Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.
The French are famous for their dismissal of American food. Brittany-born chef Michel Richard is different: He confesses a weakness for KFC (he loves the crunch), and a good burger excites him as much as a good pâté. That explains, in part, this exuberant cafe, where American diner food is elevated by classic French technique and French mainstays are rethought and made new.
Dishes arrive looking as if they’ve been worked on by a food stylist, but the aesthetics are backed by genuine mastery. Few restaurants are as versatile—Central works equally well for a drink and a light bite, a full dinner, or a post-show snack. It can call to mind the best oyster bar (a recent tray of bivalves from British Columbia was exquisite) and the best delicatessen (the marvelous corned beef, which is made in-house and available only at lunch).
Fittingly, the final course at lunch or dinner includes a banana split made with superlative ice cream and sorbet—and served on a TV tray. It’s an eminently satisfying treat, and an emblem for this witty marriage of high and low, French and American.
Also good: “Faux gras” terrine, a creamy chicken-liver pâté; bacon-and-onion tart; mussel or crab chowder; fried chicken and mashed potatoes; sea bass with mushrooms; filet mignon tartare; cioppino; chocolate mousse; apple brown betty.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner (closed Sunday in summer). Expensive.