Washington, D.C.

August 2009  

I generally don’t like to read any “user review” comments about what people liked and disliked before I go into a restaurant but with Michel Richard’s Central, I don’t know, I just couldn’t help myself.

Some people loved this restaurant, others hated the décor describing it as a “cafeteria-look.”  Some thought the food was great but the service terrible. Some thought the food simply ok and overpriced.  One thing most people did agree on though: the noise level was overwhelming.

Lynn and I have eaten in restaurants where even when we are sitting next to each other (literally in a booth) we haven’t been able to hear what the other person is saying even while shouting in each other’s ears.  Maybe I have a higher tolerance for noise than most people? A skill I’ve acquired by living with teenagers perhaps? Ultimately, when we walked into the restaurant that night, the noise level wasn’t that loud.

A colleague of mine once remarked that dining at Michel Richard’s Central made him want to go back in time, start his career over and think about getting a job in politics.  That’s because the restaurant is swarming with young people, who when overhearing their conversations, work in some capacity or another for the government and they’re actually excited about it!  Lynn and I are both under 50 but truth be told, the night we were there for dinner, I think we were the oldest people dining.

But let’s start at the beginning.  We had a decent drink at the bar and even managed to sit at the bar (quite a feat for a Friday night I would think).  The bartender was attentive and courteous.  But whatever happened to bar snacks?  Remember those little treats that chef’s used to prepare a few years back – like homemade potato chips or funky bread sticks?  Even the old chex mix standby or popcorn or some nuts scooped out of a bag with a coffee cup and dumped in a bowl would have been a nice offering.  Perhaps bar snacks are a thing of the past because there are so many people eating dinner at the bar.  Why put out free stuff when you can get people to pay for even the smallest nosh?

Obviously I was hungry since I was looking for something to eat during cocktails, so we quickly finished our drinks and sat down at our table.  For starters, Lynn and I decided to split the charcuterie plate – a generous portion of homemade mortadella, sopressata/salami, “faux gras” terrine (smoothly whipped chicken liver spread), duck rillettes, pâté and a prosciutto imported from Iowa.  Iowa?  Inquiring from the server as to how this came about, he told us that Chef Richard (or even perhaps the Chef de Cuisine Cedric Maupillier) thought it tasted the most “authentic.”  Ok, that works.

Since I had been craving skate the last couple of weeks and the last few restaurants I had visited had run out of this popular (and cheap) fish, I was doubtful that Central would be able to satisfy my need.  Wrong.  Looking around the room that evening the more popular dish of choice seemed to be #1 the burger, followed by #2 the cassoulet.  (Never mind that it was 94 degrees in Washington that day with a humidity level hovering around 68 which in my mind automatically rules out cassoulet but hey, whatever rocks your palette.) That said, we got a huge portion of skate that night, seared in olive oil with capers and lemon and accompanied by tasty grilled tomatoes and fresh garlicky green beans.  And because we were doing the whole “bistro” thing, we also got a side order of frites. Verdict: Decent, but we’ve had better.

When the dessert menu was presented to him, Lynn was shaking his head “no,” but I wanted something sweet. Lynn, you see, was going on food overload.  For lunch we made the mistake of stopping on the way up at some god-awful place in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and he forced himself to eat a ridiculously bad “fish taco” thing. I suffered through an equally detestable crab cake but at least it was a small crab cake.

Consequently, my dessert of choice that night (again keeping the French bistro theme going) was a chocolate mousse topped with tiny chocolate “balls.”  When I asked what they were, they were described as some sort of rice thing wrapped in a crêpe batter, then covered with dark chocolate.  As I spooned the mousse into my mouth, the chocolate “balls” gave the dessert a tantalizing crunch as I ate it.

So bah humbug to those reviewers of past that claimed the restaurant too loud (although in fairness maybe we were there on a “quiet” evening) and the food overpriced.  We had great service, excellent food and my only complaint if I have to mention one (besides the lack of bar snacks) was a lackluster wine list.  (Note to Sommelier: when I see a certain bottle of Bordeaux on your menu going for $60.00 when I can pick up the aforementioned bottle at my local liquor store for $10.00, it doesn’t bode well.)

And yes, we’ll be back.  After all, we have to try the hamburgers and the cassoulet..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *