Walk into Pascal Oudin's Brasserie Central and you just might feel like you're in Paris rather than in Merrick Park. The intimate eatery exudes the warmth and charm of the traditional French Bistro, especially if you sit at the communal table or snag a minute two-top in the back corner. The low ceiling in just this area and a bird's eye view of the entire restaurant makes it the best seat in the house.
The only problem is you'll have to pace yourself with ordering from the vast menu because your table won't fit more than two plates at once. That's more of a reason to take your time - order up a glass of wine, some charcuterie, pate, and then really dive into the traditional French fare. There's lots of it.
Oudin is well known for his award-winning contemporary French restaurant, Pascal's on Ponce, located just a few miles away from Brasserie Central. With Pascal's going on 15 years, the chef thought it was time to tackle something new.
On a visit this past Friday night, the place was chockfull with locals, Christmas shoppers, and devotees of Pascal's. He swept in and out of the dining room to speak with guests, ask for feedback, and accept their commands.
Just like the bistros in France. Pull up a seat at the raw bar and take your pick.
As for foodstuff, expect all the usual French suspects and ones you've never tried before. Think homemade cooked ham, chicken live mousse, foie gras terrine, and pulled pork rillete. That's just the charcuterie we're talking about. BC serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon glacerie from 2 to 6 p.m.
It'll go fairly well with Brasserie Central's unique (to Miami anyway) and exceptional bread service, which proffers a cold baguette and a whole garlic clove that's been roasted in the oven. "Chef says we're not in the hot bread business," explained our server. Tables around us were stumped by the garlic, not knowing what to do with it. The phrase "squeeze it out and smear it" has heard several times throughout dinner. Gives garlic bread a whole new meaning, eh?
When in a French restaurant you must always order two things: French fries and French onion soup. Anything with the word French in it really is usually a shoe in. At Brasserie Central, the latter is exceptional ($8) and enough to be an entree if you wanted. For lunch, special combinations are written on the chalkboard and usually mix and match salads, soups or whatever else chef feels like that day.
You must try the Wild Burgundy snails, or escargot de Bourgogne. Each one swims in a pool of delectable garlic and parsley. Choose from a serving of six ($9) or a dozen ($16).
A section proffering plats mijotes (slow cooked dishes in the French tradition) proffers white veal stew, duck confit, and a truffled white sausage with apple and mashed potatoes ($21). It looks and tastes just as weird as it sounds, but it's also an extremely French dish, so maybe we just didn't get it. Try it for yourself and see how you feel.
I'm a sucker for a good steak tartare, and while Brasserie Central's dolloped presentation is boring, its taste is exceptional. Hand cut and mixed with egg yolk, onions, cornichons, and anchovy, it might just be the best one I've encountered in quite some time. Served with French fries, it makes for a great lunch. Choose from small as pictured ($15) or large if you're feeling decadent ($26).
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Steamed mussels in white wine sauce, garlic and parsley were another highlight. A small spot is $15 and proffers various bivalves, but you can do large for $22. As in France, they come with an accompaniment of fries, which by the way are highly addictive.
Apple tarte is oh so French ($8).
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha