There are three Boa restaurants (one in West Hollywood, one in Santa Monica and one in Vegas). Yes, it is a ‘chain’ establishment, but it has about as much in common with Sizzler as a Secretary of State, say, shares with an octopus. To begin with, the restaurants are all quite beautiful. The one in West Hollywood, where we ate on a recent blustery Friday, was clubby and dark with a see-through floor floating above a feng shui assortment of river rocks, and caramel-colored wood paneling on the walls set on a horizontal meant to temper the voices of the diners. And then there are the diners themselves. They are damn hot. Just about all of them. So beautiful are the people eating at Boa, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a franchise of the place opening in Akron with much success. But here the concept works, well, beautifully. It’s easy to think, as you’re being led through the tightly packed entrance to your table by a host with the most alarming blue Curacao-colored eyes, and around a maze of little tables around which sit an enviable assortment of anorexics and the men who love them, that the food will be anything but good. But good, it certainly is! We were positioned in a corner space in a sort of alcove off the main dining area. My chair in particular was sandwiched between a thick pipe running from floor to ceiling, and the back wall. This preposterous seat had nothing to do with my own beauty, or lackthereof, and this is the story I’m sticking to. All in all, I wouldn’t have minded the table had it not been for a group of hyenas sitting at a six top right behind us, whose ‘voices’ catapulted around the little alcove with enough force to keep us from even attempting conversation. This turned out to be just fine, as our mouths were pretty much full the entire three hours of our dinner with some delicious, unfussy food. The food theme is old fashioned steak house, and the menu includes riffs on Surf and Turf (with an ominous MKT notation where the undoubtedly high dollar amount would appear) and other old-school standbys like Oysters Rockefeller ($14) and The Wedge ($10), an iceberg lettuce wedge under a creamy blue cheese dressing. If the menu makes you nostalgic for the steakhouses of your youth, the prices will zap you squarely back to the present. This place ain’t cheap. Consider, for example, the Dungeness Crab Cake ($15), served with a confit of tomatoes and an herb-flecked aioli. It was full of crab meat, yes, but it was also just one lonely crab cake on a plate. And a pricy crab cake, too. If you started with this and then went on to the Whole Maine Lobster (MKT), as one of my audacious companions did, your dinner could easily reach $75, without wine or dessert. Needless to say, she paid her own tab! Not that it would have made much of a difference if we split the bill evenly, as the appetizers range in price from the soulful and warming Caramelized Onion Soup ($8) to the staid but nicely prepared Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras ($18), and most of the main courses hover well above $30. The Truffle “Nachos” ($13) were an amusing, decadent take on the white trash standby, but were dolefully absent of truffle flavor. The best starter at the table was definitely the Goat Cheese “Beignet” ($12), a fried breaded hunk of cheese accompanied by a smattering of sautéed eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. It was wonderful with the Verdad Santa Ynez Albariño we ordered (a rounder, richer version than what hails from Galicia). The aforementioned Wedge salad proved that iceberg lettuce can hold its own against mesclun any old day. Even better was the BLT ($12), an addictive breadless combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato doused with an avocado-rich dressing. Entrees are divided between Surf and Turf types, with a much better selection in the cud-chewing category. The well-seasoned Petite Filet Mignon ($32) is the MINI Cooper of steaks, so tiny it would not satisfy someone with a bad case of body dysmorphia. A better choice, even for a light eater might be the “40 Day Dry Aged” New York Strip ($39), not Fred Flintstone in proportion but ample enough and delicious. No one had the nerve or the expense account to order the Kobe Steak of the Day (MKT), but the Free Range Veal Chop ($37) was unanimously decreed the best of the beefs. All meats were on the undersized side, and all were ala carte, making none of then particularly wallet-friendly. They may, however, be ordered with an accompanying sauce or rub (béarnaise, chimichurri, peppercorn, herbed butter, etc), but this will tack on a ridiculous and slightly offensive $1 charge. I know restaurants are a business, but come on. Aside from the overcooked