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Same Kitchen, New Name/Menu at HighlandPlace

Owner Chris Farrow transforms Cent’Anni into a casual steakhouse.

The times, they are a'changing, and Cent'Anni Restaurant & Lounge owner Chris Farrow has adapted by giving his Italian eatery a major facelift. Farrow has renamed the establishment HighlandPlace and brought on a consultant who has transformed the Italian menu into that of a traditional steakhouse.

Gone are the pastas and cold plates, but some of more popular dishes remain. For starters, the Kobe slider ($9) and fried calamari ($9) are carried over from the old menu, as are the baby beet ($8) and Caesar salads ($8). Several new additions include French onion soup ($7), home-made potato chips with a blue cheese dipping sauce ($6), flatbread topped with sliced filet mignon ($10), and a classic shrimp cocktail ($13).

HighlandPlace also offers a slightly different twist on two of their former appetizers. The crab cake ($11) is one gigantic patty accompanied by a peppery arugula salad and pesto drizzle. The generously portioned crab cake is lightly fried to a nice crisp and has a solid crab to breading ratio. While it may not be the most sophisticated rendering or plate composition, one would be hard-pressed to find a better value.

Also tweaked from its previous incarnation is the roasted pear salad ($8), which is a lovely, large plate of mesclun, gorgonzola, and pecans drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. The sweetness of the pear plays well against the toasted nuts and creamy bite of the cheese. The salad's only downfall is the presentation of the main attraction, which was chopped and sparsely splayed around the greens.

Meat, meat, and more meat dominate the rest of the menu, as one would expect from a steakhouse. HighlandPlace doesn't disappoint in the steak category, offering New York strip ($28), filet mignon ($29), porterhouse ($35), rib-eye ($31), and steak frites ($18), all of which are cooked atop a wood-burning Aztec Grill. The menu features a preparation chart that explains exactly what "rare" really means. All steaks are cooked to order, and the filet mignon was prepared exactly as requested. Each steak can also be accompanied by a rub or choice of three sauces (black peppercorn, gorgonzola, or red wine reduction).

For non-red meat eaters, the options include a rack of lamb ($27), a half chicken ($18), salmon ($22), lobster tails ($36), a vegetarian Emma burger ($10), and two pastas, as well as pan-seared scallops wrapped in pancetta ($26). The scallops were nicely done, browned to carmelization but not overcooked, and, of course, one can never go wrong with the addition of bacon.

HighlandPlace seems to have switched gears seamlessly with its steaks, but a bit more revamping is needed for its sides. The multi-layered potato gratin that accompanied the scallops was dense and unseasoned, the twice-baked stuffed potato ($6) did not have the velvety texture or was it as "stuffed" as it should have been. The very flat-looking potato halves were topped with cheddar cheese and a few bits of bacon. I was not offered sour cream, chives, or butter. Equally uneven was the creamed spinach ($7), which seemed more like sautéed spinach sitting on top of a dash of cream—rather than the lush bit of heaven the dish is supposed to be.

Farrow hasn't changed the décor other than the name on the awning and perhaps a few small interior touches. The restaurant's front open-air bar remains, which seems to be the main draw of the establishment. The wine list has shrunk a bit, but still offers a wide selection of wines by the glass ($6-11) and bottle. Spirits and after-dinner drinks are also available, as are happy hour specials during the week.

While many of its dishes lack nuance and complexity, HighlandPlace does offer an array of well-prepared steaks in a lively setting. The bar area features live music on weekends, and on a fair summer eve, you can't beat a glass of wine and a little night music.

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Highland Place

5 Highland Place, Maplewood

(973) 763-3083

Hours of Operation:

Tuesday through Thursday, 5-10 pm
Friday & Saturday, 5-11 pm
Sunday, 4-8 pm

Closed Monday.

Kids' menu and private party rooms available.

Live music on weekends. All major credit cards accepted.

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