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Central Review

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We went last night, around 6p, and were sent to the bar seats, since, the hostess assured us, they were gonna be packed. Oddly enough, during our entire meal, we watched unoccupied two-tops go, well, unoccupied. Okay, these things aren't rocket science, but that was sorta disappointing.

The service was very good, so I'll get that out of the way. The wine recommendation was okay, given the by-glass restraint (my wife asked for "big fruit, soft mouth feel" and got a Malbec recommendation. Eh, that's not great, IMO, since many Italians on the menu by the bottle work better, but it's good enough).

I had a Hendrik's gin martini, straight up with olives, which was very well made.

We started with the cheese puffs, which were very good, though I'd have liked a slightly more tasty or pungent cheese. The pastry and temperature were excellent. We also had the "charcuterie tower" for two, which is $30.

Frankly, it was the hit of the night, and enough food that we could have eaten it alone. If you like charcuterie, I think this is the best meal value in the city right now. There were five kinds of meat, including Richard's faux gras (very good, but it does NOT taste like the real thing, despite Gourmet magazine's claims to the contrary) and rillets. (I think it was duck...) Also a very generous serving of two salamis, one of which was softer and more fatty, and quite excellent. A very large portion of some kind of prosciutto-like ham. Not as salty or gamey as real prosciutto, but *very* excellent fat-to-lean ratio and served at the perfect temperature.

This was topped off with the de rigeur cornichons, as well as some pearl onions (eh, not my fav), roasted tomatoes (very nice) and lightly-dressed frisee.

Accompanied by very nice house bread (excellent crust with tons of flavor) and butter, this was the highlight of the meal, by far.

For entrees, my wife had the Lobster Burger. I didn't taste it, but I did taste the fries that came with, and I thought they were quite awful. At any rate, Les Halles a few blocks up Penn has vastly better bistro-style frites. My wife enjoyed the Lobster Burger, but said the best part was the in-house brioche, which is damning by feint praise, in my book. Richard admits that he extends the lobster burger with scallop meat. I'm not sure how I feel about this; at a minimum, it should be noted on the menu (if only in small type!). It's a bit of a cheeky move which I think is probably very common, even at the high end. It's good he admits it, but not so good that it's not in the menu.

For my entree, I had the 72 Hour Short Ribs. I teased the wait person about Michel doing sous vide, and I was happy to hear she knew what I was talking about. That's good.

But the actual meat... Eh, I guess I have to admit that, at this point, I think all sous vide meat is about as texturally pleasing as cold cat puke. I just don't like it at all, and I've had it many times now, including at a factory tour in Arlington of the company that pretty much invented the technique.

Sure, the short rib is insanely tender, but maybe too tender? It certainly doesn't have nearly enough *beefy* flavor, which is what I like about good beef. And some mouth chewiness in beef is a good thing. Now this may be the beef Central is using; but even if so, the sous vide texture just isn't for me, I'm afraid. I'll try it again at other places, since, for some reason, I want to like it, but I'm not holding my breath.

The other problem, though much more fixable, was that my entree came with creamy polenta, one of my top 5 fav foods. It was cooked excellently, though a bit cool, ideally. However, it was basically ruined by the gratuitous addition of some fried, shoe-string potatoes dumped over the polenta.

This sucks for at least two reasons: first, it makes the polenta really hard to eat; it's a kind of chef show-off thing that's really just diner hostile; second, the joy of polenta is the creaminess of the texture, which is ruined with bits of crispy potato sticking out... Bummer.

Finally, the "Central steak sauce" (so described on the menu), which napped the short rib pieces, was way too sweet and otherwise flavorless.

I keep seeing this kind of "exalted home cooking" at high end restaurants, but I still haven't had it nearly as good as ordinary home cooks routinely prepare it. This suggests something bad about contemporary cuisine, but I'm not yet sure what it is.

We skipped dessert, paid the bill ($129 plus $22 tip), and headed home.

I don't think another trip to Central is in the works any time soon.

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  1. i agree w/ your assessment re: the in house charcuterie. very nice fat to meat ratio and solid, clean flavors. the "faux foie" was way too salty. the sodium content prevented me from finishing the dish even w/ the generous assistance of the house bread. the lobster is not all that. the flavors of the scallop puree overwhelmed the burger. the only thing left was the faint sweet flavor of the lobster. could even be appropriately labeled as scallop burger w/ lobster based on flavor profile. agree w/ f.f. not all that into the "sous-vide" approach. textures are that of a banana.

    1. I'm not sure 'cold cat puke' was exactly what Michel Richard had in mind....

      Actually, though the idea of sous vide seems appalling to me, I had great success with both the short ribs and the sauce. No lack of beef flavor and the sauce lent a mature touch. Maybe it doesn't come out the same way each time? For me, it was an out-and-out success.

      1. I enjoyed the Lobster Burger at Central and it was all lobster. When did Michel Richard change the recipe?
        The recipe in his book, Happy in the Kitchen, and as published in other sources, uses only chopped lobster meat from the tail bound with puréed claw meat.
        I can't imagine that if this is true that it isn't being noted on the menu or that the story isn't being more widely circulated. Most people would be really upset.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense

          See this article from the City Paper about someone's attempt to recreate the lobster burger at home - http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/co...

          In the last few paragraphs Richard says he uses 10% scallop meat...alas it's true.

          1. re: kcm19

            I wonder if he's using that for the purée that serves as the binder. Scallops do a better job for mousses and seafood terrines than lobster so that might make sense.
            This is NOT one of the recipes that I have ever even thought of making from the book. Too many individual steps. Rather pay the $29. Hope he doesn't raise the price.
            I really wish he would use a lighter hand with the salt all around at Central. That's my biggest complaint and I like salt.

            Thanks for the link. Good old City Paper!

        2. $151 for a meal that features fake lobster, mediocre meat & fries, polenta (ie., corn mush), and a glass of malbec at a restaurant ballyhooed as a "bargain".

          Only in DC!