Central 37

Good food if you can find it
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 17, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars
DOUGH BUSINESS: Central 37’s veal/leek dumplings are outstanding.

Central 37 | 617.263.0037 | 21 Broad St, Boston | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Open Mon-Wed, 11 am-10 pm; Thurs and Fri, 11 am-11 pm; and Sat, 5-11 pm | Full bar | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access to lounge tables
I’m not a chef chaser, but I will follow a chef with a recognizable style. In the case of Rene Michelena, whose signatures include underdone juicy morsels and a subtle fusion he calls MediterAsian, it’s been quite a zigzag, from Centro (I missed his debut at La Bettola) to St. Botolph to the Vault; on to Caffe Umbra, where he consulted; over to Saint; upstairs to Domani; and now downtown to Central 37.

And it is no small trick just to find Central 37, since it isn’t at 37, isn’t on Central, and is so far back from the sidewalk of its official address (21 Broad Street) that it’s better to think of it as being behind the huge 75 State Street building. (To further complicate things, when you get to the door, the sign says “Market,” which is the first-floor lounge.) Central 37 was apparently the name of an ancient inn or tavern on the site, which was most recently the Black Rhino.

Worse, I’m clearly not the only one who’s having trouble finding the place. Early on a weeknight, we had the dining room to ourselves, and it was probably the same everywhere else in the four-level venue, which includes a private dining room and rooftop bar. They had some bad nights this past spring when a Boston Globe critic was in the house, and her one-star review, combined with prices on the higher end, has likely kept crowds away. (Price points have since come down a notch.) All that said, the kitchen was having a good night when we got there. The food wasn’t great Michelena, but it was him, and fun, and there are some real advantages to being the only diners in the room: no noise problem, superior service, and our choice of TV stations (women’s tennis).

We began with a plate of eight kinds of roasted olives with lemon and spices ($7). One of the spices might well be cinnamon, so these are odd but appetizing olives. This was a big plate with plenty of flavored oil, ideal for soaking up with crusty bread. Pork lumpia ($8) are Filipino spring rolls, presented sliced and standing on end like sushi. They’re not as outstanding as the veal/leek dumplings ($10), which, despite the meatier flavor, spurt a little broth, and are truer to the spirit of Peking ravioli than most of the Asian dumplings in town. Penang chicken fritters ($9) come with a spiced-up kind of duck sauce and a very lively hot-pepper version of a Japanese pickled salad. There’s also a fine platter of grilled asparagus ($10), though it had little evidence of the promised smoked paprika aioli and soy glaze. I don’t doubt those ingredients were in there. Michelena’s approach has always been to enhance rather than overpower with seasoning, and sometimes his hand is so light that the food is deceptively plain — in a positive way.

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