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Central Michel Richard Review

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.

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  1. I find it interesting to note that you had the same issue that we did: the hostesses try to seat the worst tables first, a thoughtless and inconsiderate philosophy. We were shown a terrible table next to a server station with no view of the kitchen when only 2-3 tables were occupied in the entire restaurant. We declined and then were given our choice. We noticed that the hostesses continued to bring guest to that table and the people repeatedly declined the table. Was it a contest to see who could seat someone there? Was the server stuck with that table offering a bounty if a hostess could seat someone there? The front of the house is just as important as the kitchen and should not be left in the hands of untained amateurs on a personal power trip. I am sure Michel Richard would not approve of this behavior if he knew.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dakota Guy

      "I find it interesting to note that you had the same issue that we did: the hostesses try to seat the worst tables first, a thoughtless and inconsiderate philosophy."

      Isn't that in the standard handbook of restaurant seating? The best tables go to parties who look like they'll be ordering thirds on drinks, desserts all around, and a few bottles of wine (=big bill =big tip). Worst tables go to singles carrying a book. Next worst are couples (he doesn't want to embarrass her by asking for another table).

      You're the customer. You can always ask for another table, and you can always go elsewhere. But understand that when a restaurant is busy, somebody's got to sit there.

      Some have a sense of humor about it though. I don't know if it's still there, but when I went to the Famous Dave's in Woodbridge several years ago, they had a table with a sign over it saying "Worst table in the house" and if you sat there, your meal was half price. It was in a corner, with only one chair, facing the wall, but half price ribs are always nice. I didn't mind sitting there for the benefit when it was my choice, and it really wasn't so bad. To me, a bad table is the one by the waitstation near the kitchen door.

      1. re: MikeR

        How would the hostess know how much people will order by looking at them?
        People are usually sat according to a rotation in order to give servers even numbers of tables. If it's really busy, the host(s) usually creates a plan at the beginning of the night with all of the tables mapped out--before they see you and determine how many courses you'll look like you'll order.

        as to giving couples bad tables since they won't complain, I've never heard anything like that. In my experience, there is *no* less chance that a couple will complain out a seat less than a bigger table. Couples will usually finish their meal more quickly than tables of four or more, but that's about the only thing that will come into seating decisions.

    2. I agree that it is a bad philosophy to seat diners at less than favorable tables first. However I am reluctant to blame the front. Being that the situation happened to both of us and you saw it repeatedly happen to other patrons, I am inclined to think that the hostess has orders from above. Unfortunately the layout near the servers’ station makes for a few bad tables. I would like to see them correct the problem by eliminating the tables that are closest to the station or at the very least make those tables last to be seated.

      1 Reply
      1. re: amorgs

        I agree with them being last to be seated but eliminating tables just reduces your profit margin. That's just a bad call from any restaurant.

      2. For most restaurants I agree, profit margin is everything even if it means alienating a few diners, however new restaurants and especially new high-end ones constantly change. Central has already been closed during lunch for renovations, scheduled or not, they recognize that the restaurant is not complete. If diners continue to complain about two or three tables, it would not surprise me if they rearranged the setup. Restaurants make money on repeat costumers and a new high-end restaurant counting on a good reputation in all regards is not going to frustrate a clientele due to a few bad tables. Hey a year from now people might still be complaining about sitting on the server station or maybe they won't.

        1. i thought the faux foie was way too salty. the prosciutto was very good. nice pork flavor w/ x-v. lobster burger?? not too much lobster flavor. thought the scallop mousse binder over whelmed the natural delicate flavor of the lobster. for 30, verrry expensive. kit kat bar, just as i remember from citronelle, back in the days...

          1. After a great CP review, the board was distracted into a discussion of seating policy. Does anyone else have anything to say re Central???

            2 Replies
            1. re: tartuffe

              have only been once, but i thoroughly enjoyed it...
              We didn't have a reservation, but were able to connive our way into seats at the tables by the bar fairly easily, and then all split appetizers...
              being as it was a lentan friday, there was no meat consumed...
              but the raw oysters, crab cake, mushroom "pearl pasta" risotto, the mac and cheese side, the gougeres, and the smoked salmon appetizer were all standouts.
              the cheese plate was only "eh", unfortunately, as was the sundae.
              the kit-kat bar was delicious, however.

