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Fearless Critic restaurant review
French, Modern
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:45am–2:30pm
Mon–Thu 5:30pm–10:30pm
Fri 11:45am–2:30pm
Fri 5:30pm–11:00pm
Sat 5:30pm–11:00pm
Sun 5:00pm–9:30pm

Features Date-friendly
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


Penn Quarter
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 626-0015
Central Michel Richard
A buzzing French brasserie from DC’s maverick chef-restaurateur

Michel Richard’s Central is anything but subtle. A heavy entrance curtain opens to a pillar of giant plates festooning a rail-car-narrow bar and crowded dining room. At the head of the restaurant is the giant smiling face of the maverick chef himself, brazenly rendered in Warhol purple and presiding benevolently over his domain. He must be in the mood for a party, because installed next to him is what can only be described as a fuchsia disco wall; in keeping with the trendy theme, guests dress casually, sit closely, and speak loudly.

On the plate, Richard recasts French-brasserie classics into more stylized, often intentionally kitschy roles. The result is food that is exuberantly presented and powerfully imagined, if occasionally a little sloppy around the edges. Unusually plump mussels arrive naked, and the tableside addition of broth pushes bubbles to the surface, as if the creatures were still alive and breathing under a creamy sea—yet, at one visit, they were flawed by poor cleaning: several still had their beards attached. A soft-shell crab looks alien and beautiful, a tempura coral branch on a bed of corn; its fried batter is aggressive, but it’s fun to eat, and we love its corn purée, which is light yet firm enough for individual kernels to burst, summer-fresh, in each bite.       

Fried chicken has an international flair; battered in panko crumbs and spiced with white pepper, it is moist but free of the pools of oil often associated with fried chicken. It comes with creamy mustard sauce and silky mashed potatoes with tiny lumps that seem deliberately included to remind us we’re eating potatoes. And then, of course, there is the lobster burger, which comes over from Richard’s flagship, Citronelle. It’s impossible to argue with tender chunks of picked lobster meat with ginger mayonnaise and crispy potato wafers on a sweet, warm brioche—only the $33 price point is up for debate. Impossibly rich, crispy french fries do rare justice to the brasserie concept, and disappear with alarming quickness from whatever plate they’re on. These are some of the best fries in the city.

Among desserts, a cheekily postmodern “Kit-Kat bar” of hazelnut wafers and chocolate cream mock-flaunts modernity with its clean lines and sharp angles, with a dusting of cocoa powder that pays tribute to the tiny tire tread found imprinted on its namesake; it might be accompanied by Bourbon from a short, well-chosen list.

Central isn’t cheap or low-key, so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a way of tasting Richard on a budget. But it’s one of the most enjoyable places to eat in the city.

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