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RECIPE OF THE MONTH  October 2002

Upscale Dining in the Middle of Moab at the
Center Cafe

by Annabelle Numaguchi

“Lamb Loin with Roasted Garlic Flan in a Balsamic-Port wine Reduction, Crab-stuffed Prawns in Lemon Oil, aged Balsamic and Saffron Risotto...”

The food speaks for itself at the Center Cafe.

Those of you who have already dined on some of the delectable choices on the menu should be salivating by now. Paul and Zee McCarroll, owners and chefs, have deservedly earned their reputation as a bastion of urban gourmet whose location in Moab belies its fine cuisine. It is no wonder that discerning high-end food critics continue to bestow distinguished awards and praise on the Center Cafe. The prestigious Zagat’s Guide has ranked them among the top restaurants in the nation. With a reputation for delicious food, impeccable service and elegant decor, the Center Cafe has brought excellent dining to Moab.

Paul and Zee met at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon and partnered up in marriage and cuisine. In addition to shared professional interests, they both enjoyed mountain biking which drew them to vacation frequently in Moab. Work at Pack Creek Ranch gave them the opportunity to move here, and in 1996, after Paul worked as a sous-chef under Moab restaurateur Tim Buckingham, the McCarrolls bought the Center Cafe from him. Ironically, since taking up residency in the Mountain Biking Mecca of the World, they no longer have time to partake in the sport.

The Center Cafe and its diners, however, benefit from all the time and energy Paul and Zee invest in the restaurant, especially since they moved to their new location. Motivated by a desire to expand their dining room, the McCarrolls decided to purchase the building on 60 North 100 West (formerly Honest Ozzie’s) and build a large addition. The decor reflects the promise of refined, elegant dining upon entering. Wood cabinets, the stone fireplace and a brilliant stained glass window, all pieces done by local artists, grace the interior. Track lighting casts a warm glow off the ochre walls and blond wood ceiling. The effect puts diners into a proper mood for enjoying the delectable food. A further attraction through the fall has been live jazz music played on certain Wednesday nights by veteran musicians, Carl Dede on guitar and Gen Numaguchi on trumpet.

The courteous and efficient service is also on par with urban upscale dining. The staff works like a team and is very customer-oriented. Many of the staff members have moved to Moab for the same reasons that attracted Paul and Zee, and they hike, kayak, climb and bike together off duty. This friendship results in a smooth operating system and in knowledgeable staff not only about the food but also about the area, which visitors to Moab often enjoy. The wait staff brings its varied interests and experiences together in creating a relaxed, upscale dining experience.

Paul and Zee have recently decided to add a new attraction to their ever-changing menu, a set-priced meal featuring home style comfort food, such as meatloaf or chicken and dumplings. The moderately priced menu will include a soup or salad and dessert. This fixed-price option will last until the weekend after Thanksgiving, at which time the Center Cafe closes for the season.

The winter still doesn’t allow Paul and Zee the luxury of returning to mountain biking since they spend the time working under nationally-recognized chefs, such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. These sabbaticals give the McCarrolls a chance to study new methods and discover new dishes.

Obviously, cooking is more than a profession for them, but also a passion, which shows in that all the food, from bread to dessert, is made from scratch. They also place great emphasis on freshness. They grow their own herbs, tomatoes, apples and apricots, and buy much of their produce from local farmers. The freshness of the ingredients makes all the difference in their cooking, especially since their philosophy is that “food needs to represent itself, in appearance and flavor.”

Not only does the food represent itself, it speaks for itself. The food resembles what it should be in its most perfect state. The lamb has a buttery tenderness and the sweet, robust flavors of the Port wine reduction burst on the taste buds. The crab stuffed prawns marry divinely with the risotto and its citrus blend of lemon oil and Balsamic vinegar, with a subtle hint of saffron. As many diners have noted, the Center Cafe is the caliber of restaurant that one expects to find in New York or San Francisco. How fortunate for Moab that Paul and Zee liked mountain biking enough to establish their fine cuisine here.

The Center Cafe is open nightly from 5:30 p.m. Entrees range from $19 to $28. The deli (which sells gourmet foods, including artisan and organic cheeses) is open during dining hours. For reservations, please call 259-4295.

Recipe of the Month

Molten Chocolate Cake

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