After months of searching out 1,000 point reservations on Open Table and doing ridiculous things like making completely unnecessary lunch reservations, we finally earned a $100 Open Table check. We decided to use it at Washingtonian's #13 Restaurant of 2010, Central Michel Richard. Central, located in Penn Quarter is Chef Richard's less pricey establishment (he is also responsible for the #5 spot on Washingtonian's list, Citronelle). Needless to say, we were excited for our meal.
The interior was bright, unfussy and laid-back - much more casual that we were expecting for a restaurant praised so highly, which was a plus in our minds (we're not huge fans of snooty atmosphere). Central has done a good job of capturing the "bistro" feel. The service was equally unfussy and laid-back.
It was clear from the moment we began perusing the menu that we would have to order a lot of food - there was just too much that called out to us. We started with the pork belly confit with chile bbq sauce (below). The pork belly was tasty, as pork belly almost always is, and nicely cooked with a great crispy exterior. Nothing about the dish made it memorable, though - the chile bbq sauce was fine, but unremarkable.
We wanted to order some greens to balance out our meat-heavy meal, and settled on the salad frisee with lardons and poached egg (below). This was, for me, the best dish of the evening. The egg was perfectly poached, and once I slid my fork into it, the rich yolk combined in the best way with the tangy vinaigrette and fattiness of the lardons.
Next, we ordered one of Central's most widely touted dishes, the faux gras terrine and country pate (below). The first bite of the faux gras was incredible - beyond creamy and smooth, rich and buttery. The first words out of Mark's mouth were 'meat ice cream!' But with each successive dollop, the faux gras became way too much to handle, which, for us, is saying a lot. Though we are huge fans of foie gras, and had high expectations for the house speciality, we barely made it a third of the way through the given portion - further evidence of our disappointment (we generally lick every last plate clean). The pate, on the other hand, was less overwhelming - flavorful, with great chunks of pistachio.
For my entree, I managed to hone in on the tartare of filet mignon and french fries (below). It was good, mildly tangy, with top quality meat, but no competition for our favorite beef tartare. I just thought it could have used a little bit of a kick.
We couldn't stay away from the Brussels sprouts and bacon, and I'm glad we didn't. The sprouts were very good, lush, perfectly cooked (tender but not mushy), seasoned, and paired with the crispy bacon bits.
Mark ordered the fried chicken and mashed potatoes (below), figuring that the true test of a kitchen is how well they execute the simplest of dishes. By his standards, Central comes out a winner - the fried chicken was shatteringly crisp on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. The mashed potatoes were good, but did not distract from the main attraction.
Somehow, Mark managed to find room for dessert (I don't know why I"m surprised, he always does), ordering Michel's chocolate bar, also known as "Le Kit Kat," with crunchy layers (below). We were amused by this upscale take on the candy bar, and Mark enjoyed it.
I sort of wish we had stumbled across Central unawares, because I think we would have really loved the meal had we not had it built up so much in our minds. As it was, we thought it was a very nice meal, but were not as blown away as we thought we would be. Nevertheless, Central is a great option for a date night, or for entertaining out-of-town guests.