Monthly Archives: December 2008

Central Michel Richard…Washington, DC

 

I spent the weekend in DC with my girlfriend, we took a trip in lieu of giving each other a Christmas present, and I have to say….it’s good to be stupid, or slow, or easily impressed or whatever you want to call it.  Either some of that is true or I just luck out when it comes to having some of the best meals ever.  I know many of you have either read or listened to my rave reviews of various restaurants over the years, so here is another one…..chalk it up to my low standards or the fact that I really REALLY know how to pick ’em.

I’ll skip any lengthy history lessons about Michel Richard and his flagship restaurant Citronelle….because I don’t make it to DC often enough to justify the kind of dough it would take to eat there, and I’m too lazy to do any kind of internet research to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about.  Long story short, Central won the James Beard award for Best New Restaurant this year…and with the prices, attitude and flavors we experienced Friday night I have to say that we are all blessed with Chef Richard’s decision to open a restaurant for “normal” humans. 

The website describes it as “traditional American cuisine with a French flair”, and after visiting that translates to “artery clogging paradise” in Jerry-speak.  I was almost sad that we were experiencing freakishly warm weather for December, because this food is comfort food of the highest order…..perfect for holing up at your table for several hours and blocking out the real world. 

There are already a ton of reviews online, so I’ll just stick to what we ate vs. discussing the menu at length.  We had 8pm reservations on Friday night, and we arrived about 20 minutes early.  We were informed that they could seat us anytime we were ready, but after riding around on the Metro and walking down from Rocket Bar, we opted to sit at the bar for a few minutes and have a drink.  I’ve heard/read a lot about the specialty cocktails at Central, and had my heart set on a Bourbon Blackberry Cobbler cocktail I saw online…….but alas, they are no longer serving it.  That worked out just fine because I ordered the Bourbon and Maple Manhattan…. a mixture of Bulliett (sp?) Bourbon, Maple Syrup and a dash of orange bitters.  Not bad at all, and easy to replicate at home.

Next up….two major pieces of advice for anyone who is going to Central; when you reserve your table ask very nicely for them to make a note that you’d like to have a view of the kitchen, and if she is working that night ask if you can have Pamela as your server.  These two things will help to make the evening perfect.  Watching the constant action in a massive and well-oiled kitchen, and having a friendly, knowledgeable server who genuinely loves the restaurant and food in general (and in no way makes you feel like they need to turn the table one more time…in fact, more than once we were asked when we wanted her to actually place the order w/the kitchen so we could pace ourselves) takes what would normally just be a fantastic meal and makes it one of the best ever.  So for those of you taking notes: #1- view of the kitchen, #2- Pamela.

 

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The menu is pretty large, and as I said before everything sounded good.  Cassoulet, braised beef cheeks w/tagliatelle, calf’s liver and bacon, the famed “faux gras”…… fat heaven.  We had a lot of questions, and Pamela was invaluable with her knowledge of the menu and detailed reasons why she loved individual dishes.  We knew we wanted to start with the gougeres, but after that it was all up in the air.  In the end we settled on the onion and lardon tart to accompany the gougeres, and entrees were the Pied de Cochon for me and the Lamb Shank with Creamy Corn Polenta for her.  The wine we chose was a Cab Franc and ended up going so well with the food that, for the price, we went ahead and got a second bottle….. Frederic Mabileau St. Nicolas de Bourgeil 2006.  Easy, easy drinkin’ wine, and I think you can get it for under fifteen bucks retail. 

The bread, while it is not made in-house, is probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant.  Super crunchy, thick crust, with a rich, airy, eggy, sour and light interior.  The cheese puffs/gougeres are just one of those things you have to order when you go to Central…..very tasty and light puffs of cheesy, savory pate choux.  Surprisingly, the leftover puffs were even great the next day.  We went around and around on the other appetizer selection…the onion and lardon tart sounded good, but in my mind I had images of your run of the mill savory tart with too-crisp edges and that soggy puff pastry bottom.  Pamela assured us that it was one of their best items, and what we received was one hell of a tribute to fatty richness.  The tart crust is somewhere between paper and cracker thin…but it holds up under a blanket of crisp, thick cut and cubed bacon, caramelized onions that are first soaked in milk to mellow them out, creme fraiche and chives.  Beyond rich, but the super-thin crust helps it from filling you up too much. 

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After we got to our hotel, I happened to read an online review of Central that included a description of the Pied de Cochon.  While I’ll eat pig’s feet, it may not be the greatest thing for you and your girlfriend to stare at…..so it wasn’t even in the running until I read the review, and when Pamela gave it the thumb’s up I went with it.  For lack of a better term it is an “egg roll” (pasta dough?) filled with the meat from the pig’s foot that has been pulled off the bone and mixed with sauteed wild mushrooms.  It was accompanied by a lardon and frisee salad, mashed potatoes, fried shoestring potatoes and a creamy whole grain mustard sauce. Delicious to be sure, practically an opiate, and the most ingenius thing about the dish was how the chewier bits of the pig’s feet matched the texture of the thickly chopped wild mushrooms.  The crust was maybe a little thicker than it needed to be, and did not carry that much flavor itself compared to the filling, but still a smart way to put the dish together.  Pretty incredible, and it carried the theme of collagen rich lip-smackety goodness that was well represented in both of our entrees. 

