Saturday, March 08, 2008

Miami DC Goes to Washington, DC: A Look Back on Best Restaurant in DC in Salute to Obama

The ever-gracious Chef Michel Richard, a 2007 James Beard Award Winner for Outstanding Chef, flanked by a cold Miami blogger, and brother.







Hanging Hams, including the legendary La Quercia Prosciutto


"Chili is French," the Chef offers.


This man is relaxed...


The open kitchen is bigger than many restaurants...




Put Foot, in Mouth...





Even looks great on the inside...





Faux Gras Terrine...


M&C

Shrimp Burger...



When the New York Times restaurant reviewer, Frank Bruni, jets around the country to compile a list of the 'Ten Best New Restaurants in the US (Outside NYC)', people take notice. When one gets to dine at two of them in one week, that's what you might call a good week. Having eaten some 'Buffalo' Frog Legs, and Crispy Hominy two Saturdays ago at the bar of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, in Miami's Design District, one of the top top five, I was off on a brief road trip that involved stops in Washington, DC, and NYC. In NYC, I would have incredible meals at both Momofuku Noodle Bar, featuring the creations of James Beard Award-winning Chef of the Year David Chang; and Soba Totto, a Japanese noodle and izakaye restaurant, populated almost exclusively by Japanese people, where skewers of Kobe beef tongue were just one of the highlights of the meal. I also had some incredible cocktails at PDT, some interesting 'solid' cocktails at Tailor, and a great bowl of Homemade Fish Cake End Cut Noodle soup at Noodle Village in Chinatown. And I met some crazy, sweet, and really fucking out there New York foodies. But back to Bruni's Top Ten.




I had eaten at Michel Richard's Citronelle in DC some years ago, and loved it. But it was very expensive, and not a place where I could really afford a lot of repeat visits. He had made his bones in LA, at Citrus, and DC was his second outpost. After closing Citrus, multi-starred Chef Richard, also a James Beard 2007 Outstanding Chef, concentrated all of his efforts in DC, and even became a leading proponent of cutting-edge/molecular gastronomy-styles of cooking, especially sous-vide. But he desired to reach a broader audience, and thus came the idea for Central (pronounced cen-TRAHL). A big room with small prices. All the techniques and quality ingredients of Citronelle, but available to anyone with $20 (unless you want the 'Lobster Burger', which will set you back $32-but worth every penny if you're a lobster lover). I ate two meals here, had a nice chat with the Chef de Cuisine, Cedric Maupillier, as well as with Chef Richard, who was very gracious and seemed to be having a blast.




Before I get to the food, however, I should probably mention that behind the bar sit a half-dozen bottles of 'Fee' Bitters, a reassuring sign that your bartender (in this case the lovely Raquel), can make a damn good cocktail, something that Miamians know is very difficult to find here in the land of the bad Mojito. There are Bells Amber, Stone Smoked Porter, and Blusser Pilsner on tap, as well as Abita Purple Haze and Turbo Dog, Smutty Nose Porter, and Gouden Carolus Triple in bottles. There are also more than twenty bottles on the wine list at $40 and under, and I drank mostly the $8/glass Bordeaux Superieur, a Merlot that provided a nice buzz.




While I'd like to go into detail about everything my dining companion and I ate, I really want to concentrate on the Pied de Cochon (Pig Foot). I mean, the 'Faux Gras', which is chicken liver blended with so much butter it turns a glossy, light pink, and literally floats off your tongue into the ether, and which comes with rich duck rillettes, pickled onions and cornichons, is gone so fast onto crusty bread that you'll want an order all to yourself next time ($14). The Shrimp Burger ($18) was sweet, bursting with liquid flavor, and crunchy, on a brioche-like bun, with housemade mayo, tomato slice, and a potato(?) tuile added for extra crunch, served with hot, crisp, fries. An essential beach shack meal, but elevated by fresh, high-quality ingredients, and French technique. The mac and cheese ($7) was melted and creamy-thick cheese, crunchy on top, and the pasta was 'toothy'. The 'Chili Soup' is a disc of French-style meatloaf, topped by a circle of thick cream and grated cheddar, then the hearty brown broth is poured around it, an invention that Chef Maupillier assured me was French. “Some say America, some say Mexico, but after consulting with both countries on this, I believe we can say 'chili' is a French dish,” he told me, only half-joking.




But the fuckin foot stole the show. At my second lunch, when I was by myself, I decided to keep it simple. Pied de Cochon. $16. One of the best and most satisfying plates of food I've had in a long time. The foot is cooked and then the meat comes off the bone and is sauteed with mushrooms. Then it is wrapped in a sausage casing, lightly breaded and fried. It looks like an enormous egg roll, but the surprise inside is a classic peasant meal, armed with the subtlety and richness that the French specialize in, and that Chef Maupillier brings off like a four-star pro. The plate is perfectly balanced, with the cooking liquid from the feet made into a gravy that is finished with demi-glace, and a dash of whole-seed mustard; the tiny onion rings that are light, because they have been soaked in a little buttermilk and then flash-fried (no breading, just a bit of salt); the mashed potatoes that have little lumps are buttery and oniony, but mostly taste like fresh potatoes; and the lardon/frisee salad is just the right mix of bitter and salt, chewy and crunchy, wet and dry. The bread and butter are all the accompaniments you'll need, the crunchy, thick. bread kept warm under a towel, and the butter a star in itself. I was full on the first bite of the foot, it is that rich. But I managed to work my way through the whole plate, along with a couple of glasses of red, and watched the action in the big room reflected in the enormous angled mirrors over the bar. Incidentally, the kitchen is completely open, and the hanging hams are also visible behind glass.




If you have a spare hour or two, and find yourself in downtown DC, this is a meal you will want to write home about. The first crunch of that foot made me misty-eyed, and if it weren't for the 20-degree weather outside, almost a little nostalgic for Washington, with its demanding restaurant-goers, whose high standards are often rewarded by Chefs who also insist on the best, even sometimes for under $20.




A big thank you to Pamela, who was gracious enough to explain the cooking techniques to a slightly befuddled (it was cold, man!) Miami dude, and to Raquel for her pouring prowess. In fact, everyone on the staff was helpful and friendly, a very comforting feeling, especially when you're a thousand miles from home.
Additionally, a Merci Beaucoup to the ever-gracious Chef Michel Richard, and his Chef de Cuisine Cedric Maupillier, for inviting my brother and I to share a table with them, as well as some laughs. Although, along with Dupont Circle's Bistrot du Coin, this had been my go-to bistro for a while, when I lived in DC, I hadn't been back in over a year; but really, over the course of two visits, I was made to feel as though I had never left.





One more lovely look at the foot...and the kitchen from whence it came...



If you go, the long bar is cozy, especially on a cold afternoon...



1 comment:

  1. F-U DANNNY! I thought my trip that included Momofuku Noodle Bar was excellent but Momofuku along with Central on the same trip is freaking insane! I remember Citrus was the first upscale restaurant I went to when I was in college (a roommate's sister from New York treated us and all I can remember from it was her gushing that "the dessert art is amazing!"). I heard Citrus is once again open in L.A. (under the Chodorow regime though) but Central is the place I want to hit up.

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