not to mention overpriced lobster, we also ordered the Fish of the Day, which was halibut. For some reason it came with a sauce and no additional charge. It was also the only main course to include a side dish, in this case roasted vegetables, which were—like the big hunk of flaky fish—very very tasty and not too delicate to keep up with our red wine choice, a spicy and high-toned Austrian Blaufankisch. Because we did not have an eating disorder, well not one that results in eating abnormally little, we went whole hog for the side dishes (all $8) and were glad we did! The Creamed Spinach was rich, buttery and thick. The Sautéed Seasonal Mushrooms were the regular old brown kind, but still flavorful with garlic notes and deep woodsy-ness. The Mac-N-Cheese suffered from its Lilliputian dimensions but made up for it in rich cheesy wonder. There was almost more cheese than pasta, which seems just about right. By the time dessert came the table of hyenas had departed. No matter, we were silenced anew by the wonder set before us. It was a cubist rendering of the S’More with a thick spice-covered graham cracker leveraged on a brownie-like hunk of (flourless?) chocolate something and flanked with artisan marshmallows redolent of vanilla. It was rich and complex to the extreme, and so good we were tempted to see what other riches the pastry chef could come up with. Alas, we were finally full, not to mention tapped out! Leaving the still-crowded and still beautiful dining room at 11 o’clock it occurred to us that Boa Steakhouse is the ideal place to bring a hot new date. For starters, you’ll impress them with your munificence. Plus, you’ll leave after a full meal still feeling sexy and lithe enough to hit one of the clubs down the street or, better yet, a hotel room. Got foodie tips on the scene down here? Please post your comments! --Elisabeth Schriber Boa Steakhouse 8462 W. Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069 323.650.8383
If you live in Southern California and have children, or a significant other enjoying a second childhood, you will be forced to go to Disneyland. And if your children or your sig other wear the pants in your family, you will be going there again and again, as I have this past fall. When you find yourself the unhappy owner of an annual pass to the Home of the Rat, it will hit you all at once, the horrible truth: multiple, perhaps even weekly meals at Disneyland. Stale churros, lemonade tasting like a public restroom smells, cookies made of vegetable oil costing four dollars apiece, these are some of the gustatory delights offered at Disneyland, the Most Unsavory Place on Earth. And if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, there’s the total absence of alcoholic salve. No hard stuff is poured at Disneyland (though at the time of writing this I have begun lobbying the folks at Disney to break ground on the Land of Imbibers, best located behind Tom Sawyer’s Island, across the river Styx). A number of fenced off smoking enclosures aside, it’s clear Walt Disney was never big on sin. Not very smart of ‘ol Walt, if you consider how much he might have charged for a beer! Given the want of booze, the idea of a meal at the destination restaurant in the park is less than appealing. Why wait 40 minutes on hold for a Disney reservationista, or pay through the nose for a bowl of mediocre jambalaya, which you will have to eat while watching obese people float by on their journey through Pirates of the Caribbean, when you can’t even glug a glass of the good stuff to wash it all down? And so, even the food snob that I am, I do not recommend eating at the ‘stared’ venue in Disneyland. I do recommend eating at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, hosted by Ortega. Yes, we too were put off by Ortega reference. Pay it no mind. Ditto the extremely Anglo boys and girls cooking the food. Aside from the sweetened and forgettable jarred Ortega sauces adorning the tables at Rancho Zocalo, it’s easy to forget the restaurant’s host. The service is cafeteria style, but the food is freshly prepared, only a partial rip-off and, best of all, it has taste. While more ambitious items adorn the wall-mounted menu at Zocalo (barbequed meat, chicken and ribs served with sides), our lunch crew of four chose to go the ‘lighter’ route. Feeling piggish I splurged on two dishes, the Taco Salad ($9.99) and the Camarones al mojo de ajo ($9.99). These were assembled at two separate food stations by two different cast members, and while they would not win any awards outside of the theme park category, they were surprisingly tasty. The salad, served in a big fried tortilla bowl, included refried beans, white and yellow cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, very