It’s no mean feat to reproduce a successful restaurant in a different town. But Washington, D.C. chef Michel Richard is making the attempt at Central, his new 24/7 bistro in Caesars Palace.
Central (pronounced sen-TRAHL) took Washington, D.C., by storm with Richard’s combination of classic French dishes such as moules frites, American comfort foods including fried chicken, a superb, caper-y filet mignon tartare, and a large array of his trademark desserts, all available here.
But if Central in D.C. is warm, dark and relaxing, this Vegas build-out (handsome and extravagant though it may be) faces the Augustus Tower lobby, and is designed with a reflective silver leaf ceiling, a gaudy motif composed of stacks of giant white plates, and bright, almost aggressive lighting.
Richard refers to this enormous space as a bistro; one could just as easily make an argument for calling it an upscale diner. Choose to eat at the intelligently placed lobby bar, which allows you to see the lobby action, or at tables with laminated tops, while sitting on hard chairs. If you’d like to linger, ask for one of the banquettes. There are no booths.
The menu is pretty close to what you’d get in D.C., and that’s good news. For example, gougères, delicate Gruyère cheese puffs that were briefly taken off the menu, are now back by popular demand and as delicious as you’d get in any American restaurant.
Fries do come with all the burgers, and no one makes them better than Central. You can tell they have been done at two different temperatures for extra crispness, in fresh, clean oil.
What’s more, the burgers are sensational—especially the chicken and lemon one with wafer-thin rounds of potato between meat and bun—and a crab burger that would please any Marylander. I’m also mad for the deviled eggs here, exceptionally creamy yolks topped with a boquerone, or a white anchovy from Spain.
Central serves breakfast, such as a finely minced corned beef hash in the form of a patty, with two perfectly round potato cakes. It’s tasty, but it lacks soul like the textbook American breakfast staple.
And though the French toast crème brûlée—two pieces of brioche with pastry cream in the center—is delicious, I was shocked to get Log Cabin in place of the real maple syrup I’d requested. A manager told me the chefs will be making their own maple syrup. Perhaps they have a few trees out back they aren’t telling us about.
Every entrée I tasted was worth coming back for, however, even if the crunchy, bready fried chicken that has won national raves isn’t quite a life-changing experience. Served on “smashed” potatoes with a terrific cream gravy tinged with mustard, this is nonetheless a great dish. I’m just not sure that, at $27, it’s five times better than Popeyes.
Pork loin with flageolet beans, anyway, is amazing; these are probably the best beans I’ve ever tasted outside of a cassoulet, and the meat is firm and flavorful. The chickens beautifully roasting on spits are worth a shout, too, as is a great braised lamb shank with polenta.
Richard operated a patisserie in Beverly Hills, Calif., when I met him in the ’70s, and he hasn’t lost his touch. Chocolate Bar, a rectangle of cocoa and crunch, is plated in a cool pool of chocolate crème Anglaise and sprinkled with confetti-like bits of white and dark chocolate.
Save room for Richard’s Napoleon, too, layered with rich, deep yellow Bavarian cream. The maple glaze is on hold.