Last Thursday evening two of us dined at Central 214, located at the friendly and hip Hotel Palomar. I had previously inquired about the restaurant on this board but received very little response. It seems that Dallas Chowhounds have not yet embraced this place which is a shame--my first visit has placed it firmly in my Dallas regular rotation.
The restaurant is stunning, open and flowing, and inviting. The lighting is near perfect but the sound level will be too high for some. One great aspect of the place is the two large, high tables placed just beyond the open kitchen. Next to those tables stands chef Tom Fleming and a food runner (although a very well dressed one--perhaps the restaurant's manager?). The night I was there the chef watched over and gave final approval to EVERY dish that left the kitchen, adding a garnish here and returning a plate for improvement there. I would love to gather a large group at one of those tables and let the chef surprise us, course by course, and I am sure that he would. I imagine that each table seats, at barstool level, ten comfortably.
Our waiter was friendly and seemed knowledgable. Still, I wanted to take advantage of an attentive chef and told the waiter that I wanted whatever the chef suggested was best that evening. My wife order the grilled romaine salad--fabulous with the lettuce, cheese, olives, etc. It is huge and rightly touted.
For an appetizer the chef sent me his crab cakes, two large cakes with absolutely no discernible filler--and I mean none. The crab cakes are all lump crab held together in a mold and sauteed and served with a wonderful and not overpowering mayonnaise based sauce. These equal or top my two favorites in town: those at Oceanaire and at Al Beirnat's.
For an entree my wife chose the evening special of char with fingerling potatoes. Very good but overshadowed by what the chef sent me. After he was told by the waiter that I wanted him to surprise me with his best dishes the chef came over, shook my hand and thanked us for being there, and said "I hope you like your steak medium rare." I assured him that I liked red meat rare to medium rare. I assumed the chef would send out the large bone-in ribeye or the large filet I had seen on the menu. I was very surprised when I was presented with what I believe was the least expensive entree on the menu-- rare to medium rare hanger steak with frites. The chef did not let me down. This steak is definetely one of the best I have had, ever. When served at this temperature it is unbelievably tender and full of flavor. And at $23 (as compared to the near $40 for other steaks on the 214 menu) it was almost embarrassingly inexpensive. This dish alone is reason for all Dallas Hounds to head for the place!
We finished with espressos and a wonderful mango semifreddo. The wine list is not large but contains many interesting and reasonably priced wines, including a section of Texas wines and "wines made by Texans." Several wines by the glass are offered and seem to be on the high end, my only quibble although we ordered a bottle and not wines by the glass.
As I said above, we will definitely be back and regret not trying the place sooner--we have stayed at the Palomar a few times but had yet to try Central 214. I am definitely going to plan on reserving one of the tables near the kitchen and calling Fleming in advance and requesting that he surprise all of us.
So, I had reservations about trying Cental 214 based on a number of other posters' lukewarm reviews. Overall, I would agree with many of the previous posters' gripes.
On the service end, I really had no complaints and definately didn't feel the lack of attention that others had previously experienced. Though, we did have issues with getting our waters refilled.
The food is where I felt things didn't live up to other comparably priced restaurants. Others have commented about the gas flavor taste that overwhelms some of the dishes. I would definately agree. One of my companions had the grilled romaine salad and I could smell the gas grill odor from across the table. I, nonetheless, decided to try a bite and was almost overwhelmed by the bitter aftertaste that the char on the lettuce left on the palate (certainly not a taste that complimented our very nice Sardon del Duero). I tried the lamb loin (which I am always happy to find on a menu and was even more happy to find it priced under $30). While cooked to the specified doneness, the meat also had the bitter gas grill flavor that sort of ruined it for me.
My dinner companions were all less than impressed with their food. We split a couple of sides (mac and cheese, and the artichoke gratin) which had very similar tastes. Compared with Hibiscus and Hattie's, the mac and cheese was really disappointing (being essentially rigatoni with bechemel topped with parmesan/panko crust -- not the indulgently cheesy mac and cheese that I had hoped for).
All in all, I left unimpressed and probably will not return (unless it is on someone else's dime).