Recently I asked for some suggestions prior to dining at Central. Below is my lengthy review of the experience.
The anticipation of eating at Central Michel Richard was only exceeded by the meal itself. Anyone who has been to Citronelle knows Mr. Richard is in a league of his own in terms of food leaving the kitchen and the members of the staff that present it. Citronelle is not a meal—it is an experience, and fortunately Mr. Richard transcends his passion for food, attention to detail and desire for all to enjoy to his newest creation. Clearly stated, Central serves great food, in an inviting atmosphere at a price that will make it your ‘go to’ restaurant in D.C. This is not to say Central is flawless, a few kinks need to be worked out; a restaurant that offers a coat check should be able to accommodate all diners jackets. However the criticisms are minimal, and for a restaurant barely open a month one can only imagine what the product will be when flying on all cylinders.
From the moment we stepped through the inviting red drapes, the smells, sites and sounds captured the soul of a gem on the rise. Warm wooden tones dance off the walls and tables accented by nouveau light fixtures hanging above—the perfect balance of elegance, simplicity and modernism. The Maitre de was welcoming and understanding especially when word came that a member of our party would be a little late. We were led to our table despite being one diner down. Making our way through the first room of tables one immediately notices excellent presentation in true Michel Richard style and a sea of satisfied smiles. Unfortunately those dining in the first room lack the front row views of the open kitchen—a Richard dining must. That being said, the front room is far from what some restaurants refer to as ‘Siberia.’ Our first table, and I say first because we did change, had an excellent view of the kitchen yet was practically on top of the servers station. The dangling metal links that are meant to provide a breath of privacy fell short of doing their job. Luckily on our way we passed an open table directly in front of the kitchen with a splendid view of the glassed in wine cellar. Again, the staff was accommodating and we were moved without as much as a raised eyebrow.
After ordering a pre dinner drink, and taking time to survey the menu which was one sided and easy to digest, it was time to order. Lightheartedly, the menu had what one of my companions noted, and as I hope, is a play on the current trend of egotistical chefs who believe the diner is present to eat at the pleasure of the kitchen and not the other way around by placing a large advertisement for his newest cookbook on the bottom left corner. Our waiter was great, astute and ready to answer all of our questions. In addition he also made it clear that we could take our time despite all tables being full and a bustling bar. Relaxed and excited we sat back to watch the ballet of chefs unfold before our eyes.
We opted to share three appetizers, which is great way to go. The much talked about gougers were good, airy and light yet still found a way to melt in your mouth. The first few served piping hot were better that the last, but there was still a fight to see whose hands reached the bottom first. The fried oysters were excellent-- crisp on the outside and the taste of the ocean on the inside. Four oysters, perfect for our table, were served on top of a tangy green cocktail sauce that left your taste buds asking for more. We decided to round out the hot appetizers with a salad. Romaine lettuce was privileged to be dressed by a goat cheese Caesar, however covered is a better word to use than dressed. A heavy hand was responsible for finishing this dish something that should and needs to be corrected in the future.
Reflecting on the appetizers and doing our best to keep the details of the meal in our heads, we were soon distracted by the entrees placed before us. First to catch our attention was the cast iron pot with a cloud of steam giving way to the site of exceptionally cooked muscles in a white wine and garlic broth. Each muscle was beautifully colored, nicely sized and as succulent as you get off the coasts of New England. Next were the lobster burgers—good enough that two out of four had to order them. Large pieces of lobster combined into a patty, broiled and placed on a homemade bun with a thin potato crisp for an extra crunch. The burgers were accompanied by bistro fries that didn’t stand a chance to sit on the plate. The final entrée combined a useful technique with a quintessential comfort food. Braised short ribs cooked sous vide and mashed potatoes with vinaigrette dressed greens. The ribs are vacuum cooked for 72 hours allowing them to keep their size, unlock their flavor and make them as tender as any short rib I have ever tasted. To accompany the entrees we shared an inexpensive bottle of merlot. One of the sommeliers who was at Citronelle is now managing Central, and still offering his great advice on wine. Three seafood dishes and one meat are easy to satisfy when in such good hands. The result amounted to few words and many groans.
In an attempt to redefine indulgence we moved on to dessert. Taking a page from the first course we split three which we found to be a little hit or miss. At another restaurant the desserts would be deemed excellent, however at Central the last course does not keep pace with those that precede it. The highlight was the orange soufflé; light in texture, golden brown on the outside and a balanced citrus flavor. For chocolate aficionados, the “Kit Kat bar” is the best bet. A great combination of rich hazelnut encased by smooth chocolate. The least favorable was the deconstructed banana split. For the first time quality succumbed to quantity. The homemade ice cream was bland and the bananas could have used a few more days on the shelf. Yet looking back on the rest of the meal we were not complaining.
Completely full with equally large smiles as we saw on the way to our table, we paid the relatively inexpensive bill--$70 per person and made our way home. We came for a highly anticipated meal and left with a Central experience. Michel Richard and his team continue to prove they are in a different league and lucky for us we have front row seats.