Saturday, September 5, 2009

Central by way of Sei

After much deliberation of whether to stay in DC or head to Boston for the Labor Day weekend, B & I decided to stay in DC owing to both the weather (mid-80s, low humidity) and finances (we are re-doing our bedroom and headed to Paris in October, so the airfare and hotel expenses did not seem very appealing!).

So, we are here this weekend and decided to make the most of it. Starting with jazz and sangria in the national Sculpture Garden -- one of my favorite ways to spend a Friday afternoon (as long as it is not one those 9o degree 90 percent humidity days, and per the first paragraph, it wasn't).

Following jazz, we had a reservation at Sei. While I am not a huge fan of Restaurant Week, Sei had extended its $35 three course special through September, and owing to a good review in the Post, I figured it was worth a shot. The menu online looked promising, and the restaurant itself was very appealing. I loved the fact that the restroooms were "hers" and "hers and his" -- very practical! But after upon sitting down, things quickly went downhill. Upon perusing the menu, I noticed that there was only one Restaurant Week combination that would equate to over $35 if ordered a la carte and the vast majority of combinations were about $5-7 less than that amount. I am not sure why, but this really bothered me. I felt like Sei was pulling one over on all its diners. That coupled with the absurd wine places, caused B and I to look at each and say the same thing: Central?

So we got up and left. I do not remember the last time when I left a restaurant before ordering and I am slightly concerned about my open table status, but I was really bothered by their extended "deal" which turned out to be an extended "scam."

As it is Labor Day in DC, we were able to walk into Central at 7:45pm without a reservation; this will change come Tuesday, but has been nice all summer to not have to plan ahead to eat there. And in the interest of full disclosure, Central is one of my top three go-to restaurants in DC (the others being Ray's the Steaks and Tosca), and earlier in the evening B was lamenting that we were not going there...

With all that said, Central did not disappoint. We sat down, had great service by the jolly waiter that looks and sounds like a young Michel Richard and ordered a French Gamay. I never had a Gamay wine before and don't think I will again. The waiter noted that this is the grape used in Beajoulais and is young and does not breathe. He was right. It tasted oddly like the Sangria we had just had in the Sculpture Garden and just seemed weak. The waiter did have us taste a sparkling Gamay which is currently used to top off their blueberry cocktail, which is a real treat (though I did not have that on this visit). B did seem to enjoy the wine though. It was drinkable, just unremarkable.

Then on to the eating. Of course we had their amazing crusty bread which B cannot get enough of (they get their bread from Panorama, an Alexandria-based wholesaler) and shared our usual starter -- the goat cheese Caesar salad. This cheesy, crispy delight is romaine lettuce encricling goat cheese, and topped with caesar dressing, parmesan, diced tomatoes and a paper thin crostini. It is delicious and they usually split it for us which is great so I don't have to compete with B for my share. He really likes it too.

For entrees, we had two that we had eaten before but were as a good as ever. I got the lamb shank over creamy polenta which delivered a succulent, juicy, rich taste with a hint of rosemary. B got the fried chicken. This is the only place where I would describe the fired chicken as lighter than air. It is breaded with just the insides of the French bread and comes with both a breast and dark meet piece. It also has mashed potatoes, gravy, and green salad. Central does not list the sides that accompany each dish on the menu, so if you are eating there for the first time ask so you don't say order a green salad to start and then find the same dish on your plate. And despite it being a carb overload we asked for another round of bread.

To end the meal, we tried the banana split. The waiter recommended it and it was wonderful (and not at all necessary after the entrees that preceded it, but very much enjoyed). It is served on what looks like a TV tray with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, strawberry sorbet, and a mousse like chocolate ice cream with a banana covered in whip cream and book-ended by chocolate and caramel sauces. I loved that it was deconstructed and allowed the eater (mainly me) to construct all sorts of different flavor combinations. And something I have learned of late: I actually like sorbet. I used to prefer ice cream to icey, watery, sugary sweet sorbet, but Central and Bocato Gelato's sorbet have made me reconsider.

It was a great Friday night and toast to the end of summer in DC. With tax and 20% gratuity the meal--consisting of a bottle of the Gamay, a shared appetizer, entrees, and dessert--was $137.50.

Postscript: I went for a long run this morning which made me feel a bit better about sharing a dessert with B that the table behind us split among 8 people!

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

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