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I can’t even estimate how many braised shanks of all varieties that I have eaten before, and when my girlfriend chose the lamb shank in order to try something totally out of her normal comfort zone, I knew it would be good but did not expect the depth of flavor that was infused into the meat.  Sometimes the flavors can get muddled or boring by the time you get down to the last of a braised piece of meat, but the spicy rosemary flavors went all the way down to the bone, and that skin……oh man, it’s like your lips are going to get glued shut from the aforementioned smackity goodness.   We both got another meal out of our entrees, so bonus.

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 I do like dessert, it’s just never the first thing I think of when dining at a new restaurant.  With all of the talk about the “Kit Kat Bar”, we had to give it a try.  It is worth mentioning that it is now called “Michel’s Chocolate Bar”, because apparently the restaurant got a slap on the wrist from using the trademarked Kit Kat name.  In addition to my lack of enthusiasm for dessert, and the fact that at this point in the meal I’m already in a wine/fat coma, I’ll just say this thing was chocolatey.  Very smooth, creamy, and…….chocolatey.  My girlfriend was whacko for it, and it WAS damn tasty, but I stuck with my glass of Sauternes.  Next time for dessert I think I’ll just get a second lardon and onion tart. 

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 Overall, probably the best restaurant experience of 2008, even with minibar thrown into the mix.  We sat down before 8pm, left around 11pm, and on the way out I made it a point to stop by the kitchen to announce as they were cleaning up….”thanks for the best meal of 2008!”.   Sometimes you are lucky enough to get that perfect storm of details, where the food, the service, the atmosphere, the company, the wine and overall vibe criss-cross into one big inexplicable party.  Granted, I love food and fine dining so much that I had to have surgery to add years to my life, so maybe I over-romanticize a great restaurant experience…..but as I have said before, ignorance is bliss.  The food nerd world already has enough people who don’t like food as much as they like hearing themselves deconstruct it ad nauseum, or revel in finding something wrong with the place everyone is raving about, or have enough money to approach food tourism like hyperactive children trading baseball cards……so I guess even though I may be too easily impressed I’m still just superior to any of them, and I promise you I’m a way better dining companion.  Give me two, maybe three meals like this one per year and I’ll call it good.

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Oh, the cost for a meal like this…….I know I’m not normal when it comes to what I’ll drop on an occasional extravagant meal, but I consider Central a bargain, at least if every meal goes off without a hitch like this one.  Two bottles of wine ($40 each), two appetizers, two entrees, one dessert, a glass of dessert wine, tax and a very healthy tip came to about $216.  In my world, that is not bad for three very memorable hours….especially considering this trip was our Christmas present to each other (and we each got a second meal out of it).  Holy shit, it was WAY better than any card and sweater we may have received.  Plus, we went all out, you could eat WAY cheaper than we did on Friday.  We’ll be talking about our trip to Central for quite a while, and will probably be back in May or June to commemorate the first weekend when we met in DC earlier this year.

Next up……some kind of rambling crap about the two weeks I’m spending down in Richmond….the people down here are some tacky Christmas light loving motherfuckers……

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My Dog Is A Whore!

 Okay, to kick things off…..it is an indisputable fact that the most rabid sin-bashing fundamentalists are often the worst offenders when it comes to their “pet” sins.  And I’m not just talking about your high profile examples like Haggard and Swaggart, or the plethora of secular crossover baby Christian celebrities who make their fortune off of recounting their sinful pasts in front of packed audiences (a whole other annoying subject for another time).  I don’t know how many familiar church faces I’d see stroll into Priscilla’s when I worked there, how many dogmatic future church leaders would end up knocked up, shacked up or get caught getting a blowie in the parking lot…….not all of them of course, generally a small percentage of the whole, but the common thread that ran through 99.999% of these shameful examples was their fervent and outspoken hatred of the very sins they got caught committing.  They are usually the same people who will also tell you that it’s wrong to question your church leaders.  Although hypocrisy seems to be the cornerstone of much of evangelical Christianity, it’s no excuse to dismiss the entire faith, I’m simply raising awareness.  The knee-jerk fundamentalist you know who rails the loudest against homosexuality, masturbation, pornography or alcohol probably has an issue with it because it is a problem for them (or they have no problem with it and use it to mask some other sin…. i.e. the morbidly obese anti-gay preachers).  How much better would it be if they just came clean, admitted their humanity and got on with their lives?   Anyway, the main focus of this post isn’t to ramble on and on about church-dads with secret stashes of porn, it is simply to focus on one heinous example that has personally impacted me recently.

I’m not an idiot.  I know that my dog likes to get on my computer when I’m not around and sling shit about the hundreds of people who end up at my blog when they Google phrases like “where to take unsaved friends” or “should I stay with my unsaved girlfriend”.  I let it go on because I figured at some point she’d screw up and I’d get to out her for the hypocrite that she is.  Well that day finally came last week, so think of these photos every time you read her bullshit and think she must be right just because she’s cute….

