There is a reason – numerous reasons, in fact – why Central Michel Richard in 2008 received the Best New Restaurant award (for the entire country) from the James Beard Foundation.
Located at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Central is by no means the fancy, fine-dining equal to another coveted Michel Richard restaurant, Citronelle. I ate at Citronelle once, and, while it’s certainly a reputable establishment, I actually enjoy Central much better.
For one, it’s a comfortable place. The food is top notch, and the drinks are, too. And Central, unlike Citronelle, is not pretentious or stuffy; yet it’s a class act in DC dining, for sure.
What acclaimed chef and restaurateur Michel Richard has done with Central is create a modern, albeit somewhat classic, bistro that features American cuisine with a French twist. You get the power brokers and who’s who at Central, but you also see couples, families and tourists there, as well.
A true spot for anyone, and I dig that. The food and drinks aren’t cheap, but they aren’t on the level of Citronelle, either. Since Dan, Mark and I are single and, when not working, are out and about at area restaurants, we don’t mind spending a bit more than normal to feast on Central fairly frequently.
Trust me, even if you only try Central once, it’s worth every buck you dish out. I haven’t eaten one thing that I didn’t really enjoy. From a beverage perspective, I stick to beer (and Jame-O shots from time to time), but I know that Dan and Mark have tried a handful of tasty cocktails made by some of the friendliest bartenders in town.
We normally eat at the bar, which is average in size; not tiny, not humongous. Again, though, it’s comfortable. There are a few tables in the lounge, in addition to the amply spacious dining room.
Okay, on to the grub. Up first, the charcuterie and cheese plates are a good way to start off the meal, though I’m the first to admit that I don’t eat much cheese or meat. If you’re with a group of folks, however, try them out, just so everyone gets a taste.
There are plenty of delicious appetizers and salads from which to choose. The French onion soup is strong and, considering that Michel Richard hails from France, anything less would disappoint. In that regard, the cheese puffs are also quite yummy. Another soup is the corn and crab chowder, and it’s pretty darn delish.
I’m a vegetable guy, so I often go for the chopped salad, goat cheese caesar salad or the mixed green salad. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but my personal favorite is the chopped salad, because I love it when lettuce and other veggies are diced up oh so fine.
Other excellent starters include the Asian-style tuna carpaccio, which is quite delicate, the crabcake with leek tartare (among the best in DC), and the pork-belly confit with smoked BBQ sauce.
Yes, Central is a relatively upscale spot, but the sandwiches there are fantastic and nice alternatives to heavier meals. I get a sandwich almost every time. The Ahi tuna burger, for one, is amazing (served with French fries, which are above-average, or a salad).
The lobster burger, at $30, is a bit pricey, but it’s worth it. The hamburger is among the tastiest in town. Dan has also feasted on the grilled mushroom and cheese sandwich, and he reports that it is worth a try.
The main-course section is filled with treats. I get seafood almost exclusively, and the olive oil-poached Alaskan halibut, the pan-seared salmon with summer succotash, and the sea bass with mushrooms are all wonderful.
I don’t do fried foods, for the most part, but Dan and Mark have eaten the fish and chips as well as the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, and their stomachs definitely have thanked them.
When it comes to meat, check out the hanger steak au poivre with onion carbonara, the lamb shank with creamy corn polenta, the short rib with pappardelle and syrah sauce, or the tartare of filet mignon and French fries. They are solid choices (according to my sources).
Speaking of mashed potatoes, the version served at Central is perhaps the best I’ve ever had (save for my Mom’s at Thanksgiving). This says a lot, because mashed potatoes easily make my top-10 list of all-time favorite foods. Other good side dishes include the Brussels sprouts with bacon, the green beans, and the macaroni and cheese.
We rarely do desserts, but, not too long ago, Dan did have the banana split, and it’s worth the calories, he says. It’s a large portion, so definitely ask for a few spoons and share it with your family and/or friends.
In summation, Central is one of the best restaurants in Washington. It really is unbelievable food in a warm-hearted setting. For you Las Vegas lovers out there, Michel Richard plans to soon open another Central at Caesars Palace. Seeing that I love the Vegas, it’s a safe bet I’ll visit this outpost of Central sometime in the near future.
|Address:||1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (11th St.) Washington, DC 20004|
|Parking:||Street and Valet|
|Metro:||Federal Triangle and Metro Center|
|Serves:||Lunch (Monday-Friday); Dinner (Daily)|
|Go for:||Mussel chowder; tuna carpaccio; mushroom risotto; crabcake with leeks; fried chicken; cheeseburger; hanger steak|