With the nonstop stream of restaurant openings in Logan Circle, Shaw, and H Street, it is sometimes easy to forget about the restaurant scene that existed before Masa 14 and Ghibellina.
One of these restaurants is Michel Richard's Central on Pennsylvania Avenue. Although Central has only been around for a few years, it is safe to say it's become a DC institution for the business lunch crowd. That said, it still maintains its reputation for a lively atmosphere, beautiful restaurant space, and delicious food.
Despite having lived in DC (off and on) for the last decade, and despite being a huge fan of former Central chef, Cedric Maupillier (who now owns Mintwood Place), until last week, I had never visited Central. When my dad was in town last weekend, I decided to take him and find out whether it lived up to its high end reputation. I am happy to report that I enjoyed my meal so much that I was (1) annoyed at myself for waiting this long to go, (2) bummed I never made it to Richard's former restaurant Citronelle before it closed, and (3) curious whether his new restaurant, Villard, will make as big of an impact on restaurant-saturated New York City.
To start, we ordered the gougeres. This is merely a fancy name for cheese puffs. If you've ever eaten at BLT Steak, these are very similar to the complimentary popovers they bring to each table. The gougeres were served warm and arrived in a cone-basket that you typically see french fries served in at Belgian restaurants. They are shaped like hollow donut holes and are made of a light dough that has gruyere baked into the pastry. They were a tasty little treat to wet your palate, but were a tad superfluous to the delicious bread basket that was served at the same time. In hindsight, I would have opted for a different appetizer.
The entrees were truly the star of the meal. I ordered the scallops entree, which was a serving of 4 perfectly seared large scallops. They were cooked to golden brown perfection on the outside with a tender center. There is always a "chewiness" risk with scallops, but there was none of that here. They were served over a light red pepper sauce and a variety of greens, including bok choy and broccolini. One interesting touch was pasta ribbons sitting atop the scallops. They added an additional texture and visual interest to the plate and filled up what was otherwise a pretty light dish.
My dad ordered the pasta bolognese. I was initially surprised by his choice of an Italian dish at a French/American restaurant. But we both agreed that it was one of the best renditions of pasta bolognese either of us had ever tasted. It was a cold night and the sauce was the type that warms your soul. Rich, hearty, and ridiculously flavorful. In addition to the meat and tomatoes, you could taste the fresh herbs, the red wine, and the sharp salty cheese grated on top. It was the perfect combination of flavors. I would go back just for this dish.
Lastly, for dessert we got a trio of sorbet and gelato. Our trio came with vanilla ice cream, and mango and strawberry sorbet. I admit it was an odd dessert choice for a cold fall evening, but it was a delicious and sweet way to end the meal.
Although DC is only now starting to be talked about as having a "food scene," my night at Central reminded me that we've had some great restaurants in DC for a while and they don't all reside on 14th Street.