Le Central

A winning French touch in Bristol
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  July 9, 2008

Eating out in Bristol during its Fourth of July season, during which there are almost nightly free concerts or patriotic ceremonies, can be a lonely proposition. Locals parade to those events with picnic baskets, leaving out-of-town visitors, like us, to thoroughly enjoy the offerings of a wonderful place like Le Central. A relative newcomer to the Bristol scene, it opened in November 2006.

Le Central | 401.396.9965 | 483 Hope St, Bristol | Tues-Fri, 11 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Sat, 10 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Sun, 10 am-2 pm | Major credit cards | Beer and wine | Sidewalk-level accessible

Le Central’s décor, like its menu, is a mix of bistro fare with updates on French classics: black and white floor tiles; black wooden chairs with green seats; blueberry, raspberry, and mustard accents in the walls, woodwork, and banquettes. Three or four large planters, café curtains, and three paintings by Inez Storer, a friend of owner/chef Jesse James, complete the ensemble.

James worked in restaurants in Boston and Italy before owning two restaurants in San Francisco. He moved back to his native New England in 2002, and when the former Café La France space became available, he took the plunge.

By offering some entrée-sized appetizers, plus a “bistro burger” on the dinner menu, and by serving lunch and brunch, he hopes to create a neighborhood eatery that doubles as a special dining-out spot.

Like many new restaurants, Le Central strives to use local products, including lamb from Round the Bend Farm in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Rhody-caught or raised seafood, and summer greens and veggies from nearby farms.

We considered the oysters Rockefeller, the warm goat cheese and spinach salad, and the charcuterie that includes duck liver pate and celery root remoulade. But in the end, Bill chose the moules au feu ($8.50), oven-roasted mussels with parsley-garlic butter. Served in a small cast iron pot, these mussels were delicate and sweet, with the roasting locking in their briny-ness, and the broth making a wonderful foil for slices of the warm, crisp baguette from Bristol Bakery.

I enjoyed a soup of “pressed vegetables” ($4.75), served in a small footed terrine atop a doily on a plate. “Pressed” meant that the cooked veggies, including celery, carrots, and onions, had been put through a food mill, leaving quite a bit of texture to what might otherwise have been a smooth puree. It was alluring and delicious.

For his entrée, Bill went with the lamb special ($16.50), and I with the roasted organic chicken ($16.50). Given the amount of mussels and bread consumed by my dining mate, I thought he’d only taste the lamb dish and bring most of it home. He proved me wrong, because the braised lamb breast slices with Pecorino polenta and Brouilly braised favas were so good. The lamb was tender, the polenta creamy, the favas wonderfully flavored by this special Beaujolais (which is also available by the glass).

My lemon-roasted chicken was marvelously cooked and presented. Half of a small chicken was served with fingerling potatoes and a roasted shallot, and pitted Moroccan olives and fresh thyme added layers to the sauce.

Other tempting entrées on the menu were a petit cassoulet (lentils, house-cured duck confit, and fennel-garlic sausage) and a seafood or veggie tajine (a lemony Moroccan stew over cinnamon couscous).

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