Back in the day -- and I'm talking six months, maybe a year ago -- Le Central had a taste that was all its own. Put three orders of escargot in front of me, three orders of anything in béarnaise sauce, three orders of lotte au basilic, and I, with unerring accuracy, could have picked out the ones done by Le Central. The flavor was haunting -- a complex sense of glossy, savory heaviness that freighted every plate, every presentation. To a guy like me, for whom three of the five steps on the food pyramid are made of butter, it was as addictive as pure smack. But somewhere between the kitchen remodel and the loss of a couple of chefs, this delicate sense of Le Central-ness went missing. And while I understand that each chef brings his own understanding of flavor, texture and balance to whatever he cooks, the problem was that Le Central's food just didn't taste particularly French anymore. Or particularly good. But things have gotten better with the hiring of Laurent Loubot, who -- backed by a solid crew of serious Frog-side professionals -- changed up much of the menu, returning Le Central to its essential Frenchness with an almost super-classical canon. The menu (which changes often, sometimes daily) is now filled with snails (done en brioche; à l'ail, in cups made of red potato drenched in garlic butter, and as a feuilleté, in a pastry shell swimming in Roquefort cheese and walnut sauce), cold duck salad just barely touched with a composed mustard vinaigrette, porc au miel glazed in honey, Dover sole à la persillade; and other heavyweight, Escoffier-style staples. The sauces are forward, not hidden out of some misplaced nouvelle guilt complex; the meats are well handled and put in their proper place -- in a supporting role to the sauces. And though Loubot's kitchen still sometimes stumbles when trying to pull off the more Americanized dishes, I can taste the unmistakable flavor of the old Le Central slowly coming back.
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