Solid appetizers and late-night menu, just too conservative for the Theatre District
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 4, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars

RARE TREAT: Chef Reginald Collier’s tuna tartare sits on a layer of avocado, cilantro, and citrus, and is the best in Boston.

Noche | 3 Appleton Street, South End | 617.482.0117 | Open nightly, 5 pm–Midnight | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking: $17 | No wheelchair access, 10 steps below sidewalk level
Despite a year of planning, Noche still needs to find its niche. As it is, it seems to be rattling around in the big-shoes-to-fill of its predecessor in the space, Icarus, one of the first fine South End bistros. Its two good ideas are interesting appetizers to have with drinks, and late hours (bar menu nightly until 1 am).

Much else at Noche is good but generic. The entrées are intended to feature "modern techniques with ethnic twists." However, they are basically conservative plates of what everyone in America orders when they eat out: steak, chicken, and seafood. Considering decent price points, this could be a training-wheels restaurant for young diners out, but not this close to the Theater District. Our theatergoers are an older and more sophisticated crowd, and we've corrupted them utterly with Teatro, Bina Osteria, Blu, Troquet, Pigalle, Via Matta, Erbaluce, Avila, Rustic Kitchen, Market, and Masa (right around the corner). Noche just can't play in that league, and yet neither is it ready to take on the top-level chains of Park Square: Legal Seafoods, McCormick & Schmick's, and maybe Fleming's Steakhouse. And then there's Chinatown. Don't talk to me about Chinatown.

To fight that kind of power, the owners of Noche brought in a chef from South Beach: Reginald Collier, coming from a stretch heading Miami's Dorako Sushi. I bet they hired him on one dish, the best tuna tartare ($15) in Boston. It's an obvious cylinder, topped with pink bluefin burger, but sitting on a brilliant green layer of avocado, cilantro, and citrus.

I think Collier lucked into his other knockout appetizer. To fatten up checks, Noche has that steakhouse trick of offering vegetables and starches on the side (all $7). One is the classic creamed spinach with some nutmeg, a nice nod to the old timers. Probably for a staff meal or a snack, someone stuffed some of that and some cheese into a roasted tomato. However it got there, it's on the appetizer menu now ($6), and it is so good!

The fennel salad ($9) is excellent: very thin-shaved fennel bulb mixing sweet and sharp with arugula and just teasing little bits of goat cheese. And I enjoyed the churrasco skewers ($9), five mini-satay flattened on wood skewers, with an Argentine-style green sauce.

The bread is dense and slightly sourdough, in cubes like focaccia. It takes well to the whipped sweet butter, and decently to mopping up bits of tuna tartare.

We had a long pause for entrées — odd for a restaurant three-quarters empty. New Zealand lamb chops ($24) were two thick but small porterhouse chops, medium rare as ordered, standing up on a few Lyonnaise potatoes (another nod to the old steakhouses) with an underdone apple-chutney-sort-of on top.

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Related: Reviewer's notebook: Tavolo and Sanette’s Karoo Kafe, Review: Cook & Brown Public House, Restaurante Montecristo, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , bistro, CULTURE, New American cuisine,  More more >
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