I have come to determine an unfailing truth, that is that the food at Central tastes great, but food at Central paid with an expense account tastes even better. A recent business lunch with two of my associates at Michel Richard's Central in the heart of downtown Washington D.C. was quite the enjoyable experience. The lunch menu at Central does not make decision making easy. The burger, fried chicken, fish & chips, grilled hanger steak, and the lamb shank immediately jumped out as first choices. How does one narrow down from such an appetizing array of options? Fortunately for me, our server believed the fried chicken to be the best around and so I took his word and ordered it along with the french onion soup as a starter. The server noted that "their" french onion soup was a little different that normal because the broth was sweeter more like a miso as he described it. To me and one other diner at my table it sounded promising.
First, warm baked bread was delivered to our table. The bread was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, but MOST importantly it was pre-cut! I am not just talking about sliced half way through, I mean cut into individual slices. I have been to too many restaurants for business lunches around the district where the crusty bread is only half cut and what ensues is inevitably a messy and crumb filled attempt to finish slicing the bread with your own dull-as-a-spoon bread knife. Cheers to Central for slicing their bread. Everyone wants bread at a business lunch, but not everyone wants to either put their hands all over the bread to rip it apart or attempt to make a mess all over the table at those non-cutting establishments.
Next to arrive was the iced tea. As a semi-professional iced tea aficionado, I happily found Central's iced tea to be both well brewed and provided with a generous lemon slice. Again, Central warms my heart with its tubular "european" style sugar packets (including Splenda!) which both look and function in a superior manner to traditional rectangular packets.
After a reasonable time passed, the soup arrived in an earthy clay bowl with a baked cheesy top. I don't often order french onion soup, but I am glad that I made the decision that afternoon. The broth was indeed light and sweet and complemented the cheese well. It was warm and gooey, without being too gooey. Also, for french onion soup it was surprisingly "light".
I enjoy fried chicken, but I don't know if I've ever enjoyed it as much as I did at Central. The order comes with one large boneless chicken breast and one drumstick, both coated with a delicious crunchy crust, served on top of finely whipped mashed potatoes with a side of mustard sauce. The potatoes were excellent, creamy and smooth. The chicken was finely battered and fried and greatly enhanced with the tangy mustard sauce. A side of mixed salad greens was also served on the large plate but went ignored due to the generous portion size and quality of the entree served.
The other entrees ordered by my colleagues were the fried chicken (also enjoyed) and the lobster burger. The burger was served handsomely with a multitude of fries. I was lucky enough to have a piece of the burger which is all lobster (no filling or bread). It was quite tasty. Did I mention that we also ordered a side of Mac and Cheese? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...this ain't your grandma's Mac and Cheese. Served in a mini cast iron skillet, the Mac and Cheese is made with ziti pasta swimming in a delicious creamy cheese sauce and lightly topped with bread crumbs. This little pan was a big hit at the table and was scraped clean.
Dessert. Again, Michel does not make this choice easy. With several extremely tempting choices we each decided to get a different desert and share. I had the kit kat bar. This is a fun dessert that easily fixes any chocolate craving while not being too overwhelming. I also had a bit of the apple pan dowdy and the chocolate cake. Each was tasty and well presented. I don't think you can go wrong with any dessert at Central. In fact, I don't believe you can go wrong with ANYTHING at Central. So next time you are looking for a delicious downtown lunch to impress yourself, a date, or clients, look no further than Central.
1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Metro: Orange, Blue, or Red line to Metro Center