Lunch at Central: Guest Review by Mr. iEat

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
Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon


U Wanna go to Me Jana

Me Jana, a new place in the Court House/Clarendon neighborhood, is a Lebanese family-owned establishment that mostly serves mezza. Mezza are like appetizers or tapas--small plates. I would prefer to eat all of my meals tapas-style, because I never want to order just one thing, and even an appetizer or two and one entree isn't enough variety. But as you know (if you are a faithful reader, at least), I hate buffets. So tapas are the natural best option, but I not only want Spanish food, I want EVERYTHING in tapas form--enter mezza.

The space at Me Jana is colorful and chic, but still has a warm, cozy feeling thanks to the friendly atmosphere. The restaurant is owned and mostly run by a family, and even though it's just a few months old, I see the owner greeting people by name with a kiss on each cheek. The staff is attentive and helpful with decision-making.

As soon as the menu was posted at Me Jana, I knew we had to go--grilled haloumi, people? The only thing better than grilled cheese (as in bread with cheese in the middle, in a pan with butter) is GRILLED CHEESE (no bread, just cheese...with grill lines...it's low carb and delicious, you should try it). We need to do this list-style. J and I had 5 dishes and dessert for two people. It came in at ~$60 including tip.

Throughout the meal our basket of pita was replenished--the pitas were in an interesting 3D cone shape, and arrived puffy and warm throughout the evening. While the 4-section plate of olives and olive oil was fine with the basket, it was the square of labneh that left me yearning for another trip to the Middle East, also known as "the place where I was meant to live because honestly, where else can you eat delicious fruits and cheeses all day long and call it meals?"

Grape Leaves - I had to try this staple, but ever since I had homemade still-warm GLs two years ago I am a changed person, and these didn't quite measure up. Surprisingly there were a lot on the plate, maybe 6? Good value and they were good, but not close to the best.

Lamb Kebob - J says it was "very good and well seasoned, cooked to a reasonable temperature." I don't like the texture of it (too chewy--are you shocked?) so I passed.

Ablama - Hollowed out zucchinis stuffed with ground beef, spices, pine nuts, and onions. This had serious potential to be REALLY good, but it just wasn't hot enough. I should have sent it back to get reheated, but it was just one of many dishes we had going on, and I didn't get to an actual cold spot until a few bites in...I wondered why. With mezza, it's no big deal to bring out the dishes at a different time, in fact it's NECESSARY because they don't have the table space to bring them all out at once at a table for 2. So why the chill, Bill? The components were there, but the temperature was off and I would have liked the zucchini to be a little crunchier--it would have more zazz if it was less mushy.

Chicken Shawarma - This dish was perhaps our favorite. The chicken, slow roasted in lemon and garlic, was extremely flavorful, and the plating was eye-catching: Four little shawarma sandwiches sandwiched in adorable mini round pitas that had been grilled to grill-mark perfection. The chicken was so juicy and flavorful.

Seared Haloumi - I can't say anything bad about this dish, it was deeeeelicious. Strips of seared cheese with warm slices of date and pear? For my last meal as a death row inmate, I'd like to have 5 portions of the Seared Haloumi.

Kanafe - A warm square (or other shape...) of goat cheese and spices nestled between two thin strips of pastry, topped with pistachios at this particular establishment. I generally really enjoy kanafe, and I liked this one, but didn't love it--maybe it was the pistachio topping, or maybe I was just a little too full.

Me Jana was a lot of fun--I got to eat 6 different dishes and transport myself back to vacation in Israel. You can even go here with less adventurous friends--the chicken shawarma is like a juicy mini chicken sandwich. Who doesn't like that?

Me Jana
2300 Clarendon Blvd
Metro: Orange Line to Court House


DC Weekend Escapes: Middleburg, VA

In an effort to get out of the bustling city and it's metro region, we headed out to Middleburg, VA for some country, foliage, and of course, food.

