottom line

Discover the bold flavors of Sichuan cooking at Chuan Cafe. Servings are generous, flavorful and the place has a casual, breezy atmosphere that will make diners of any age feel welcome. With dishes priced under $12, it also pays to be adventurous.

Tallahassee Table Rating
(Neighborhood Fare, Worth the Drive, or One of the Best)

Worth the Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.

When you go …

Chuan Cafe
619 Woodward Ave., Tallahassee
850-727-0228
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

 

 

 

Benvenuti to Centrale

Students looking for a trendy, more upscale restaurant in College Town will like the new Centrale Italian Parlour. Here’s the twist: So will you.

Sure, there’s pizza on the menu, but diners will also find less typical items such as a charcuterie board, a porchetta (pork) plate, orichette pasta and blackberry-olive oil cake.

Centrale has crafted a fun setting to please its young patrons while making it classy enough to draw other generations. The space, which formally opened Oct. 7, is a sibling to the adjacent Madison Social and both are run by the group For the Table Hospitality, which has centralebar1the entertainment market cornered on the street. It also operates the Social Catering service, The Gathering private event space above Madison Social and the upcoming Township German pub opening across the street in a few weeks.

Centrale serves lunch and dinner and you can grab a pie until closing. Order pizza from the counter window on Friday and Saturday until 3 a.m.

The Setting

On our Saturday night visit, about a dozen well-dressed young women were celebrating a birthday at the restaurant’s wine bar or  “Somm,” short for sommelier. The restaurant’s general manager, Jeremy Fowler, who is a certified sommelier, was smoothly moving
from one end of the narrow bar to the other, ensuring the wine was flowing as breezily as the girls’ giggles. This bar subs as a community table when it’s not reserved and the place is packed. There’s a larger, second bar at the front.

The restaurant has an open, retro look with black-and-white decor centraleinterior2and old-school tile floors. It can get a little loud, but remember, you’re in Millennial territory. Garage doors open to the outdoors. Centrale has patio seating with accents of flowy white curtains.

Dig In

Centrale doesn’t have a large menu but it’s interesting and affordable, even on a student budget. The most expensive items are two $21 large pizzas, each big enough to share.

Your dinner starts with a small, complimentary bite. On our visit it centraleappetizer2was four slices of focaccia with ricotta, both the bread and cheese house-made, finished with a swirl of basil oil. Nice.

Our table shared a delicious starter of arancini, seven golf ball-size balls of risotto, breaded and fried. Even better: Dip into the homey marinara centralerisottoballscentralechickpeafriessauce.

Well-seasoned chickpea fries are good and crunchy, served with a savory pumpkin ketchup dipping sauce with a hint of cinnamon. Flavorful, and my husband scarfed them up, though I confess to craving good old-fashioned French-fried potatoes.

Centrale’s chopped salad comes in two sizes ($9 and $12). We opted for the larger version for two to share, and it was terrific, a refreshing medley of radicchio, soppressata, provolone, avocado and caramelized onions drizzled with a rich buttermilk-herb dressing that adds a subtle tang.

Another favorite: the panko-crusted chicken Parmesan, which features tender white-meat cutlets stuffed with a thin layer of mozzarella, and lightly fried to a golden brown and finished with marinara. The chicken was a hit, but a bit lonely on the plate. We ordered a bowl of spaghetti for $5 extra but Centrale should centralechickenparm1consider adding it as part of the dish. Other a la carte sides include charred broccoli and crispy marbled potatoes.

Pasta dishes are generous portions, including our serving of orecchiette. The pasta, which gets its name for its ear shape, was tossed with perfectly cooked shrimp, the whole affair in a garlicky basil pesto centraleshrimpsauce spiked with a bit of serrano peppers to give the dish a slight kick.

Cacio and pepe, meaning cheese and pepper, is a traditional, minimalist dish from Rome. This is indeed a simple serving of pasta with Parmesan Romano and fresh pepper, centralecasioypepeserved in a bowl made of Parmesan cheese. The pasta was quite good but the bowl could have been crisper. You can ask to sub gluten-free pasta.

Centrale serves four brick-oven pizzas at small (12 by 12 inches) and large (12 by 18) sizes. We were in the mood for the basic Old School Square pie with pork sausage ($4 extra). The crust was crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside, centralepizzanicely browned. But there are other more intriguing options. You can get toppings of pork and cracklins, a pie with Calabrian chile peppers and Italian meats or the NY Salad Pie, with a topping of romaine and arugula, red onions, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan and mozzarella.

The blackberry-olive oil cake was tempting for dessert but we couldn’t resist the roasted hazelnut and banana tiramisu with lady fingers, a big square that’s rich and creamy and oh so Italian.

Service

Friendly, attentive youthful staff. A pitcher of water is set on the table but the servers still checked to ensure our glasses were full.

The bar

Centrale serves cocktails and beer, but specializes in wine, with 35 selections by draft, the glass or bottle. Varietals on tap include a centraleexterior1
pinot noir, malbec, rose and sauvignon blanc. The restaurant’s version of Happy Hour is called “Benvenuti” (meaning Welcome) with discounts and pizzas served each hour. Drink discounts are also offered during a late-night happy hour.

When you go…
Centrale Italian Parlour
815 W. Madison St.
850-765-6799

Cost
Starters and salads $5 to $10; pizza $12 to $14 small, $18 to $21 large; pasta and main dishes $12 to $16; sides $3 to $6; desserts $6 to $8.

Hours
Monday to Friday: lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner 4 to 10 p.m., happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., pizza from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday: brunch 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner 4 to 11 p.m., pizza 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Bottom line

Centrale Italian Parlour is a fun venue that works for all generations. It will likely be a place students will want to bring a date, or even their parents, for a good Italian meal without driving across town.

Tallahassee Table Rating

Worth the Drive