Legendary French chef Michel Richard, who made Washington his home and culinary playground for over 20 years, passed away in 2016. But his legacy lives on at Central, the James Beard Award-winning downtown DC bistro that still boasts his name above the door. Now, after a late July closure, the whimsical 13-year-old eatery is ready to reopen on Tuesday, September 21, with a refreshed look and new chef to helm the kitchen: Chris Edwards, the former executive chef at Hank’s Oyster Bar who most recently lead the kitchen at Middleburg’s Salamander Resort.
“It was Central Michel Richard and it will always be Central Michel Richard,” says partner Chip Sandground. “We always want this restaurant to be in honor of Michel. It’s important for us to preserve the past but also continue to evolve.”
The revamped dining room and bar feels familiar yet refreshed, with more feminine plum and rose-hued accents, copper lights, and a new lounge primed for happy hour by the window entrance. A newly tiled dining area flanks the large open kitchen, and a back room is semi-enclosed for private parties and VIP diners like Michelle Obama, who has visited before.
Partner/chef David Deshaies will continue to work with Edwards and the team on a menu that mixes Richard classics with new dishes. Richard brought Deshaies to America from a three Michelin-star restaurant in Burgundy when the Loire native was just 21, and helped him rise through the ranks at Citronelle over 12 years, from line cook to head chef. Deshaies then became Richard’s corporate chef for restaurants in DC, Las Vegas, and New York, as well as opening his own ventures in the District: Unconventional Diner and the upcoming L’Ardente.
“Some things will never move,” from the menu, Deshaies says. “It was not a hard decision.” Classics like the lobster burger—which kicked off the fancy/chef-y burger trend in DC—goat cheese Caesar, ultra-rich French-style fried chicken, and playful desserts like the “Kit Kat bar” aren’t going anywhere (and never will). Other Richard dishes rotate seasonally, joined by new items that Edwards helped create, such as a mushroom bolognese or fall vegetable tagine. No matter what appears on the a la carte lunch and dinner menus, Deshaies says it must pass the Richard test: dishes that are colorful, playful, textured—Richard loved the nickname “Captain Crunch”—and generally delicious.
“He was very whimsical, playful. He had a joie de vivre that you can sense in his food,” says Deshaies. “Working with him for 17 years, automatically when I create a dish, there’s always Michel in it. There’s a picture of Michel in every kitchen I work in. He’s checking on us, trust me.”
Central will reopen for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday, indoors and on an outdoor patio. Proof of vaccination is required for indoor dining. A lengthy happy hour is available at the bar, Tuesday through Friday (3:30 to 6:30 PM).
Central. 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW