The menu at Kentro Greek Kitchen might as well be a manifesto. The downtown Fullerton restaurant is practically revolutionary, a stereotype-smashing example of what a Greek restaurant can and should be. Here there are no azure murals of the Aegean, no Doric columns carved from stucco, no choral rounds of "Opa!" to accompany the crash of shattered plates. Kentro instead is a paragon of subtlety, Orange County's primary practitioner of a Greek culinary tradition that revels not in antiquity but modernity.
The restaurant is fashioned from monochromatic patches of black and white. It's stark but not sterile, an approachable, contemporary style that somehow seems instantly familiar. That in part explains Kentro's egalitarian dining room, where gun-toting detectives dissect the details of a case as students review last week's lecture notes and couples share glasses of beer and wine while commuters sip steaming shots of coffee.
Dishes are spelled out in Greek on the restaurant's immense chalkboard menu, deployed as much for linguistic authenticity as for a sort of written décor. Appetizers are sized to share, so split a batch of the zucchini keftedes — tangles of shaved zucchini pressed into patties, delicately fried and napped with Greek yogurt, olive oil and a scattering of dill. The mezzedaki plate, meanwhile, fulfills the heartiest fantasies with a pair of charbroiled lamb chops, a blistered loukaniko sausage, a cup of tzatziki and latticed logs of firm kefalotiri cheese.
Even those terrified of tentacles can't resist Kentro's grilled octopus. It's a generous appetizer, a heap of thinly sliced octopus bathed in latholemono (a sauce of lemon juice, garlic and olive oil), crowned with wisps of just-pickled onion and carrot and accompanied by a few wedges of good crusty bread. The dish is pure simplicity, as if the octopus had been pulled straight from the Mediterranean moments before being branded by the grill.
Cool days dictate a cup of avgolemono (Greece's famous lemon-laced chicken soup) to complement Kentro's sizable beet salad, cubes of the plate-staining root tossed with dried figs, creamy manouri cheese and a toasty walnut vinaigrette. The restaurant's flatbreads, however, are ideal for any forecast. Scattered across one are little jeweled mounds of carp roe, wilted dandelion greens and kefalotiri cheese. Another supports hunks of lamb, oregano-dusted potatoes, tzatziki and kasseri cheese. Slices disappear from the table faster than you can chew.
When the conviviality of sharing plates wears thin, most turn to one of Kentro's hulking pita sandwiches. The pitas themselves are pillowy and thick, supple flatbreads swaddled around chicken dressed with Dijon, pork smeared with tzatziki or lamb showered with rosemary vinaigrette. These are serious sandwiches, undertakings that demand your undivided digestion.
The pork souvlaki earns envious stares. The entrée is indeed one to covet — gobbets of pork threaded onto skewers and grilled, each piece mottled with specks of char. A mound of wild rice is served alongside, studded with lumps of feta, raisins, dill, almonds and slivers of red onion. Sides here are interchangeable, so consider also the briami, sheets of vegetables stacked like lasagna and baked with feta.
The restaurant mans the grill again for the brizola, an 8-ounce rib-eye that could easily supplant those at some steakhouses. Psari sti skara satisfies those longing for seafood. The sea bass fillet is charbroiled to just-blackened brilliance and paired with a pile of braised dandelion greens. Moussaka is the ultimate cold-weather comfort, layers of rich ragù and béchamel draped over strata of roasted eggplant and potato.
Kentro, its menu explains, is modeled after the cafes and common areas of Greece's city centers, a restaurant designed to attract not just the various food-obsessed sectors of society but also serve as a universal meeting place, the literal center of city life. And for an ever-growing slice of Orange County, it already is.
Kentro Greek Kitchen
Location: 100 S. Harbor Blvd., Suite A, Fullerton, (714) 278-0944, kentrogreekkitchen.com.
Prices: Appetizers, soups and salads, $4 to $12; flatbreads and sandwiches, $8 to $12; entrees, $10 to $18; desserts and drinks, $3 to $6.Details: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Lot parking. Credit cards accepted. Beer, wine.