Sunday, January 31, 2010

Central - 01/23/2010

1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 626-0015

Based on the strength of the previous night's dinner at Citronelle, we felt a visit to Chef Michel Richard's casual bistro, Central was in order. The restaurant is designed in a long narrow space with the main dining room on the left.and the bar running down the right with an exposed kitchen behind it. Functional furniture, neutral wood tones and dark carpet make the room fairly bland, though there are some contemporary flashes such as the purple-walled semi-private area, the see through meat locker, and the glass enclosed wine cellar.

Pear 20 - Gosset Champagne, Belle De Brillet, Pear Nectar
The Social - Old Overholt Rye, Carpano Sweet Vermouth, Aperol, Cointreau, Orange Bitters
I decided to start things off with a pear 20 which proved to be a too-sweet variation of the Bellini. My companion chose The Social, a play on the classic Manhattan; incredibly stiff but with a hint of candied orange rind.

Wittekerke Wit
A light hued white ale that poured with a fizzy effervescent head; much lighter on the coriander and citrus than most white ales.

Blusser Pilsner (US exclusive)
A Belgian pils that I guess is exclusive to Central; fairly typical in all respects, not bad but nothing that warrants exclusivity.

Fresh Shucked Oysters - Kusshi, Hama Hama, Penn Cove
One of the best sets of oysters I have tasted in a while, with each variety offering its own charms. The tiny size of the Kusshi belied its intense flavor, bold yet clean. The thin Hama Hama had a muscular bite and sharper salinity. And the massive Penn Cove had a supple meaty texture and mild flavor making it easily my favorite of the three.

Cheese Puffs - gougères
Ah gougères dainty chewy balls of bread and cheese, so simple yet so very delicious; I've lost count of the number of times I found myself wanting a whole bowl of these after having one as a canape or amuse. Happily, Central offers a generous helping allowing me to sate my gougère lust.

Duck Rilletes & Faux Gras Terrine
The Faux Gras is easily the most intriguing thing on the charcuterie menu. A paté of seasoned chicken liver, the faux gras had a rustic sapor that proved to be better than many true foie gras preparations. The duck rilletes were pretty much what I expected, that is to say superb, the slow cooking gave the meat a braised beef-like tenderness and concentrated the already rich flavor of the bird.

Salad Frisee - with Lardons, Poached Egg
Next up was a traditional French salad, a rustic flavorful combination better known as a Salad Lyonnaise, Initially the dish might seem a bit heavy, but the frisee has an assertiveness that manages to hold its own quite well against the smoky lardons and rich creamy egg.

Tartare of Filet Mignon - and French Fries
Steak tartare always poses a bit of a dilemma for me, I always feel compelled to order it but end up disappointed as preparations tend to be fairly similar across restaurants. After wrestling with the familiar conflict, I decided to give Central's tartare a try and was very happy that I did. The tender beef was seasoned with onion, pepper, and a creamy mustard that gave it a depth and body lacking in so many other preparations.

Frog's Legs
One of the better preparations of frog legs I have had outside of my parents house. These were sauteed in butter and covered with liberal garnish of herbs. The weighty flavors were evenly balanced by a side of creamy cole slaw and bitter frisee.

Golden Carolus Triple
This beer is from the same brewery as the Blusser above, Brouwerij Het Anker and the two couldn't be more different. Where the Blusser was bland, the Carolus offers multi-layered aromas of fruit, with sweet fruit and toasted malt on the palate.

Brigand Ale
Despite having one of the ugliest labels in the history of beer, the Brigand is a very good beer. The pour is dark and thick with a creamy head; hard to believe this is a pale ale by looks alone. Another very good beer, with notes of cloves and fruit as well as a touch of sweetness and spice.

Mushroom Pearl Pasta Risotto
I had high hopes for this dish, the sauce of cream, wine, and cheese and the earthy savor of the mushrooms were spot on but the chewy pearls of pasta were just too firm and resistant. I loved the pasta the previous evening at Citronelle in the Lobster "Begula" but I wanted something a little less refined for the risotto.

Fried Chicken - with Mashed Potato
I'm not sure when fried chicken became a must order dish but I seem to get it every time I see it on a menu. We were given both white and dark meat which exhibited two very different flavor profiles. The dark meat was incredibly tender and juicy but mild in flavor. The white meat combined with the potatoes and sauce tasted like a quintessential chicken pot pie. At this point we were getting quite full so the greens and tangy vinaigrette were absolutely vital as a foil for the chicken. My only quibble with this dish was the uneven batter which resulted in some bites that were mostly fried flour and skin.

Tropical Meringue
The first dessert lives up to the tropical billing, bright colors, a mix of tart and sweet fruit compliment the sugary merignue, while shredded mint provides a nice herbaceous contrast.

Michel's Chocolate Bar
A candy bar for dessert at an upscale restaurant? You bet. Kevin described this dessert as, "an adult Kit Kat bar that tastes like Ferrero Rocher," I can certainly see where he was coming from, smooth creamy chocolate surrounding layers of crisp wafer and a distinct flavor of hazelnut are plainly evident.

By and large, Central proved to be a success, the food isn't as refined as Citronelle, but the simple flavors are satisfying in their own right and its is evident that the same level of care that goes into the food. Unfortunately as I had work that night at 8:00 we didn't have much time as I would have liked to enjoy the food (10 courses in 55 minutes). Next time I am in DC, I would love to revisit Central and give the meal the time it deserves.


Anonymous said...

Holy crap. Do you guys sell drugs on the side to pay for all of this? No systems engineer I know can afford this night after night.

Epicuryan said...

No no if I sold drugs then the wine pairings would be much higher end.