Central 214 at the Hotel Palomar introduced a new menu. I was invited to a media sampling. The themes of the menu are seasonality, freshness, local, and Texas. First dish out of the kitchen was a spicy crab and roasted corn “fondue” ($17). Roasted corn, diced tomato, and crumbled crab meat are topped with Oaxaca cheese and baked in the oven and garnish with cayenne salt. Miniature corn tortillas served on the side, are made in-house and make a convenient “taco-style” vessel for getting the fondue into your mouth. This is a hearty, indulgent dish that would comfortably serve as the first course for a table of four.
Next we moved on to seafood, more specifically, a pan-seared South Texas redfish ($28) arranged atop a cocktail of Texas shrimp poached in tomato juice and vodka. The fish was presented with a side of pico de gallo, sliced avocado, and cilantro micro greens. This was my favorite of the night. The redfish had a dense texture and an earthy flavor like halibut. The chilies in the pico de gallo enlivened it as lemon does in many fish dishes. Having the filet of fish with a shrimp cocktail is (almost) over-the-top.
Our other seafood dish was the Central clam boil ($28), a large bowl of littleneck and cherrystone clams, Texas sausage, roasted corn, potatoes, and okra. This hearty dish is the Southern equivalent of an Alsatian choucroute garni. Not in the ingredient list, but in the sense of its place in the food culture. It consists of protein (both surf and turf), carbs, vegetables, and seasoning all brought together in a lingering broth. This could serve as a meal in itself and for maximum enjoyment pick up the clams in your fingers to squeeze all the flesh out of them.
Next came a selection of entrees: brown sugar crusted pork tenderloin ($28) was topped with peach demi-glace and served on a cherry rice pilaf. The cherries and rice were a winning combination. I suspect that it had something to do with the distinctiveness of the taste of cherry plus the acid in the fruit infusing into the grains of rice. The tenderloin was cooked to pink on the inside and given a robust sear to develop a tasty crust.
The lemon thyme roasted poussin ($27) was accompanied by toasted garlic green beans and fingerling potatoes. The whole dish was topped with pan gravy from the poussin and a touch of lemon juice. We could have been in a rural French auberge for this meal. It was rustic, straightforward and satisfying. I added just a little salt to the beans to enhance their flavor. The poussin was the most succulent chicken I have had for some time and it had a substantial chew, in a positive sense, than some adult chicken.
The grilled 16-oz rib-eye ($39) was served with a “deviled” potato salad, fried okra, and topped with cayenne butter. The okra was crisp to the bite and the cayenne butter provided a piquant element to the beef. Best of all was the potato salad. The potatoes were cooked to al dente firmness and the whole salad seasoned exactly right.
The grilled filet mignon ($31), served with white bean ragout and spicy bacon reduction, is Central 214’s take on this popular cut of steak. The sauce shown embalming the steak in the picture is a reduction based on bacon and guajillo pepper, which accounts for the vibrant brown color. The fat from the meat dilutes the excess heat from the guajillo to reduce the chile to an interesting flavor component.
Finally, a trio of desserts. Lavender blackberry cheesecake with lavender embedded in the crust and blackberries placed on top with a lemon reduction drizzled around the base. Strawberry margarita consisted of a lime and strawberry custard and a homemade margarita sorbet with candy lime zest. Finally Dirty Dr Pepper float, made with Dr Pepper made in Dublin, is a pile of homemade amaretto ice cream and Southern Comfort infused cherries covered with a Dr Pepper reduction. This “sundae” may be the single most indulgent dessert in Dallas. If you have a “100 Things To Do Before You Die,” add this dessert. If this is on it, it will be the last thing you do before you die. Highly
The wine list is a medium-sized, but well-chosen selection. Prices hover at the gruesome 3x retail level. There is a good by-the-glass selection. There is also a reasonable selection of cocktails to check out.
Not only the menu is new at Central 214. New General Manager Fran Kieffer comes is here from Atlanta. Chef Blythe Beck will make his job easier. She has produced the strongest menu yet at Central 214. There is variety and the flavor combinations are more subtle than in the past and this is one of the Dallas area restaurants making best use of Texas seasonal vegetables. In fact it could feasibly take top honors for best home cooking in such a contest. This is a destination worth checking out.