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Lunch at Central

My fiance had a morning conference in DC yesterday, so we took the chance to have lunch at a place that's gotten quite a bit of good press. All I can say is wow -- this might be the best lunch I have ever had. This place was insanely good.

Courtney had bailed on her conference a bit early, so we ended up showing up an hour before our 1 p.m. reservation. We were prepared to sit at the bar for a while, but they seated us immediately at a table with a great view of the open kitchen.

Courtney ordered a cocktail, while I ordered a Stone IPA. Our waiter came back to tell me that they were out of the Stone, but he would be happy to substitute another IPA and replace it if I didn't like it. He returned with a Bell's Two Hearted -- much better than the Stone, unavailable in Baltimore and what I would have ordered in the first place had I seen it on the list.

For starters we got the duck rilletes and faux gras,along with a basket of gougéres. The rilletes was amazing -- fatty with an intense duck flavor. The faux gras didn't really taste like foie gras to me, but it was buttery, creamy and delicious. They were served with a small bowl of cornichons and pickled pearl onions, and some incredible bread -- I don't know where they get it, but I want some. The gougéres were cheesy, light and airy.

For an entree I had the burger. I don't know where they source their beef from, but it was rich and beefy. It needs to be on any short list of top area burgers. Courtney had the pied de cochon -- pig feet mixed with wild mushrooms, formed into a log and fried. This was a great dish and made me wish I'd ordered it.

We also ordered a side of brussels sprouts with bacon -- tiny, tender sprouts braised in butter and topped with chopped bacon. Another winner.

We wanted to try dessert but were entering food coma territory by this point.

Service was professional and attentive on all levels -- even the bus staff was helpful.

This was a fantastic meal -- much better than we were expecting. Washingtonians are very lucky to have this in their city. I only wish Richard would open a second location in Baltimore.

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  1. I agree, the steak tartar is a can't miss. The thing that's great about central is you can go casual or high end food and drinks for all types of nights.

    1. I think they do the bread themselves. Probably the best I've ever had. Too many good choices at Central.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        Yeah, I left out the part about us scarfing down the bread with butter before the starters arrived and talking about how we were ruining our appetites, but unable to stop. I was expecting a celebrity chef experience that was about atmosphere and ambience and not really about the flavor, but every single bite of every dish was amazing.

        We're completely sold on this place.

      2. Next time, try the fried chicken, it too is amazing.

        1. Sounds like you had an amazing meal and your ordered some of my favorite items. Reading your review made me crave the faux gras and rillettes and I just ate dinner! haha.

          1. Had the day off today so I treated myself to lunch at Central which isn't possible for me on an ordinary workday. I was hoping to get rillettes and/or faux gras but neither was on the menu. I ended up getting the corned beef sandwich. Wow. This was just screamingly delicious. A thick pile of slices of super-tender corned beef with a small amount of slaw (more would have been overkill) on thin and crispy warm rye with a good pickle on the side -- served with a large salad with a house-made vinaigrette that I liked a lot. Delicious bread and butter as well. All for $17 before tax and tip. In my head I was comparing that to a one hour wait for a $15 lobster roll at the Red Hook truck. What a deal this corned beef sandwich was for the quality that was on the plate. I wish I could go to Central more often. I also wish I'd had room for the house made chocolate bar but alas... I've got to try that thing some day.

            1. The mac n cheese will ruin you for the rest of your life. You have been warned.

              And to think..... at the National Gallery of Art they have a $20 Michel Richard buffet. Limited but really fine selection. You could make a 7-course meal out of that.

              I must have the corned beef next time.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Steve

                Wow, it was a year ago that we ate there? What a fantastic meal. Sadly, we haven't been back. We really need to go soon.

              2. Wow, I always wonder how some people can eat such extravagant and heavy meals (duck, beef, pig feet, etc) at lunch and then do their thing the rest of the day. Yes, I know in some part of Europe lunch is the biggest meal of the day, but then they have nap time and don't eat much the rest of the day. I doubt Americans play by this rule. Note I understand this might be an out-of-the-blue lunchtime event but still.

                8 Replies
                1. re: spinachandchocolate

                  I'm an American and I play by that rule. I had a yogurt for dinner that night.

                  1. re: spinachandchocolate

                    Yeah, lunch is usually my biggest meal of the day. At least 6 days out of 7, it is... Just lighter dinners. You get used to it pretty quick.

                    So I went to Central a couple of weeks ago with a sibling and...it was so mediocre that we felt that we had been ripped off. We both split the special appetizer of the day, which was the octopus salad. It was good, but something was off about it. The dressing they used was creamy and rich, and we both felt it should've maybe been a vinaigrette or something because the creamy, rich dressing and the fried potatoes in the salad just totally overpowered the octopus and whatever meagre frisée was there.

                    My sibling got the fried chicken and it was severely lacking in taste, despite looking impressive. Mashed potatoes that came with it were okay, but not amazing. I got the lamb shank, which was good for the first few bites...but after that I noticed the sweetness, and it overpowered the actual lamb flavor. The creamy polenta it was served on might as well have not been there due to the sweet sauce. I think there was a bit of cinnamon in it?

                    After hearing raves about the bread, we thought it was good, warm...but not as amazing as it was touted to be in reviews we've read both here and on Yelp. It basically tasted like a crunch supermarket loaf that was fresh out of the oven.

