Boca, first in Northside, now in Oakley and soon in the old Maisonette space downtown, has been a staple of local “best-of” lists for years. This past year, it was #9; in 2011, #2. The cuisine is mostly Italian, with some definite French influence. The atmosphere is hip, but not stuffy– I think the days of “jacket required” are over, even in fine dining.
I hadn’t been to Boca in ages, so it was certainly time for a revisit– something I did with several other friends during a monthly dinner. Our experience was slightly different than you may have as a party of two or four, as we took over a back room on a weekday night and had our appetizers served communally.
Speaking of service– it was fantastic. Our server was efficient, affable, and even funny (without being overbearing or irritating). Courses were paced perfectly, we were asked often about beverage refills, and the meal moved from communality to individual courses seamlessly.
Our smorgasbord of appetizers were, without exception, fantastic. I loved the Boca sliders, which were true to slider form, but made with great ingredients: soft brioche bun, cheese, pickle, beef patty. Simple, but oh-so-good. The antipasti platter, with an assortment of meats and peperonata and bruschetta, was also great. I’m always game for a well-composed charcuterie or cheese plate, and this one had all of the elements. Boca prides itself on simple preparations that highlight the quality ingredients, and this all reflected that philosophy.
For dinner, I decided to try two dishes that are always lauded by those who’ve had them: grilled Caesar salad and the seared diver scallops. I also was lucky enough to sit next to a friend who’s an instructor at MCI, who was willing to trade bites with me. The grilled Caesar is a favorite of mine– I had it first at a restaurant in Denver, and there’s just something about the combination of sweet, charred romaine and the traditional Caesar fixings. This was a good version, rich with anchovy and parmesan, and a very large portion– easily split between two people.
My entree, the scallops, were interesting. The scallops themselves were perfectly cooked, on a bed of their very famous brussels sprouts (which was one of the reasons I wanted to try this dish). I happen to adore Brussels sprouts. They’ve become my favorite vegetable, and when done right, are sublime.
People rave about Boca’s Brussels sprouts. People wonder how to cook them. People say, “Oh, they don’t even taste like brussels sprouts!” They also don’t really resemble brussels sprouts. While I can appreciate just about anything cooked in butter, these were mushy and overly seasoned– all I could taste was butter, truffle oil, and balsamic vinegar. I gave my chef friend a bite, and he agreed: far too much acid, too much truffle. A lighter hand would have made these brussels sprouts incredible, but instead they were disappointing.
I had a bite of said friend’s wild mushroom risotto– again, the only flavor I could make out was truffle oil. No parmesan, no mushrooms, nothing else. Overwhelming, to say the least. I am not someone who is anti-truffle oil, though I know it isn’t really truffle-infused. I like it in small quantities– think truffle fries. I love balsamic vinegar as well, but a light hand makes these ingredients (as well as the ones that are being flavored) shine.
We all ordered dessert– a maple flan, in my case. The texture was fantastic– rich , but it, too suffered from too much– in this case, maple. It was just like tasting maple syrup right out of the bottle– good as an accent, but overwhelming as the whole dish.
The wine list is expansive, and the server was knowledgable about wine pairings. Their cocktail list, which included a lot of good bourbon-based drinks, was excellent as well. It is pricey– my bill was right around $100 with included gratuity (our party was more than 5). I’ll be back, for sure, to grab some more of their fantastic charcuterie, the branzino (which a friend ordered and loved) and cocktails, but I’m skipping the Brussels sprouts.