Saturday, January 23, 2010

Central Michel Richard (Washington, DC)

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004
Sat 01/23/2010, 05:10p-06:40p

Central Michel Richard Exterior
Originally, dinner was supposed to be at Bryan Voltaggio's Volt, up in Frederick, Maryland. Plans fell through, however, and I was left wondering where to go. The previous night, I'd had a positive experience at Citronelle, and based off the strength of that dinner, Michel Richard's other restaurant, Central, was the answer.

Opened in early 2007, Central is Chef Richard's casual dining concept, an ode to classic American cuisine, intermixed with a dash of French bistro panache. Since debuting, Central has firmly established itself as a force in the DC culinary scene, even winning the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2008. Initially, Richard had tapped Cedric Maupillier to fill the Chef de Cuisine post, a role that he performed admirably. However, earlier this year, Maupillier announced that he was leaving on amicable terms, ostensibly to start his own restaurant. Filling Maupillier's shoes is the 29-year-old Arthur Cavaliere, former Executive Chef at Stephen Starr’s Parc brasserie in Philadelphia.

The Social Pear 20
Prior to dinner, we enjoyed some cocktails in Central's lounge. I had The Social [$11], comprised of Old Overhold Rye, Carpano Sweet Vermouth, Aperol, Cointreau, and Orange Bitters; think of your classic Manhattan, but made even better by delectable, complex citrus flavors. My dining companion went with the Pear 20 [$11], made with Gosset Champagne, Belle De Brillet, and Pear Nectar; sweet, fruity, and refreshing, I likened it to a pear Bellini.

Central Michel Richard Interior
Central's dining room is clean, comfortable, awash in earthy tones and light wood, and anchored by a see-through glass wine cellar.

Central Michel Richard Menu Central Michel Richard Drink Menu
The carte here is a blend of French and American classics, imbued with Richard's signature touch. Click for larger versions.

Sourdough Bread
The bread here, a crusty, flaky sourdough, was very similar (perhaps identical?) to that at Citronelle.

Blusser Pilsner Wittekerke Wit
With our cocktails dispensed with, we decided upon some beer. I went with the fizzy, malty, Blusser Pilsner [$5 for 8oz] from Belgium's Brouwerij Het Anker. Meanwhile, my dining companion had Brouwerij Bavik's Wittekerke Wit [$7], a delightfully tangy white beer.

Half Dozen Fresh Shucked Oysters
Half Dozen Fresh Shucked Oysters [$16.00]
We began with some oysters, served with lemon, mignonette, and cocktail sauce. From smallest to biggest: first up were the Kusshis, characteristically clean, sharp, and briny, excellent with a touch of citrus. Next we had the Hama Hamas, which were milder, but meatier in complexion. Last up were with Penn Coves, with were quite soft, with a lovely, sweet savor. Overall, a very strong presentation of oysters.

Duck Rillettes & Faux Gras Terrine
Duck Rillettes & Faux Gras Terrine [$15.00]
Rillettes refers to a dish of slow-cooked, shredded meat, blended with fat to form a paste-like pâté. The version here utilized duck, and was wonderfully salty and full of flavor, with a fantastically fibrous texture. As good as that was, the so-called "faux gras" was even better. Made with chicken liver, it had a superbly subtle, yet profound sapor, finished with a perfect peppery tang. In fact, I actually preferred it to most real foie gras terrines I've had!

Cheese Puffs (Gougères)
Cheese Puffs (Gougères) [$7.00]
Every time I have gougères at a restaurant, I'm left wanting more--well here I finally got to have my fill! They were delicious, as expected, a great mix of a flaky pastry crust and a filling of creamy, luscious cheese.

Salad Frisee, with Lardons, Poached Egg
Salad Frisee, with Lardons, Poached Egg [$13.00]
I'm not a huge salad eater, but this classic frisée salad is one that I always like to make room for. The amalgam of creamy egg, salty lardons, and airy frisée was suitably scrumptious, a great commixture of disparate flavors and fibers. This compared quite favorably to versions that I'd had recently at Bouchon and The Tasting Kitchen.

Frog's Legs
Frog's Legs [$14.00]
Cooked with garlic and herbs, the frog legs really did "taste like chicken," (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you). I quite enjoyed the interplay of the savory frog with the frisée and tangy "coleslaw," but I did find the BBQ sauce a tad too sugary.

