Short Orders: Central 214

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Central 214
5680 N. Central Expy

My waitress claims that in all those months of filming for "The Naughty Kitchen," Oxygen's culinary reality show featuring chef Blythe Beck, there was only one moment of real drama. Seems a female guest recoiled from the cameras because she was on a date--though not with her spouse.

Too bad Joey Greco's Cheaters crew wasn't around.

Beck earned a reputation when she stepped up from sous to executive chef at Hector's on Henderson. Starting from scratch in a new kitchen while at the same time starring in a television show appears to have distracted the naughty one, however. Early reviews were mediocre and a revisit to Central 214 suggests that if you're looking for some excitement, well, it might be a long, plodding series.

The chef's cooking banks on fats, proteins and fried things--the pegs of old school comfort. Her naughty, anti-new age mantra reads "butter, oil, heavy cream." As a result, sauces turn out rich and memorable. But many other elements drown in the process.

When I reviewed the place in early June, camera crews were only just swarming. Beck's deviled eggs arrived at my table dry and rather dull. This time around, as production on the show wraps up, the filling stood invitingly--moist and fluffy. Yet bits of shrimp folded into the yolk mixture still beg for a foil, a spicy zing, something to enliven an all too timid combination.

It's hard to imaging a chef of Beck's caliber losing her touch. Instead, it appears as if she's found translating her vision difficult when wait staff are prepped and wired for sound every day and kitchen staff work under the scrutiny of many lenses. Promising dishes such as the spicy fried lobster and chicken fried (a common menu thread) Kobe steak wallow in that sad territory between overreaching and under achievement.

Although that bacon-scented gravy on the CFS...damn, she's good with sauce.

There are other moments when this vision--hearty flavors, heavy ingredients--comes together, as well. The kitchen's fried (see?) oysters are crisp, the comforting taste of dough crackled by oil only barely conceals the tinny, mineral taste of shellfish. This character is picked up and thrown into the spotlight by dots of spicy-earthy sauce. Messy, old-school eat-with-your-hands ribs don't pack much meat. What's there, however, is tart and dense, flavors brandished by an acrid and bittersweet coating...that ends up all over your fingers.

Deft presentations, both.

Filming of The Naughty Kitchen ends on Thursday. Maybe then Beck can focus on fixing the little problems that end up making meals at Central 214 so less-than-whelming.

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