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Central: What's the big deal?

I finally went to Central last week for a special celebration with three other friends. Two hours and $240 later, we were certainly stuffed, but that was about it.

We were underwhelmed. I'd say the meal was a decent deal: we split a $24 bottle of wine, three appetizers (michel's charcuterie, the cheese puffs and the fried oysters) and the kit kat bar dessert; our entrees were two orders of lobster burgers, the beef cheeks and the lamb shank (the short ribs are no longer on the menu). But nothing was at all memorable and the service was just ok --- we waited 20 minutes for our table and our waitress disappeared as we were trying to order dessert. One of my friends didn't buy the kitschy diner theme: "If I'm paying $33 for a lobster meal, it shouldn't come on a tray."

Personally, I could care less about the atmosphere and the service if the food is great, but Central just wasn't up to par. The food was good, but nothing more. It don't even think it's such a "great deal," because I can think of far better meals to have for $60.

Opinions wanted --- anybody else agree with me?

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  1. Sorry, my husband and I dine out frequently and I've gotta say that when we went the food was delish, the service was great, and the atmosphere was nice as well. Sorry you didn't have that great an experience.

    1. I'll support you, but we are a small bunch. I have only been to Central once and it was for mother's day so I wanted it to be special and after all the outstanding reviews I read I thought I could not go wrong. My experience was like yours, underwhelming :( sorry.

      4 Replies
      1. re: BaltoPhilFood

        One of my theories is that for people who frequently dine out at more expensive restaurants, the real appeal of Central might be that it's on the more wallet-friendly end of the spectrum (it was certainly billed that way) rather than the food. Personally, when I've had a good meal at an excellent price, I'm likely to say it was a GREAT meal. Maybe the difference is one's vantage point on pricing --- for those that usually spend more on dinner, the cost of dinner at Central simply makes it a better meal. But for diners like BaltoPhil and myself, who are looking for a special meal, we expect a better quality for the price.

        1. re: SouthShore

          You said it! It can be done I just felt like I was paying extra for the right to say "I had dinner at Central." :)

          1. re: BaltoPhilFood

            Just to play devil's advocate, what restaurants do you think is much better than Central and yet is cheaper? To me, Central's pricing is comparable to its peers. While it's no bargain, it's also not a major rip-off (just a minor rip-off).

            1. re: Ericandblueboy

              You got me there --- I agree with your assessment of Central being comparable. For the same price, I think you can get a much better meal at, say, DC Coast. It's just that the Passion Foods joints and others like it aren't billed the way Central was ("ohhh la la! Michelle Richard for 1/6 of the cost"), so in my opinion, Central was presented in reviews as offering a much better meal than those in its comparable price range.

              For cheaper but better, I'd say Little Fountain Cafe in Adams Morgan. Same menu lineup (sharing 3 appetizers, bottle of wine, dessert + individual entree) costs $40. And it's delicious!

      2. Some people love the faux gras but I didn't. Since that's the highlight of the charcuterie plate, I tend to agree with you on the appetizers. In contrast, the braised rabbit I had there was fantastic (probably the best rabbit I had anywhere). I was looking forward to trying the veal cheeks and the lamb shank. I think Central can only be considered a "deal" in comparision to Citronelle. While it may not be worthy of all the attention that's heaped upon it, I still think it's one of the top bistros in the area.

        1. Not saying I agree nor disagree, more curious than anything. I was wondering what comparable restaurants are better for $60 to you?

          3 Replies
          1. re: cleveland park

            Curious as well. I really like Central and have had very good meals there. The only comparable I can think of is Cafe Du Parc which comes in a drop cheaper and in some respects has better food. Or maybe Brasserie Beck which I don't really like, but clearly has its fans.

            1. re: Adam23

              My top 3 would be DC Coast, Zola and Corduroy! Never been to Du Parc or Beck.

              1. re: SouthShore

                Corduroy is definitely not a $60 restaurant anymore. The cheapest entrees are in the high $20's now. $75 sure, $60 no longer unfortunately!

          2. I think the cheeseburger at Central is worth the trip. I agree, there are other items on the menu that are not that great--or even good (re: crabcake drowning in leeks and mayo). But the CHEESEBURGER is mouth-watering. Yes, yes, I know...the price. $16 and it's still worth it to me.

            1. You should have enjoyed your meal more. You ordered pretty well, except for the lobster burgers: these are often cited as disappointing on this board, and I agree completely. Much better outright is the tuna burger. When I had the charcuterie, it was outlandishly good.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Steve

                To me, the standouts are the pearl pasta risotto and the fried chicken. (I too have been disappointed by the lobster burger.)

              2. I agree. I'm not saying Central is bad, bc it certainly isnt, I just wasn't impressed given the buzz. I had the lobster burger and while it was good it wasnt great. Brasserie Beck gets my vote if I have to choose between the two.

                1. I find it oustanding and creative, but that is me. I think the mustard gravy served on the rabbit is phenomenal, something it took a long time to perfect the flavor so it wasn't too mustardy or not enough graviness. I loved the lobster burger, I really enjoyed the texture of the shortribs, I don't think anyone except Scott Bryan when he was at 2941 braised meat as well.

                  But I am perfectly fine that others don't enjoy it, it means the reservation is easier for me to get and won't take as much planning. And I do think it is a great value, to be able to eat there for about $50 per person at that quality, I don't think Zola is close to that level, corduroy might be, but I also think it is a little more expensive too. And I had some misses at the old Corduroy and not as many at Central, but that is just me. Even the bread is really good.

                  1. THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!! I totally agree. And we eat out at really high end places every week, so it's not like Central would give me sticker shock in general. But for what you get...yes, i think it's pricey. The din in there literally gave me a headache. The service was good, but that's about all. The cheese puffs were cold when served, and my beef cheeks were all fat (Yes, i know, beef cheeks are a 'fatty meat' but i actually expected some 'meat' with my 'fatty'....) And i do care about the service, atmosphere and the food...but one out of three just doens't cut it...especially when the one wasn't the food!
                    I'm glad i'm not alone in this opinion!