AT RED BANK’S NEWEST HOT SPOT, TRAVEL WITH SPIRITS EXPERT CARLOS RUIZ AS HE CRAFTS COCKTAILS THAT COMPLEMENT A STUNNING PAN-LATIN CUISINE AND AMBIANCE
BY GILDA ROGERS • PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
In a town known for its international cuisine, new addition Centrada Cocina & Cocktails is adding pizzazz to Red Bank’s festival of favors with its star attraction, pan-Latin fare and air.
The restaurant offers a fresh fine dining experience that combines the vibrancy of Tulum, the style of Cuba, and the intimacy of Barcelona. It starts with the décor, a colorful explosion of teal, terracotta, and natural hues complemented by swirling abstract art, all setting the scene for an exciting culinary excursion. The cocktail menu also plays a vital role.
Enter “Cocktails by C,” a robust list of libations by Carlos Ruiz, a marketing and beverage consultant who provides exclusive ongoing training to the restaurant’s bartenders.
For starters, try the El Pastor, a combination of Gracias a Dios mezcal, pineapple, lime, and jalapeno served over a mound of crushed ice. The flavors complement one another, and though spicy, the jalapeño is not overpowering. Think of the drink as a divinely delicious grown-up slushy.
“I’m giving an experience to the patron and the owners,” said the 30-year-old Ruiz, whose many services include promoting and generating interest in the restaurant via social media. “We’re in the hospitality business. The restaurant opened in April, and in a matter of a few weeks had 7,000 followers.”
“I wanted to bring something different to Red Bank,” said Anthony Fiorentino, one of the owners of the restaurant’s parent group, Esperto Hospitality. “We’re marrying the Latin flavors of South America, Central America, Spain, and Portugal.” A tip from this journalist: order the pork wings, cooked and sauced to perfection.
Ruiz, who was born in Lima, Peru, started his ascent in the restaurant and bar industry at 18, working in a pizzeria from 9 a.m. until midnight. He soon realized he wanted something better for himself.
“I knew I wanted to work in fine dining,” said the mixologist, who took a job bussing tables at the famed Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station. It was there he became fascinated by the artistry of the cocktail and developed a strong desire to become a bartender. Eventually, he asked his boss for a bartending shift. The response was “no” due to his lack of experience.
Ruiz’s reaction? “I went on YouTube and read everything about bartending,” he said. After seven months, he got his opportunity to bartend at Ryland Inn. Competitions followed. In 2015, he was crowned Mixologist of the Year by the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, a win that changed the trajectory of his career.
“Restaurants wanted to hire me, I started competing all over, and I hired a publicist,” said Ruiz. He also won the Mediterranean Inspiration Cocktail Competition in Ibiza, Spain, the Herradura Tequila Legends contest in Mexico, the Sherry Cocktail competition in Barcelona, and many more. Today, the former busboy counts celebrities among his clients, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and singer Becky G.
The personable Ruiz has amassed more than 16,000 followers on social media and can be seen on TikTok doing what he does best, mixing cocktails. He has appeared on Univision Broadcast Network in Miami and has done segments on Telemundo and iHeart Radio.
Cocktails by C is an amalgamation of passion in spirits meets fine art. Ruiz envisions launching his own liquor, an alcoholic version of the ancient Peruvian drink known as Chicha Morada. In the meantime, he’s flexing his creative muscles on drinks like Havana Nights (an original Cocktail by C), a fusion of Magdalena Rum, lime, and homemade grenadine a beautiful sight to see, and an explosion of flavors to taste.
Centrada Cocina & Cocktails
10 West Front Street, Red Bank / 732.430.2330 / centradarestaurant.com