Eager winos from all walks crowded the steps and lobby of Le Central Thursday evening to get a taste of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau and sample the bistro tasting plates, all with a touch of the spirited young red in the ingredients of each miniature dish.
The rich aromas wafting from the serving trays were torturous to those waiting for a table or a seat at the bar. Liberal pours revealed that Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 was very tart this year -- with a distinctive nose of apples and overripe berries, a short finish with a bit of cranberry, and a hint sweeter than the 2009.
Chef Philippe Georges' small plates, such as salade Lyonnaise topped with a Beaujolais Nouveau-poached egg and lotte au vin rouge and monkfish braised in Beaujolais with bacon and pearl onions, gave diners a flavor of France's annual vin de primeur.
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A standout dish was the gratine de cardoons: cardoons and red onions braised in duck fat and Beaujolais gratineed with creamed Swiss cheese and breadcrumbs, all baked to a golden micro-casserole. Cardoons, or artichoke thistles, are not the easiest vegetable to procure even when they are in season, but they've been creeping into recipes here and there since chef Mario Batali's endorsement back in 2002, when he called them one of his ''fave vegetables'' because of their ''very sexy flavor.''
Despite all the Beaujolais specials, Le Central's signature $9.99 moules et frites (two pounds of mussels prepared any of ten ways with bottomless fries) was still the supper of choice.
The desserts du jour were chocolate or Grand Marnier soufflés and crepes stuffed with chestnut cream and chocolate ganache or brandied apples, both with a dollop of Chantilly cream.
Le Central also has a cooking class, demo and dinner scheduled for Tuesday, November 30 at 6:30 p.m., with autumn-inspired fare for $26 per person; reservations are a must. And for the last minute-but-gourmet Thanksgiving planners, the restaurant is offering a full takeout dinner with roast turkey, all the trimmings, salad and baguettes and dessert for eight to ten guest for $120 (also available in gluten-free for no extra charge).