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 That is my parent’s dog Brutus.  I am babysitting him while they are on vacation.  My whore of a dog NOT ONLY decided to share a bed with him, she got into some perverse gender confusion and started humping him about fifteen times a day.  The pictures speak for themselves.  Be sure to bookmark this page and refer to it the next time she starts acting so superior to everyone else.

Like I said, all of that crap isn’t the only focus of this post.  My girlfriend was in town from Richmond over the Thanksgiving holiday and it reminded me how cool it can be to showcase your town for a visitor.  Kansas City is a decent sized city, and after living here most of my life I take it for granted that there is plenty to see and do.  Living here you tend to forget that something like the Plaza Lights are impressive by anyone’s standards.  Even though I wouldn’t count KC as a bustling hub for tourism, there are tons of “touristy” things that I generally don’t do until someone comes to town.

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 Case and point…. Arthur Byrant’s BBQ.  I cook world class BBQ, so I rarely buy it from a restaurant.  But Bryant’s is world renowned….if you’ve seen ANY of the Food TV or Travel Channel shows highlighting the BBQ meccas of Kansas City, Memphis or the Carolinas, you’ve seen Bryant’s.  So I thought it was probably C.H.U.D.-worthy during this visit.  I do have a love/hate relationship with the place….. in my experience you have a 50/50 shot of getting decent food there.  When it’s an off-day you get overcooked beef or undercooked pork….but when it’s ON it is, without exception, the favorite BBQ of my entire life.  Our sandwich was an okay example of what Bryant’s has to offer, but it was good enough to win a new fan during our visit.  You love or hate that sauce…..there isn’t anything else like it on earth.  And Bryant’s sauce is only good on Bryant’s BBQ….I never use it at home just because it isn’t close to the same thing.  Brisket for brisket, pork butt for pork butt, I think my food runs circles around theirs, but there is something about the combination of their meat, sauce, and fresh-cut, lard fried french fries that is magical.  Be warned, if you decide to visit Bryant’s, their burnt ends and pulled pork are terrible……they stew them both in their sweeter sauce, which defies all BBQ logic…..I can’t figure it out. 

Our next stop on that Wednesday was the famous Liberty Memorial and Museum….

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I’m sure there are plenty of World War I memorials in the United States, but Kansas City has the only WWI memorial AND museum.  And with the recent renovations, the museum is world class……we’re both museum nerds (actually, I’m a museum SUPER-nerd) and we both thought that it rivaled the Holocaust Museum in DC as far as presentation, layout and content.  WWI is the forgotten war…..not many people you meet know anything about it at all, and when I was getting my undergrad at UMKC my entire history minor was comprised almost solely of WWI classes.  It is my firm belief that every war-mongering hawk who supports the idiocy of the Bush administration should get knee-deep in the guts of WWI……the comparison we drew to the Holocaust museum was not only due to the style of the exhibit, but also due to the fact that the war was one of the darkest and saddest periods in modern human history.  Just like WWII, our elementary and high school history books paint the picture that the United States was the savior of the day, and tend to gloss over the period before our involvement.  The Liberty Memorial Museum does a great job of showing the entire timeline of the war and the grim reality that my favorite professor referred to as “the family food fight that served up ten million dead”.  We truly are lucky to have this museum, I can’t recommend it enough if you live here or are visiting. 

So that was pretty goth of us…..feasting on the flesh of dead animals and sauntering over to the war museum……but the rest of the visit was far more light-hearted and festive.  Dave & Busters, fancy food at Bluestem, Dim Sum, Whole Foods, a Thanksgiving family extravaganza at grandma’s, the humongous Asian grocers in the River Market, and of course…the Plaza Lights.   Not to mention discovering the wonderment that is buying thrift store clothing now that I can find something that fits……

The last thing worth mentioning was a lazy, snowy morning in beautiful Weston, Missouri.  If you live here, you really need to get out there if you haven’t been recently.  It is the true Missouri “small town” experience for residents and visitors alike.  Especially if you visit during a holiday weekend when the snow is falling…..

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 Oh sure, it’s kind of cheesy with all of the knick-knacky shops and antique dealers……but put your jaded side on hold long enough to show up for a nice midwestern breakfast at the local lodge and then lube yourself up with 25 cent sample shots at the McCormick Distillery General Store, and free tastings at the Pirtle Winery….

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 We love the Pirtle Winery!  Weston is great, but it’s even better with a little bit of a wine buzz as you stroll the chilly, quaint streets…..  Believe it or not, we do have some good wine here in the midwest.  Sure a lot of it is on the sweeter side, but there are also shining examples of big, bold (although not multi-dimensional) dry reds to enjoy. 

So anyway, nothing groundbreaking here…….a whorish canine revelation and your regular bloggy sort of tourism report.   I hope everyone is having a great holiday season so far, mine has been wonderful.  Not sure what I’ll have on my mind between now and when I leave for Richmond for the remainder of the holidays in a couple of weeks, I find the best way to blog is to never plan too far in advance.

Oh yeah, go and buy a TruckerFish t-shirt!

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