Restaurant Reviews

Central Market Dinner Took a Bite of My Paycheck ... And That's OK

I love my condo in Upper Greenville. It's in the perfect location  — close enough to walk to grocery stores, convenient access to the DART train and located close to bars and restaurants without the noise of being in midst of everything. But one spot in particular really makes the neighborhood for me: Central Market.

For someone who loves cooking and great food, Central Market is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's endlessly inspiring, and such easy access to quality ingredients has made my weekly meal-planning sessions joyous occasions. On the other hand, that store is a bigger money pit than my dad's 1995 F-150 that should have been sent to the scrapyard after Hurricane Katrina had her way with it. Up until now, I've limited my spending to chocolate, ingredients, chocolate, sushi, chocolate and the occasional item from the chef's case, but my friend talked me into taking my relationship with Central Market to the next level. I attended dinner there.

Central Market advertised the Drouhin Seasonal Wine Supper as consisting of five delectable small plates paired with glasses of Drouhin wine, served while the Drouhin sales rep entertained us with stories of growing up in the family wine business. I could attend this exciting event for $70 per person! ...Wait, $70 each? For dinner in a grocery store? My husband and I have eaten at Canary for less than that, and that's a real restaurant, with ambience! Since Central Market does pop-up dinners from time to time, accompanied by upscale dining price tags, I've put together a Q&A for anyone like me, interested in attending but not sure if it's worth the money.

Q: How's the atmosphere? You're in a grocery store!
A: Specifically, we were in the room used for cooking classes. Even though this was a dinner, the cooking class vibe was still full-on. View of the kitchen, bright overhead fluorescents, no tablecloths, very large screens showing video feed of the cutting boards and cook tops. The atmosphere served its purpose as far as the cooking demos went, but a dimmer setting on the lights and some linens would have gone a long way to transforming it from a "class" to the "intimate dinner" it was advertised as.

Q: It says the staff will show you how to make the dishes. Did you learn anything?
A: Yes, the cooking demos ended up being the main attraction. The menu consisted of dishes some people find intimidating — oysters, mussels, risotto, duck breast — but the demos made these feel approachable. Handy tips like adding oil and butter together to a pan so you don't burn your butter were casually mentioned. We were given recipes for everything we ate, and I intend to replicate the seafood risotto in the near future.

Q: How about the Drouhin guy? Did he make the evening enjoyable, or was it just a sales pitch?
Laurent Drouhin is a gem of a person who is passionate about wine, period. He talked about the history of the vineyard and the winemaking process, and he explained why he thought each wine paired well with its dish. He discussed trying wine in general, learning your palate and drinking wine because you enjoy it rather than because it's highly rated. He never once mentioned the wine would be for sale after dinner. I can't promise every presenter would be like that, but reps for brands at Central Market are usually good about letting their products speak for themselves.

Q: The obvious question: how was the food?
A: On a scale of 1-10, I'd put it around an 7. Some dishes really shone, like the mussels and the seafood risotto. The pork tenderloin disappointed because I cook juicier, more flavorful pork every week, but the butternut squash purée served with it was an unexpected taste of heaven. The duck breast didn't match up with the better French restaurants in Dallas, but we all enjoyed it thoroughly. As far as the oysters Rockefeller went, they were perfectly fine, but my group agreed we would have preferred oysters on the half-shell with the wine. Some hits, some misses, some WTF moments — a pretty standard dinner experience in Dallas! All of the portions were small, but the quality made me feel like I got my money's worth.

Q: Did you interact with other guests?
A: We were seated at long tables that held 10-12 people, but we didn't have much opportunity to chat with our neighbors. Laurent or one of the chefs was speaking the entire time, so we exercised our listening skills a lot more than our socializing ones.

Q: Anything you loved?
The wine. So, so, so good. I generally trust Central Market to feature excellent wine, and this array of Burgundies did not disappoint. The Drouhin winemakers do an excellent job of showcasing how much the soil and climate can affect the taste of the same grape varietal.
I also loved that a chef was kind enough to ask if anyone had the aversion-to-cilantro gene, then left the cilantro garnish off my plate.

Q: Anything you hated?
A: Where I sat. We were farthest from the kitchen exit, so we were served last, and the chefs acting as waiters for the night were not the most organized. They overlooked serving me on one of my courses, then overlooked serving half our table our final wine, then groused a bit as if they thought we'd chugged our wine and were asking for more. Not cool. I'd suggest sitting toward the right side of the room; being served first means hotter food and less opportunity for mishaps.

Q: Would you go to another dinner or demonstration event?
A: Yes, but only if it's something I'm really interested in, or if the menu looks spectacular and like I'd want to watch it being made. Even though it wasn't hands-on, this definitely still qualified as a class. Come here to learn and appreciate the process. Don't come if all you want is dinner.

If you're interested in attending a dinner, check the Cooking School schedule on the Central Market website for upcoming events and prices. Upcoming demonstration events include Chef’s Collaborative Dinners (Fort Worth), Beef University with beer pairings (Dallas Lovers, Fort Worth, Southlake), Cool Wines for Hot Days (Dallas Lovers, Fort Worth, Plano), Wine and Hatch (Dallas Lovers, Fort Worth, Southlake) and Rose Wines for the Summer Heat (Fort Worth, Southlake).
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michelle Kessler