Tartare of Filet Mignon and French Fries
Tartare of Filet Mignon and French Fries [$15.00]
Steak tartars often let me down, but I'm happy to report that Central's version was easily one of the best preparations I've ever had. I loved its soft, savory consistency, and its delicate, yet focused flavor, tinged with a bit of spicy goodness. And the herb and garlic frites? Perfection.

Gouden Carolus Triple Brigand Ale
For our second round of beers, I went with the marvelously fruity-spicy Gouden Carolus Triple [$9], also from Het Anker (the maker of the Blusser above). My dining companion chose a Belgian as well: Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck's excellent Brigand Ale [$8].

Mushroom Pearl Pasta Risotto
Mushroom Pearl Pasta Risotto [$14.00]
Regular readers will know that I'm somewhat of a risotto slut, and I have a hard time not ordering the rice dish if it's on the menu. The version here was suitably creamy and cheesy, rich with dark, heavy, earthy flavors of mushroom. The only real problem was that the pasta globules were a bit too dense and chewy for me (with an almost a tapioca-esque body).

Fried Chicken with Mashed Potato
Fried Chicken with Mashed Potato [$21.00]
Our final savory course was Richard's take on the comfort food classic, fried chicken. It was definitely one of the tenderest, juiciest versions I've had, with a great, light herbal tang. I quite liked the pommes purée as an accompaniment, while the greens added a nice vegetal component. Unfortunately, some parts of the bird were over-battered, rendering those areas a touch tough.

Tropical Meringue
Tropical Meringue [$9.00]
Despite being rather full at this point, we soldiered on with dessert. The first was a fruity meringue, with flavors of mango, kiwi, and coconut. I appreciated the contrast between the soft and crisp portions of meringue, as well as the refreshing relish of the mint.

Michel's Chocolate Bar
Michel's Chocolate Bar [$9.00]
Next up was Michel Richard's signature sweet, his oft-lauded, oft-imitated "Kit Kat Bar." Composed of layers of chocolate crème, crushed hazelnut, and crisp wafer, the dessert was a simple, but masterful presentation of tastes and textures, one with a flavor reminiscent of Ferrero Rocher!

I walked out of Central immensely sated, and immensely satisfied. Michel Richard has done a near-perfect job of joining classic American cuisine with the verve of French tradition. In the process, he's made the experience here familiar, comfortable, yet modern, refreshing, and remarkably delicious.


Blogger JustinM said...

Wow, the tartare and frites look simply amazing. It's not even 10 in the morning but I would absolutely inhale those if they were in front of me right now.

Monday, February 01, 2010 9:47:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Lin said...

Now you must try Mini Bar by Jose Andres, and Komi on your next stop to Northern Virginia/D.C. area! I was living there the past 6 months - and they're both spectacular! btw, what kind of camera do you use?

Monday, February 01, 2010 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame that you missed Volt...I would have loved to see your review of Table 21 or the regular tasting menu so I can vicariously live through you. Your meal at Central looked delicious...thanks for sharing!

Monday, February 01, 2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

Wow, you did two Michel Richard's two nights in a row? :P
Well, I'm glad both of your experiences were good! I skipped out on Michel Richard when I went to DC since he has other restaurants elsewhere, so I went with Komi (but no, I didn't realize they didn't allow photos until I started taking them ...)

BTW, why "faux gras"? is foie gras banned in DC?

Monday, February 01, 2010 3:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...


I figured the Kit Kat would make an appearance. Sounds like you had a great experience at both Citronelle and Central. Thank you as always for your thorough reporting.

Monday, February 01, 2010 7:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Presto said...

your pics are so cool and made me hungry. this resto is a nice place to hang out with friends. thanks for your article, you're giving me ideas. ^_^

Tuesday, February 02, 2010 2:55:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

PP: Indeed; the tartare was probably my favorite dish, with the faux gras coming in next.

Susan: I actually was on the waiting list for Minibar, but alas, I couldn't get in. As for Komi, they don't allow photos! For this post I used a Sony a300 DSLR. I've since upgraded to an a500. ;)

Anon: Yeah, I was really looking to Volt, and Table 21 in particular. Central was a nice consolation, though!

Fiona: Here and Citronelle are definitely worth a try next time your in DC. As for the faux gras, I believe we covered that at Hatfield's. ;)

Michael: You're quite welcome. Both restaurants are really at the top of their respective games.

Presto: What sort of ideas?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010 11:00:00 PM  

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