                    For dessert, my sibling got the chocolate bar and I got the napoleon. The Napoleon was definitely the best thing I had all night. Great vanilla flavor and super flaky puff pastry without anything being too cloyingly sweet. The chocolate bar was good, but the ice cream that came with it outshined the actual bar.

                    I might go back and try their burger and lobster burger. That's probably where we went wrong...we didn't really try the most popular offerings...

                    1. re: yfunk3

                      I was waiting to see if anyone else had a not stellar experience. When I went a few weeks ago, the risotto and gougeres were unpleasantly salty , the kitkat dessert cloyingly sweet. Service was great, but food was not.

                      1. re: yfunk3

                        My recent experience, two weeks ago, was mixed. It was a cold blustery day and I enjoyed the french onion soup, but it is VERY cheesy (a warning to folks who don't want all that cheese). The goat cheese caesar was a let down. A tightly coiled stack of romaine which appreared to have goat cheese smashed on top. Very little dressing, very little taste except goat cheese. For the price, the salad was a poor value. Service was lovely, but the experience didn't make me want to run back. I think dinner here might offer better taste options.

                        1. re: dcandohio

                          Yeah, mine was dinner (sorry for not specifying), and it was the same thing: great service, but something wrong about almost every dish except for dessert.

                          Did they have a staffing switch in the kitchen lately, anyone know?

                          Business still seemed to be booming, though it was a Friday night. My sibling and I wished we had just gone to Cedar...

                          1. re: yfunk3

                            Perhaps the staffing is being stretched with the focus on opening Michel in Tysons Corner? Just an uninformed guess.

                          2. re: yfunk3

                            Agreed it is declining. Had a recent dinner there that wasn't up to usual standards, except dessert.

                        2. We kinda/sorta :) had lunch here today and it was amazingly fabulous! A Chow-buddy had recommended we stop at the bar and have the faux gras. Our plan was to have that with a cocktail, do some other things and then have a late(r) lunch. That dish alone was as much lunch as the two of us could possibly eat. I'm shocked at the amount OP ate :) I think that faux gras may be the single best thing I've ever eaten in my life. I say that with all seriousness. Just perfect. And the accompanying terrine with pistachios with the cornichons and onions was the perfect textural foil for it. And, yes, to the bread. I asked the server and she said that it's made for them by Michel's recipe. It came out as thick slices very lightly toasted and a refillable(!) basket that was warm. We also had two EACH Plymouth gin martinis (hey, we're on holiday) that were great also. They came out very cold so they retained some chill. The reason we had two (rationalizing) is that the faux gras, terrine and bread was so generous that we needed a second one :)

                          I can't address anything else on the menu since that's all we had. But I would travel across the country again just to have that lunch. BTW, service was smooth and friendly and for the Monday after Thanksgiving they were quite busy.

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            It's a great dish, and folks say you can make it pretty successfully at home. Before you commit to making it, you might want to check to see if the supermarket has enough butter.


                            If it's not too late, the duck rillettes are maybe a 'worlds' best.' Carry-out, anyone?

                            1. re: Steve

                              somebody posted since my last visit they had dropped the rilletes from the menu, pity.

                              1. re: hill food

                                Is that true??? Please say it's not true! The duck rilletes at Central are my obsession.

                                1. re: Elyssa

                                  that's what somebody posted earlier this year and I couldn't figure out why they'd pull them, I too think the world of them (been on hiatus from DC for a few months so haven't been back)

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    I called my friend in a hot panic over this last night and he said he was there a month ago and both were being served.

                                    1. re: Elyssa

                                      and the universe ceases to wobble on its axis. good to know.

                                      1. re: Elyssa

                                        Elyssa -- I have this awful feeling that your friend is wrong... We found ourselves there after the sanity/fear rally (which was perfect, btw, easy to get a table right at five, when everywhere else was insanely packed with post-rally [in]sanity), and I seemed to remember the menu being different and thought it might have been this -- just checked the online menu and I don't see duck rillettes anywhere -- hope I'm wrong and misreading, or perhaps they just change the menu often? I'm actually pretty sure we did order the faux gras with the country pate, and that it was really good.


                                        Not sure I should be dipping into this topic, or at least don't blame the messenger if I'm right! But I don't want you living with false hope, either... :)

                                        1. re: mselectra

                                          A little OT but.... I bought pig jowl rillettes from a vendor at the Dupont Circle farmers market our first Sunday there. It was REALLY good.

                                          1. re: mselectra

                                            I'm going there next Friday so I will find out for sure. If it's off the menu Michel Richard better not be within shouting distance :)

                                            1. re: mselectra

                                              Looks like MsElectra might be correct. Just looked at their newly updated online menu and there is no mention of rillettes like on the old menu. So sad!


                                  2. re: c oliver

                                    It's my favorite dish at Central (in DC?) as well. I often times will just make a meal out of the faux gras and duck rillletes and one of their seasonal cocktails. It's perfection on a plate!

                                    1. re: Elyssa

                                      Then go on the treadmill for 24 hours straight and get your cholesterol monitored, haha!

                                      1. re: spinachandchocolate

                                        spinach: it really IS just about that rich, but once or twice a year - ehh no worries. and I'll just have the spinach (nothing personal) salad for the next three meals...and a cup of miso, thanks.

                                        1. re: spinachandchocolate

                                          I can eat everything I want but not all the time.

                                          1. re: spinachandchocolate

                                            Trust me---I'm not making a regular habit out of this.