              1. re: tartuffe

                have had lunch three times -- about a month ago, and twice this week. all were excellent for all members of my table. this week there's been a wonderful vegetable-goat cheese tart on puff pastry and a pizza special... i really like the fried chicken and the hamburger (seriously good, with thin discs of fried onions (i think?), carmelized onions, tomato, and a little mayo). loved the cappucino mousse and pear sorbet for dessert. gripes: the salads have consistently been drowned in vinagrette, and the onion soup was a little too "would you like some soup with your cheese?" for me. banana split was unremarkable and enormous.

                service-wise, i've had friendly and knowledgable waiters, but i remember one loooong wait for a water refill and some notable gaps between courses at one meal. overall, however, service was solid.

              2. My wife and I had a good meal with generally fine service, aside from the waiter's habit of "correcting" everything I said, even though I said nothing incorrect.

                When I first glanced at the wine list, he hastily pointed out that those were the bottles -- the ones by-the-glass have prices off to the right. As if (a) it was that obvious I didn't want a bottle, (b) he could tell where my eyes were focusing, and (c) every wine list in the world didn't work that way.

                Then I ordered a glass of the red Burgundy (gotta admit, he was right about A and B), deliberately not saying "pinot noir" even though that was the general heading, but he got me anyway -- "That would be the cotes-[whatever]."

                I said "gougeres"; he said "cheese puffs."

                "White Burgundy" got restated somehow, too. I guess I could be charitable and say he was merely "elaborating," but it didn't come across that way.

                More amusing than offputting, for us, but not a quality to be encouraged in a waiter.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                  B on CH:

                  blond guy? he's cool, not a jerk - actually good. I liked the food and the service, yet felt the need to claim gastric bypass for "go" containers. I just don't eat a lot at once.

                2. I ate there this week, and I have to agree that the food and the ambiance are truly spectacular, and well worth the price tag. Not overpriced at all. All our food was delicious, although I think that I preferred the shrimp to the tuna burger, and I wish we had tried to Lobster. I hope to go back soon.

                  1. Same experience with the seating, we were whisked away to the nook by the servers' station...and reseated following our request. The food was mediocre, at best. While the gougeres were light and fluffy, and far too numerous for just two to eat, the blue cheese and iceberg salad came drenched in a blue cheese dressing...the salad was nearly swimming in it. The salmon on a bed of lentils was cooked perfectly, but the lentils underneath were far too salty...and I have a palette for salt! The lobster burger wasn't very flavorful, there wasn't any off-setting sweetness in the burger, only a salty mayo spread and fried potato wafer. The server didn't crack a smile even once, which made not only the dining, but the overall experience, quite a disappointment. Ultimately, we resolved that our money would have been better spent at Fogo, across the street.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: DCfoodsnob

                      I've eaten there now twice, and am going back a third time. This sounds highly unusual to me to be honest- did you approach a manager? Besides, the food at Fogo is terrible at best,

                      1. re: jpschust

                        "...terrible at best..." That's hilarious! So what's its worst, poisonous? Deadly? Vomit-inducing?
                        Back to Central-I think the faux gras is amazing-after the first remarkable taste burst, it literally vaporizes in your mouth it is so light and airy. The rillettes is a great counterpoint-more country style-great breads, too. The prosciutto wasn't that interesting, but the house-made salami was perfectly textured and seasoned. The 72-hour short rib is a revelation, like no other short rib I've ever eaten-has a subtlety that is wholly unexpected. It is accompanied by mashed potatoes that have delicious lumps that actually made me smile, and a great sauce. The Lobster Burger...oh, the lobster burger. At $28, you might ask yourself, is it worth it? The only problem, in my opinion, is the name-burger somehow signifies something that is an everyday staple, and certainly not a $28 splurge. But, actually, it is cheap compared to your average lobster entree, and it comes with fries. If it were called something more upscale, I don't think anyone would hesitate. For me, I like to try different lobster dishes when I'm dining out, and I think this one was the best. I literally cannot recall a better preparation in a restaurant. My wife kept stealing it off my plate, until Michel himself came out of the kitchen to tell her to be careful with 'that meat! You are losing your meat!' (The lobster was dangling from the bun in her rush to eat my burger while I was semi-distracted by her short rib.) I've also eaten at the bar a few times, and service was always tops. At the table, we were also treated well. The wine list has some decent wines at $40-60. As far as 'bad tables'-we were seated by the window which allowed for privacy and a nice view of the open kitchen-something my wife likes, and was very excited by the efficient and methodical workings-but I'm pretty indifferent-I'm really not that crazy about peering into the kitchen while I'm eating-so it worked out perfectly. Remember, if they take out three or four tables, that money's gotta come from somewhere, and that means higher prices. Just take one for the team!

