On a recent visit to Cincinnati, one of my friends and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Boca, which we had heard was one of the best restaurants in the city. The restuarant has valet parking out front, but being the can-do sort of people we are (not to mention a little cheap), we parked a few blocks away in the surrounding neighborhood and walked. Because we had reservations, we were seated almost immediately, despite the fact that it was a busy night. The restaurant itself is very nice, classy and warm, but I won’t lie – there is a little bit of a “snoot factor” going on with some of the clientele. It seemed like a lot of the other folks there were trying a bit too hard to look and act rich, which can be a turn-off. And it’s not a young place. Most of the diners were over 50 with the face lift scars to prove it.
Thankfully, the snoot factor fell to zero when our server showed up. He was very down-to-earth, not to mention extremely knowledgeable about the food. After he explained to us what dishes were on the 7-course tasting menu that evening, my friend and I decided to splurge and go with that, although we did mention that we were a little disappointed that Boca’s signature grilled Caesar salad was missing from the tasting menu that night. Our server gave us a wink and said he’d see what he could do. A few minutes later he showed up with two small plates of the grilled Caesar salads, making our 7-course meal into an 8-course one.
So, the 8 course in order, then!
Bonus course: Grilled Caesar salad consisting of whole romaine lettuce fire-grilled with a balsamic garlic/anchovy emulsion and parmigiano reggiano cheese served with a side of grilled bread and olive oil. Boy, am I glad we mentioned to our server that wanted to try this because it was delicious! The entire, rectangular salad was actually grilled over an open flame, giving the outside layer of lettuce a slight char. The balsamic garlic/anchovy emulsion was light, but gave the salad that salty/anchovy-y bite that every good Caesar salad needs. The bread served alongside the salad was fine, but the olive oil was really outstanding, fresh and flavorful with a bit of a fruity aftertaste. We asked the waiter what brand it was and he told us Divina. We told him we loved it, and he laughed and said that everyone loved it.
1st course: Yellowtail crudo with diced avocado and cucumber brunoise, topped with micro wasabi sprouts. I’m usually not much of a raw fish fan, but this crudo was quite nice. The texture, one of the things that can put me off on raw fish, was good, the fish fresh and firm.
2nd course: Pan-seared scallops on a bed of caramelized Brussels sprouts and greens drizzled with brown butter truffle vinaigrette and topped with parmigiano reggiano. I love scallops, but in this dish, those little mollusks played second fiddle to the Brussels sprouts. The Brussels sprouts, one of Boca’s signature dishes, were simply amazing. They were sweet but not too sweet and melted in your mouth like butter. What’s a scallop?
3rd course: Quail, rabbit, and pistachio mortadella-filled tortellini with mushroom and boar ragout. Having grown up in rural Indiana, I am quite used to eating fresh, wild game (including rabbits and quail), so I was really looking forward to discovering how a gourmet restaurant would dress up those rather rustic ingredients. I was disappointed with this dish. The flavor was okay, but I found the dish a little bland overall. I actually had to add salt, which is unusual for me. This was easily my least favorite of the courses.
4th course: Seared wild striped bass served with sautéed spinach and leeks, pommes anna with piccata sauce, and caper fruit. I tend to be an easy mark for anything served with a piccata sauce. Having said that, this wasn’t my favorite dish on the menu. Maybe I’m just not a fish guy? Anyway, I believe this was the first time I’ve eaten caper fruit rather than pickled caper buds. I kind of missed the salty little buds, to be honest.
5th course: Crisped pork belly on bianco risotto with bordelaise sauce. I think I’m starting to love pork belly. It’s just so flavorful! And nice and crispy is my favorite way to eat it. This pork belly was cooked well and the risotto was delicious, not too firm but not too mushy.
6th course: Wood-grilled lamb shank on greens and lamb cassoulet. The lamb was good, but I’m just not a huge lamb fan. Oh, and for those not in the know, “cassoulet” is just a fancy word for cooked beans. Not too exciting.
7th course: Ah, dessert! I was quite pleased that a dessert trio of mascarpone cheesecake, flourless chocolate torte, and soup-spoon crème brûlée was on the menu that night. The more sweet stuff to try, the better. The stand-out dessert for me was the mascarpone cheesecake, which was rich but not heavy. The flourless chocolate torte was good, too, but I’ve had cakes like it at many other restaurants. As for the crème brûlée, it was fairly typical as well, but the presentation (it was served in a large soup spoon) was interesting.
At the end of the meal, our server brought us a little container of olive oil to go because we had been such fans of the Divina brand. He explained that you could buy Divina at Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati, but that we might not be able to find it in Indy, so it was his gift to us.
Overall, I really enjoyed my evening at Boca. The food was delicious, the waiter was great, and the ambiance was nice. It’s not the kind of place that I’ll be rushing back to, simply because the price is a bit steep, but if you want to celebrate a special night or if you’re just passing through Cincinnati and are looking for a really good meal, you can’t go wrong at Boca.