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Really tasting Boka

Posted Jul 04 2012 11:48pm
The last time I was at Boka this year was during Chef Week . We only got a small helping of what this restaurant had to offer, though, so we decided to dine here again. This time, my mom and Spencer joined in. We were celebrating Independence Day the day before since nobody had work the next day. It was way too hot to grill and barbecue outside and Spencer's parents were no longer in state (they're in Santa Ynez, California now!). So we celebrated this glorious American holiday the Lee family way--eating out.

There was no real occasion other than the fact that it was, in fact, the fourth of July the next day, but we got dressed up and ready to eat some good food nonetheless. Let me just say that the cocktails are awesome. I got the Clean Break (gin, Pimm's, grapefruit, and bitters), which was the perfect refreshing summer cocktail. It wasn't overly tart and it had just enough of a cooling effect from the gin. According to Spencer, however, the Pimm's made it taste like a salad. I disagree, but this is just one of those tiny things that he and I will never, ever agree on. Spencer, naturally, ordered the Old Money (bourbon, aperol, walnut liqueur, and all spice). I literally felt a mustache grow on me as I drank this cocktail. It was all man.

For starters we ordered the yellowfin tuna (top left). It was served with compressed watermelon (and I wasn't sure what this was--was it just sliced watermelon with no seeds?), edamame wasabi puree, and some soy milk meringue, among other adornments. It was a cool, fresh starter, and definite palate cleanser. We also got the braised pork belly that was served with some barbecued eel, hearts of palm, and some crispy pig ear. The pig ear, though tasty, was a bit too overdone and some parts could knock out a molar. The pork belly, however, was divine (top right). It tasted just like the Chinese adobo that Keith's godfather made when we visited Manila this past Christmas. It was so, so delicious. The pork was tender and the sauce had a savory umami flavor. We also received a soft shell crab appetizer, compliments of the chef (left). It was sitting on a bed of grits, which was Chef Carl Shelton's family recipe. The mushrooms were an earthy and homey complement to the seaside flavors of the dish.

Now for the main courses. In all honesty, though delicious overall, they were a little hit and miss. Okay, quite a lot of hit and miss. My dad ordered the confit rabbit leg, which was a touch dry and lost the gamey flavor of the rabbit. The escargot and porcini, however, were cooked wonderfully. The escargot had a sage-like flavor and was buttery smooth. My mom ordered the sweetbread crusted halibut. The sweetbreads were soft and sat atop a perfectly seared fish. It was entertaining, I'll admit, to have my mother find out mid-meal what  sweetbreads  really were.

Spencer ordered the beef tenderloin that came with a sassafras short rib. According to Spencer, the short ribs were a bit dry. The wonderful surprise in this dish was the stuffed squash blossom. It was fried to a crisp--in a good way--and was stuffed with tomatoes and cheese. The seared medium-rare beef paired with his Old Money cocktail was basically the most manly combination you could think of. My order left me feeling ambivalent. I ordered the skate wing with crayfish, andouille sausage, and popcorn sauce. The popcorn sauce--amazing. It's such a unique kind of sauce and it's something a little bit indescribable. You just have to try it. My skate wing had the right texture, but it was a bit dry and a tad flavorless. The crayfish wasn't seasoned or swimming in any sauce, which was good and bad, I suppose. The shellfish itself had a nice flavor but it would have been nice to have it complement the dish a bit more. I'd have to say that the shining stars of my dish were the sauces, and not the actual contents.

The dessert course, however, was something spectacular. The chocolate cremeaux, yet again, makes its appearance. And yet again, it is minuscule. There is something amazing about the obvious mixture of sweet and salty, with the chocolate, caramel, pretzel, and potato chips. The beer caramel is awesome. But this wasn't my favorite dessert. Instead, it was my dad's mint julep ice cream with crushed Graham Crackers. It was basically eating a spoonful of a cocktail. It was a grown-up, elegant dessert that was the perfect ending to a hot, hot day. There were favorites from tonight's dinner, but there were definitely some dishes that left much to be desired. Needless to say, this experience has left me wanting more of Boka and I will be back again.

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