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Central Measures Up to High Expectations, Sietsema Says

What the critics are saying this week

All Purpose
R. Lopez

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema revisted Central with high hopes for the place that were met by chef David Deshaies. He hands three stars (excellent) to the downtown French restaurant, which lost legendary chef Michel Richard in August.

Sietsema returned not only because of nostalgic reasons but also to test drive the new fall menu.

"The chef had me at the Thai quinoa salad. Even if you’re not sold on the mild ancient grain, hear me out. Deshaies packs a little show in the animated first course, layering a glass jar with fluffy steamed quinoa, peppery arugula, julienned carrots slick with sesame oil and cubed pickled daikon. To this, a waiter adds a drizzle of coconut-peanut dressing, closes the lid and shakes the contents as if he were a bartender. Moistened, the ingredients are strewn on a plate to form a tantalizing tropical hedge."

His first course of pumpkin soup, a super common starter this time of year, but "the version at Central feels novel." The main dish, lamb bisteeya, "saves you a trip to Morocco" and is "the best pot pie in town." A newcomer is crab pizza, with stripes of Hollandaise that "put a nice finish on the crackery base." And one new finale, the fig tart in vanilla-coconut milk, is also a must.

Some longtime staples at Central are still hits, like the towering Napoleon and Richard’s riff on a Kit Kat candy bar, and "Michel’s" fried chicken "still makes my mouth water in anticipation," as do the burgers. "Central might just as well become a spokesmodel for the poultry industry, because I’m equally enamored of the kitchen’s crisp, saucer-size chicken schnitzel beneath a carpet of capers." He does make note of the high volume, which approaches 90 decibels, and is "akin to being serenaded by a lawn mower." [WaPo]

Don Rockwell went to All Purpose and had a pretty different opinion about the Shaw restaurant compared to that of Sietsema, who recently ranked it the No. 1 restaurant in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.

"For now, I can’t rave about All Purpose, which is trying to be "Etto-ish" in nature, but not pulling it off quite as well. Still, All Purpose is a good, 2 Amys-style restaurant that can improve if the kitchen stays focused; the service I had was top notch, so there isn’t much room for improvement there. The wine list (by the bottle) is quite good, but the bar needs work."

He sings high praises for his bartender Kyle, "who raised the quality of my dinner all by himself" through his extensive knowledge about the ingredients. (On the cocktail front, however, Rockwell wasn’t happy about All Purpose’s gin selections.)

His 2015 DeAngelis Trebbiano Blend ($9) from the Le Marche region was "more than enough to stand up" to all his courses. For food, his starter was the "nearly delightful" Sicilian Tuna Mousse ($10). Spaghetti Squash "Aglio e Olio" ($12) was too oily, but the winning part was its herb-roasted ricotta. It also needed more seasoning, he thinks, as did the Crispy Fried Mushrooms ($14). For the main pizza event, he ordered the Buona Pizza ($18) to go. Its cornicione (the periphery of the crust) "badly needs work" (it’s too big and its flavor isn’t "much better than a decent cracker"). The toppings, however, were "excellent" and the middle part of the pie was "delicious." [DC Dining]

FROM THE BLOGS: DC Refined’s Nevin Martell ranks five must-try pizzas, from RPM Italian to the new Little Coco’s.

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