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Posted at 1:27 PM ET, 01/ 9/2007

Central Time

By Erin

In writing my look forward at new restaurants for 2007, I noticed that one particular spot had also landed on my look ahead to 2006. The poky restaurant, Central Michel Richard, is finally open. From chef, you guessed it, Michel Richard of Citronelle, Central (pronounced sen-TRAHL) offers Richard's personal spin on American classics. There are French accents throughout the menu -- cheese puffs apparently make the grade as American -- and Richard's signature whimsies. Happily, the price points are much lower than Citronelle. Appetizers are meant to be shared, main dishes hover around $20 each and the lengthy wine list bursts with a variety of affordable choices.

The restaurant's setting is striking even before you enter it. Large windows offer a glimpse into the space with its backlit bar and exhibition kitchen. The restaurant also has several impressive glass wine walls. I was a bit disappointed by the dining room area, though; I'd hoped the architects would have taken more design and space risks. Though many restaurants in this area live below hotels or office buildings, they needn't feel that way. The carpeted area felt fairly generic, but light wood panels and tables and long banquettes gave it a streamlined, clean feel.

Starters are broken into hot and cold selections, and they include a cone of delicate -- though somewhat salty -- cheese puffs prepared by Richard himself, a caramelized onion tart with bacon, cut into slices for easy group sharing and a variety of salads, including iceberg salad, asparagus vinaigrette and a goat cheese Caesar. There is a raw seafood bar selection and a decadent charcuterie plateaux of meats chosen from a visible meat locker. Each platter can differ depending on what the kitchen chooses to carve off, but my order presented two different sausages, a large pile of prosciutto and a chicken liver pate under a thick gelee.

Entrees are impressively diverse. No true American bistro would be complete without a good burger, and Central pays homage with not one, but three options. The most decadent, a lobster burger familiar to some from Citronelle's bar area, has large flakes of lobster meat on a thin brioche-like bun with a sliver of tomato and Asian-inspired gingery mayonnaise. Diners can also choose from salmon with lentils, a hanger steak in green peppercorn sauce or a somewhat dry lamb shank on creamy polenta that evokes the taste of grits with their cheesiness. Corned beef and cabbage surprised me on the menu, but now I'll know where to turn when St. Patrick's Day rolls around. Chicken appears in two forms: A large rotisserie in the back of the kitchen turns golden birds, while a dish of fried chicken is livened up with mustard sauce.

Desserts, a highlight at Citronelle, were not the sugary flourish I'd anticipated. The small menu includes a few classics, like a banana split with scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry and chef Richard's signature chocolate bar. The apple pan betty was disjointed and gritty under a marshmallow-like ice cream. The lemon tart was almost a double entendre as a tart tart, but I enjoyed the balance with the puffs of swirled meringue topping. Drinks were a pleasant surprise. Sipping the mojito, I realized that a tiny three-block area of the city is starting to monopolize the mojito scene. Poste and Zola can muddle fairly well when serving them, but Cafe Atlantico and Central's versions are worthy of a special trip. Similarly, the mai tai reminded me of Trader Vic's at its best.

Though Central clearly deserves some time to get everything in sync, this is a place to visit. The service is friendly, much thought has gone into the menu and the experience is relatively affordable. Despite my gripes about the dining room, the exhibition kitchen is already turning out some interesting flavors. All in all, it has been worth the wait.


By Erin  | January 9, 2007; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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HELP! I have a question that I didn't get answered in the chat yesterday. I thought Erin might know the answer (hence the unrelated comment posted to this blog entry), but anyone can help. I remember from my childhood in DC (like 15 years ago, I'm only 23 now...) that there was some kind of indoor putt-putt/mini-golf, somewhere downtown, like near the White House or the Mall. Does this still exist? I tried the yellow pages online, and internet searching, but all I found was the National Park Service outdoor course at Haines Point. I want to go this weekend, but I'm unsure about the weather so I thought an indoor place would work great. Do you know if such a place still exists? I don't remember anything about it other than a general local area, no name or anything. I once had a birthday party there in grade school. Thank you so much for your help!!! Please post a reply to this blog entry if possible :) I love you guys!!!

Posted by: Kate | January 12, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Kate, I think you're talking about the Old Post Office building on Penn Ave NW near 13th. I heard that there used to be a mini golf course inside, but it's gone now.

Posted by: Sam | January 17, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

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