Central Miscasting

Idaho rainbow trout is also superb, grilled over mesquite and topped with brown butter and almonds. I'd like to invite the chef along on my next fishing trip. I'd also tell him to bring along his sides of wasabi-spiked mashed potatoes, rosemary red potatoes, rice pilaf and buttered veggies.

He handles a couple of other fish species competently, if not spectacularly. Nobody ever ate mild, firm-fleshed orange roughy until the 1980s, when a marketer got the brilliant idea to change the name of this bony South Pacific creature from "slimehead." What's in a name? Plenty. A rose may be a rose, but no one wanted to eat slimehead. Diners took to the new name so enthusiastically that New Zealand had to put limits on the catch. Naturally, prices shot up. Central Bistro's $14.95 tag is quite reasonable, especially when you factor in the light, panko-style breading and deft pan-frying. Moist mahi mahi, meanwhile, is also done right, touched up with an undemanding, sweet orange-ginger glaze.

Unfortunately, the chef doesn't handle yellowfin tuna with the same skill as the orange roughy and mahimahi. It came overcooked and dried out, and the overpowering lime cilantro wasabi also didn't do it any favors.

The biggest disappointment? It's no contest -- the one-and-three-quarter pound lobster thermidor, another "house specialty." I suppose my alarm bells should have gone off when our server told us it was one evening's special, the regular price of $37.95 reduced a whopping 15 bucks to $22.95. Instead, I learned a hard lesson: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This was one tough crustacean, the meat neither sweet nor succulent. Even a great béchamel sauce couldn't have helped, and, believe me, this one was nowhere near great, or even good. If Central Bistro is going to keep this high-priced dish on the menu, it had better ratchet up the quality several notches.

Pedro's Favorite Pasta also misses the mark. There's a thin line between creative and weird, and this odd mix of shrimp, mango, green pepper and macadamia nuts jumped right over it.

Landlubber dishes include the usual suspects: chicken, pork chop, steak and prime rib. If the ineffectual prime rib is any indication, red meat here seems to be merely an afterthought.

Desserts, however, aren't. They're luscious. I was told they're supplied by a woman who makes them special for Central Bistro. This talented gal should consider getting out of the contracting business and opening up her own retail shop.

Every dessert started a frenzy of dueling forks and spoons at my table. Tres leches featured three moist, creamy cake layers, each with its own distinct taste and texture, separated by an apricot filling. Just thinking about the crisp, chocolate-coated florentine cookie, topped with ice cream, strawberries and cream, made the hour I had to spend on the exercise cycle sweating off its calories bearable.

Flan is achingly, artery-cloggingly rich, and that's just the way I like it. Fat-gram counters shouldn't get anywhere near the Oreo cheesecake. Heavy, intense, creamy and cheesy, it sends you home on a high. And so does the sublime almond chocolate mousse cake, a confection that relies on rich flavors, not a bucket of sugar, to make its point.

At this point, Central Bistro seems to occupy a dead-end restaurant niche. On the one hand, most of the fare isn't interesting enough or special enough to attract the free-spending, good-time bistro crowd. On the other hand, I can't see casual diners flocking here for the $15 orange roughy or $20 seafood paella. The moribund setting, meanwhile, is a universal turnoff. Management needs to do serious rethinking, redesigning and retooling. Back to the drawing boards.

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