                        1. re: Miami Danny

                          I am contemplating taking an out of town friend to Central next week. Any updates on the service or food? Have to say the lobster burger sounds tempting, but I am not a fan of fries or any fried food for that matter. Any input on other items on the menu?

                          1. re: Kathleen DC

                            The short ribs, the charcuterie, any of the side dishes.

                            1. re: Kathleen DC

                              I had the shrimp burger the other night. I liked it, but I wouldn't say I loved it. it came with a small salad rather than fries. As others have noted, the gougeres were lovely. We also had the tuna carpaccio and the crab cake to start. I really enoyed the crab cake and the accompanying slaw. I'm looking forward to ordering it again. The tuna carpaccio was also very good. I would have prefered a little less on top--onions, leeks, etc--but I would order that again as well.

                              1. re: nc213

                                There is definetely not more than 10% scallop, and it isn't fried, and wasn't greasy it did have a sauce which was plentiful. But as a lover of lobster I wasn't dissapointed at all I would say don't skip it. You get chunks of lobster with little binder and it is very good. And I am from MD so I know what makes a good seafood cake and what filler tastes like.

                                1. re: ktmoomau

                                  i agree, i thought it was delicious!

                                  1. re: ktmoomau

                                    FYI: The "sauce" is simply mayonnaise.

                                    1. re: KWynn

                                      Hmm I have never seen plain mayonnaise of the color that is...

                                      1. re: ktmoomau

                                        That's what they told me when I ordered--I asked for any sauce that's on it to be on the side and the waiter told me it was just mayo. (Maybe it absorbs the grease and that's why it was more of a saucy consistency and color?)

                                        1. re: KWynn

                                          Well as I commented above mine was not greasy at all. Perhaps it is just mayonnaise, but your server could have been incorrect. I did not think it was just mayonnaise, but I am too lazy to call. Perhaps someone else on this board has asked?

                                2. re: Kathleen DC

                                  You can order the lobster burger with either fries or salad.

                                  My advice: not worth it. Especially if you don't like fried foods because my lobster burger was overly greasy.

                                  I plan to go back, but to try something other than the lobster burger. The risotto and onion tart starters were both great.

                                  1. re: KWynn

                                    my previous post described the lobster burger more like a scallop burger due to the amount of scallop emulsion used to bind the lobster meat. for $29 this should not be acceptable...i thought the f.f were just that, tasted like standard fried potatoes.

                                    1. re: curious4food

                                      Richard has said on multiple occasions that it's no more than 10% or so scallop.

                          2. We'll be visiting Central for the first time this Saturday night. (Yay!) What kind of dress code should we expect? Nice denim OK?

                            I'm sure it'll be packed on a weekend. What kind of crowd are we likely to see on a Sat. night?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: megg333

                              It will probably be packed as it was quite busy on Wed at an early dinner hour when we went. Nice denim would probably be fine, but you will probably have a little bit of a trendy crowd (if you are used to DC then you will be fine, if you are not from DC it is a little more formal than some cities less flip flops more dock shoes and slacks) so if it will bother you then you might want to dress a little trendier.

                              The nice thing it seems even when they are packed they don't rush you at the table. I wrote a big review on this too if you search this board for central review you will get other food ordering suggestions. I highly recommend the lobster burger and onion tart and kit kat bar.

                              1. re: megg333

                                Nice denim is fine. I went (early-ish though) and people were there in shorts.

                              2. I took my best friend out to eat there last week and we had an incredible time. To be honest, our waiter (I think his name was Christian) made the night for us. He was so friendly and professional and he definitely knew what he was talking about in regards to food and wine. We learned that we could trust him completely and ended up taking all of his recommendations...and we were SO thankful that we did! The oysters are as amazing as everyone says they are. And the pate was better than anything I had tried in France! The kit kat bar was the highlight of my week. The food, the wine, everything was ripe with flavor and absolutely delicious. All of this...and the bill was considerably less than what I expected! I will certainly be back. And I will certainly request to be at Christian's table!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: anony

                                  I remember Christian too! My husband took me to Central last Friday, and Christian was our waiter. He was great...very personable AND knowledgeable without being arrogant...an unusual combination, I've noticed, at these upscale DC restaurants. My husband and I are visiting from Alabama and we were kind of nervous about veering off from the group for a night and being adventurous in the city… (the attitudes here are not typically what you get in the South!) but Christian made the atmosphere in Central so easy and comfortable. The food was just exquisite…if we weren’t leaving tonight, we’d probably be back this weekend! We had a great experience here…I agree with "anony", definitely request Christian as your waiter…he’s the star of Central!