Middleburg is about an hour from Washington, DC. We'd driven right by the tiny town on our way to Chrysalis Winery a while ago. Chrysalis prides itself as the closest winery to Washington--while this may be true, it is the start of a pretty busy VA wine trail. Happily for Middleburg visitors, many of these are within a mile or two of the main town, making this a boutique-ing, antiquing, sweets-eating, wine-drinking excursion. Something fun for all ages, truly.

We arrived in Middleburg around lunch time and our stomachs brought us to the Red Fox Inn. The Inn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been graced by the likes of President John F. Kennedy, JBKO, and Elizabeth Taylor. The Inn is fully functioning as a place to stay on your visit, and the dining room is open for guests and outside visitors. Food wise, it was downright tasty. The Eggs Chesapeake and Steak and Eggs were tasty, and they have delicious home fried potatoes. Most offerings were egg-based, along with the inclusion of some crabcakes, of course, and perhaps the best-named burger ever--the Middleburger. Some of the tastiest treats came in the basket of pastries before our meal was served. Warm mini muffins, danishes, and breads were the perfect beginning.

We then headed to Mello Out, a local favorite for homemade marshmallows and THE BEST chai tea latte I’ve ever had.

On the way home, we stopped at Swedenburg Winery where the friendly staff treated us to our first tastes of mulled wine, their pinot noir spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, then heated to a comfortable warm temperature.

Red Fox Inn
Mello Out
Swedenburg Winery
All in Middleburg, VA


First Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

Hello all! I don't usually post recipes, but what winter season is complete without a hot bowl of soup? That's right--NONE.

Props to my grandma for this butternut squash soup recipe. It was actually really easy to make, and the most time-consuming part is the peeling/cutting/dicing. I have tested this recipe, and it works extremely well, AND it's orange, which fits the season.

You'll need the following:
1 tbs butter/olive oil
2 c chopped onion
5 cloves chopped garlic
1 tbs curry powder
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 c peeled chopped McIntosh Apple or 11/2 c. apple sauce
2-3 lbs peeled and cubed fresh Squash
4c low salt/low fat chicken broth

In a large stock pot saute onions and garlic in butter or oil in medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Next, add squash, apple, broth, and spices.
Then add a little water--just enough to cover the veggies, and bring it all to a boil.

Lower to a simmer (on low, so there are little bubbles rising to the top but not big and bubbly like when it's at a "boil"), then cover and cook for 25 minutes until all the veggies are tender.

Let cool a bit, and then use a stick blender to puree. If you don't have a stick blender, you can throw the clumps of veggies in the regular blender until they are nice and smooth--poor some broth in as well.

Add salt and pepper to taste if you wish, or let your guests do so individually.



Super Pollo: Pre-Chicken Showdown Exploration

So the other night we headed to Super Pollo. We had to go to the fabulous Ballston Common Mall anyway, and it's right across the way. From prior investigation I discovered that while EPR was a favorite for actual chicken, SP is a favorite for side dishes, mostly because there are more than two.

I brought J along for the ride. My chicken was delicious, I got a lot of white meat, which I like, and it the skin was crispy and well-seasoned. My meat wasn't dry at all, but pretty much spot-on. J got fries and beans, both agreeable. I wish I got the yuca, but there were so many sides to choose from, I went with the chickpeas and plantains. The chickpeas are delicious, almost taste like they are from an Indian restaurant. The plantains, while really good, are just too sweet! I only wanted about half of the portion they gave me. Next time I'll try the yuca and the rice as my sides.

Super Pollo has a little more to offer to the eye than EPR--the space seems a little nicer, neater, and of course televisions, which no American family should eat without. All around us, families, couples, singles, etc were dining, and many were enjoying the FSU/Miami game at the same time.

J had half of a chicken with two sides, I had 1/4 chicken with two sides, and we both had Heinekens. $20 even was our total.

Super Pollo...c'mon, you didn't really think they'd have a web site, did you?
607 N. Randolph Street
Metro: Orange Line to Ballston