Central was an odd duck right from the start — the de facto coffee shop for Caesars Palace, run by Michel Richard, a classically trained James Beard Award-winning French chef who trained under the great Gaston Lenotre.
You’d think those sort of great reference points would translate to the menu, and you’d be right; there’s a lot of creativity there and a fair amount of whimsy. It’s in the execution that things fall apart.
As in the Faux Gras ($8). A takeoff on the much-maligned and sometimes outlawed foie gras, it’s chicken liver pate (probably a lot more humane, since it doesn’t appear anyone force-feeds chickens like they do geese). It was, I thought, a great idea.
Too bad, then, that it fell flat. Not only was it completely lacking any semblance of the silky richness of the real thing, it didn’t measure up to most chicken-liver pates we’ve found around town, kind of dry, more like an imitation Braunschweiger than anything else.
The Potato Nachos ($11) were similarly a good idea that lost much in the execution. This one was based on puffed potato chips instead of tortilla chips, and that basis was very good. But they were topped with a lackluster, Velveeta-esque sauce, some sliced fresh jalapenos and some cubes of tomato, for pretty much a lot of blah. And, well, they were $11.
Central’s Famous Fried Chicken? Whenever a restaurant says it’s famous for something I generally trust that it’s going to be a pretty good rendition of whatever it is, but that wasn’t the case here. Central’s Famous Fried Chicken ($26) was very heavily breaded, and that breading didn’t contain much in the way of seasoning, but a fair amount of grease. Potato puree on the side was oddly watery.
When asked how we’d like our Ahi Tuna Burger with ginger aioli ($23), we said medium rare, but it was served well done. That pretty much killed the flavor of the tuna, and since the ginger aioli wasn’t either very gingery or very aioli-ish (read: garlicky), the sandwich was bland in the extreme. It also was on an overly soft bun, which fell apart when we tried to eat it. Maybe that’s why they served it well done instead of medium rare — so the juices wouldn’t make it fall apart even faster — but if that’s the case, they failed on all fronts.
Then there was the Chicken Schnitzel with lemon caper sauce ($25). The presentation itself was kind of odd; the chicken had been pounded until it was extremely thin, and it was almost an exact circle. It actually was kind of tasty, crisp-crusted and with a reasonably moist interior. But in what was another oddity, it was almost entirely covered by capers, set side by side like diamonds on a piece of pave jewelry. We like capers, but this was ridiculous. And the lemon sauce seemed to consist solely of lemon juice.
We had mixed-green salads with both chicken dishes, and they were basically OK, although they needed a few jolts of flavor.
So was the whole dinner a disaster? No, there were bright spots, such as the Schnitzel once half of the capers had been pushed away. And the french fries we chose with the sandwich, which were hot and crisp. And the bread served before dinner, a nice crusty white (although they serve the butter in those nasty plastic cups, which is kind of silly when you’re paying $26 for fried chicken).
We were split on the dessert, Michel’s Chocolate Bar, which our waitress described as sort of like a giant Kit Kat, and it was in a way, chocolaty and crisp. But one of us thought it tasted of the freezer, although another of us ascribed the off-flavor to hazelnuts.
We also liked that the restaurant offers a $40 prix-fixe menu with a few options; ordering this way saves a few dollars over ordering the same dishes separately. We took advantage of that for the Faux Gras, Central’s Famous Fried Chicken and Michel’s Chocolate Bar, although our server forgot and charged us for the dessert, taking it off after we pointed that out.
Service throughout was about as lackadaisical as the food, with things such as long pauses and unfilled water glasses. We’d expect more from your average coffee shop.
We’d also expect more from a classically trained French chef with a James Beard Award to his credit. Is the problem that Richard is not in attendance? I don’t know, but if that’s the case, he needs to work on training.
As we got ready to leave, we saw a managerial type popping into the kitchen with a pizza box in his hand. Never a good sign, but in this case it was understandable.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-450-6946. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.