                                2. my brother and i had an excellent meal there and i would definitely return however the kitkat bar was different from what i expected but still very good. i had the lamb and it was excellent although the cheesy polenta was extremely parmesan-y and strong so coupled with the lamb it was a very strong plate so be prepared!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: sportydrea

                                    I've been to Central several times for lunch. It's a great addition to the neighborhood for three things alond-- the great bread, the tuna burger and the kit kat bar. I've discovered the "central" theme of lunch -- mayonaise. It's slathered on the lobster burger (which over-intensifies the rich burger) and tuna burger (which I love, but it'd be better without the extra mayo) and the chicken salad was drowned in it -- still pretty yummy mind you, but a bit over the top for those of us with desk jobs (and who want to save the fat calories for the kit kat bar).

                                    1. re: Marissa

                                      I totally agree about the heavy handed approach to the mayonnaise. I got the tuna burger when I was there and my only complaint about the whole night was the ridiculous amounts of mayo on it.

                                      1. re: caphill2320

                                        So the lesson here is when I go I should probably order it on the side correct?

                                        1. re: Elyssa

                                          i didnt mind the amount of mayo on the lobster burger, but i guess it couldnt hurt to order it on the side.

                                  2. Celebrated my dad's birthday monday night at Central, and really enjoyed it - though it was slightly uneven that night, I thought the experience overall was great and I would certainly go back.

                                    Highlights: tower of charcuterie (we ordered 'for 2' but there was enough for 4 at least) that included house-made prosciutto, two kinds of sausage, frisee salad (including some addictive pickled/marinated cherry tomatoes), the famous 'faux gras', and amazing duck rillettes; a light and sweet onion tart; lamb loin special served on flageolet beans with lots of garlic and fresh thyme; beef cheeks special (intensely flavored and rich); kit kat bar dessert (intense dark chocolate, irresistable crunchy hazelnut wafer inside); banana split (playful, but also so yummy - dark chocolate ice cream and strawberry sorbets to die for, lots of crunchy toppings, and all served on a sectioned cafeteria tray-style plate); a crush-worthy chef (Cedric, are you single?).

                                    Lowlights: salmon served on bed of lentils had been advertised as 'medium to medium-rare' but came absolutely overcooked; a little too noisy for my taste; not quite enough room in between the tables (servers kept bumping into the back of my chair as they were serving the next table).

                                    3 courses plus a bottle of wine for 3 people came out to about $175.

                                    1. A group of five of us had a very successful and very rich dinner at Central. The prices may seem higher than other bistros, but this is one place where its best to under-order .

                                      One appetizer, the duck rilletes and faux gras, is really enough for a whole table. I put the rillettes way ahead of any previous version I've had. Soft shell crabs here are very good, and can be ordered as an one (16) or two (25). The larger order is a real bargain.

                                      Tuna burger, lamb shank, fried chicken, beef cheeks, were all first rate, and all dishes are extremely filling. Only the flageolets verts, which came with lamb medallions, were terribly oversalted. Clearly a mistake.

                                      This place is a revelation.

                                      1. I usually love this restaurant (except for the mustard/mayo which I notice gets lots of confused comments). But recently had a shockingly bad experience when the food was delivered not as ordered. Instead of taking it away and replacing it - the waiter took it back to the kitchen, cut into it in the center, brought it back, set it in front of me and told me I was wrong. I'm happy to discuss this with the chef - but their official website gives one no option to e mail. Anyone have an e mail that reaches the owner/chef or manager?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: liveindc21

                                          i think they are probably less inclined to fix any issues because the place is so overwhelmingly popular. They figure, if you don't want to come back, someone else will. Although the service was quite good when we went, i was not impressed either and wont' return.

                                          1. re: DCDOLL

                                            I would not say Michel Richard isn't concerned with the food quality in his restaurants. No matter how popular they are. Perhaps try Citronelle's website, or calling them or Central to get a good email address.