Revel’s impressive roster of culinary talent features two Iron Chefs in Jose Garces and Marc Forgione, an acclaimed Washington, D.C., icon in Robert Wiedmaier, a local treasure in Luke Palladino, and a New York-based Mediterranean trend-setter in Alain Allegretti.
But no one at Revel is more decorated — and perhaps respected — than Michel Richard, the whimsical, creative French chef who has seemingly been honored with every food distinction that matters.
James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef? Check. Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s Power Spot of the Year? Check. Zagat Award of Distinction? Check. Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence? Check. International awards, including from the French government? Of course.
Now, Richard hopes to bring some of those awards to Atlantic City with Central Michel Richard, his upscale-yet-casual Revel eatery that showcases his ability to use his classic French influences in approachable, American cuisine that is affordable and scrumptious.
Atlantic City’s Central is Richard’s third, following other locations in Washington, D.C., and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Those won even more awards for Richard, including James Beard naming Central the best new restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 2008, and Gayot proclaiming the Las Vegas location one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the country this year.
“This passion goes back to the early ‘80s,” Richard says. “I was serving bistro food in my pastry shop. I was serving French food but I had fun giving it an American accent. I gave the French food a twist, a crunch, texture.”
Richard, credited for pioneering French/California cuisine, loves to use fresh ingredients to construct witty, innovative concoctions that are sometimes light and always interesting.
And Central’s menu — overseen by Executive Chef Michael Williams — is certainly that as it offers enough variety to please everyone, from the casual diner to the ultimate foodie. Every part of the menu shows Richard’s ability to comfort the masses while also pleasing the finicky.
“I want McCentral some day,” jokes Richard, who loves to playfully flirt with his female guests and joke with everyone he meets. “Like McDonald’s, I want to be everywhere!”
Appetizers range from the simple crab cake ($17) and burrata mozzarella with confit tomato ($17) to the more complex filet mignon tartare ($14), bacon and onion tart ($12) and his legendary “Faux Gras,” a rich chicken pate that is so creamy it melts in your mouth.
Burgers also show that diversity, including the chicken burger with caramelized onions and curry aioli ($16), the beef with garlic aioli ($17), the tuna or lobster (both $20) with ginger aioli, and the lamb ($20) with jalapeno aioli, all served with choice of fries or salad.
Then there are the main courses: Richard’s fish and chips ($19) are perfectly battered, fried golden brown and served with superb thin fries; the meatloaf ($24) boasts a mixture of meats and eggplant smothered in a tremendous mushroom demi, that is served with green beans and mashed potatoes; the lamb shank ($28) is cooked perfectly tender and served with creamy polenta; the short rib ($28) is accompanied by papardelle and a beautiful syrah sauce; and the fried chicken ($23) is one of the best, crispiest boneless breasts of chicken you will ever sink your teeth into. It’s laid on top of creamy garlic mashed potatoes and served with a Dijon mustard sauce.
Notice how entrees are served with multiple sides, a rarity for an upscale restaurant, particularly when entrees average about $25.
“I think this is just what we need at Revel,” Richard says. “It is casual, fun, unpretentious and not too expensive.”
Then there are the desserts. Richard started as a French pastry chef, and he meets all expectations with his array of desserts that look so good you don’t want to dig a fork into them.
But eventually you will — and you will be happy.
The Napoleon ($8) is French pastry at its finest. Simple with its layers of cream and flaky, light pastry, it is settled in a vanilla sauce. The banana split ($12) features three homemade treats — vanilla and chocolate ice cream plus strawberry sorbet — in separate compartments from a long row of bananas topped with a variety of sauces and fresh whipped cream. The lemon meringue tart ($10) is equally tart and sweet.
“It’s from years of love and training,” Richard says of the desserts. “I love to watch my guests’ eyes when they see my desserts, and then they taste them! The ladies, they fall in love with me — oo-lala.”
Richard is enjoying his first foray into Atlantic City.
“I always dreamed to have a restaurant with a view of the ocean,” he says. “It reminds me of my restaurant Citronelle in Santa Barbara (California), which also had an ocean view. (Central’s) guests in D.C. are mostly here for business — they are lawyers and politicians. In the two resorts — Las Vegas and Atlantic City — people are more at leisure and have more time to relax.
The chef recommends
We asked Michel Richard what he would order if he was dining at Central. Here’s what he said: “Gougeres ($8) cheese puffs (right). They are crisp on the outside and so light and cheesy on the inside. Fried chicken ($23). It is super crunchy, great texture. The chicken is tender and moist under the crust. Napoleon ($8). It’s a mile high — maybe not, but close. We make our own ice creams and sorbets ($6) — you have to try them!”
More Richard eateries at Revel
O Bistro and Wine Bar features an ocean view and artistic food with a French flair that is a bit lighter than what you will find at Central. A 25-seat circular bar oversees the InOut Pool, and menu items include fish tacos, specialty burgers, sliders, crab cakes, salads, chicken wings, lobster rolls, frozen orange soufflé and chocolate lava cake. O Bistro Dining Room, located right off the lobby, is only open weekends for breakfast and features create-your-own omelets, filet mignon and eggs, breakfast sandwiches, homemade corned-beef hash, French toast creme brulee, Belgian waffles and egg-in-a-hole brioche.
More about Michel Richard
Richard says he fell in love with restaurants and he knew he wanted to be a chef by the age of 8. By 14, he apprenticed at a patisserie in Champagne, France, moving to Paris a few years later and rising to the top position at Gaston Lenotre’s esteemed pastry chef. He moved to America when Lenotre opened a pastry shop in the States, later buying his own pastry shop. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, finding instant success with his eponymoous restaurant and opening others in California, including Citrus, Bistro M and Citronelle, which also had locations in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Tokyo. One remains in D.C., his flagship restaurant, along with Central, which has locations here and in Vegas. He authored “Michel Richard’s Home Cooking with a French Accent,” “Happy in the Kitchen,” and “Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts,” was featured in basically every food publication that has ever existed and has been featured on CBS’ “Early Show,” “Cooking with Master Chefs” hosted by Julia Child, the Food Network and international networks.