fresh tomato and onion salsa and a small though tasty dollop of guacamole. It also came with my choice of animal, though I opted for neither. The Camarones, which had been marinating in a creamy garlic melange, were cooked right there in front of my eyes on a giant grill and served atop a bed of tasty red-hued rice (food coloring, I suspect. Not saffron), along with a sprightly three bean salad sitting on a leaf of romaine and a partially crumbled though absolutely delicious tamale (without the corn husk). It was very nice! If only it had come with a margarita!! I tasted the Fish Tacos ($7.49), of the fried, soft corn tortilla variety, two to a plate, and yummy as fried fish tacos generally are. The fish was mild, the coating crunchy and the cabbage and salsa fresh. The best thing about them was the sauce… sour cream given a lift with chipotle. Yes, this was not my mother’s Ortega taco! Another fine value is the Enchilada and Taco Special ($8.99), which includes two tightly coiled cheese enchiladas coated in sweet tomato sauce along with a taco of your choosing. In this case, the taco was chicken, again barbequed and nicely seasoned. The enchiladas were Gringo-friendly, tasting mostly of ketchup. But they were good in a nostalgic sense, and filling, too. It is not worth going over the beverage options; the most adult selection was iced tea. And the smattering of chips that accompanied the fish tacos were not among the finest I have sampled in my nearly 35 years. And yet, unless you planned ahead and smuggled some sandwiches through security, this is a top choice for food at Disneyland. I for one, will be going to Rancho Zocalo all the time. Grr. Got foodie tips on the scene down here? Please post your comments! —Elisabeth Schriber Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, hosted by Ortega Frontierland Disneyland Anaheim, Ca
Parking at Chat Noir is exceedingly easy. There is valet, for starters, which costs only $5. For this paltry sum, your car will bask in the company of such vehicular luminaries as a pride of Porches, one yellow Lamborghini, a bevy of 500-series BMWs and Lexuses of all shapes and sizes. If you are cheap or poor… well, you should not eat at Chat Noir. But if you must, you can save $5 and the humiliation of owning the only late model Subaru in the valet lot by continuing on Anton Blvd past a business park or two toward the multi—level garage. Here you will discover many floors of free parking. It is this copious free parking, along with a surprisingly interesting wine list, which may be the most compelling reason to dine at Chat Noir. It’s not that the place is terrible, or anything. It’s simply that it’s not very good. Case in point: When you sit down, the hostess asks you to select either a white or a black napkin. Given the many choices one most address in today’s fine dining establishments (Sparking water, still or tap? Salad before the main course or after? Ahi seared raw or mostly raw?), can’t we leave it up to the hostess to pick a napkin color? After our party of four survived the gauntlet of napkin options, we were presented with an amuse bouche of lobster bisque served in a shot glass. I am always suspect of amuse bouches and other things that come to me without my asking for them first. If an amuse bouche is good, I can forgive a restaurant their bravado. And they should always be good, since this is the first thing issued from the kitchen and can be considered an indication of the meal to follow. Well, we were in for a bumpy ride. A lobster might have given its life in order to make this bisque, but you could have fooled me. It tasted so strongly of smoked paprika and bacon… they might have called it bacon bisque. But, of course, I can see why they didn’t do that. What I can’t understand is why the butter that accompanies the nicely crusty bread comes with a paper film covering it. There is a paw print on the paper… a jaunty allusion to a black cat, but putting wax paper on the butter was a little too reminiscent of Howard Johnson’s to be jaunty. No, it was just plain cheesy. Cheesy, too, was the over-dressed Ceasar salad ($9), an ample serving of bite-size romaine covered with cheese. No anchovies were in evidence (the chef obviously has an aversion to fish, I’m thinking), and the croutons were soggy and tasteless (though they had been hyped on the menu as containing both garlic and thyme. Psha! The Salade Grillee ($9) issued to one of my tablemates was the very same salad as my Ceasar, only the leaves of romaine were served mostly whole after having been cooked, for some unfathomable reason, on a grill. At least they did not charge anything extra for the grilling (or the additional “e”). The Endive, Watercress and Arugula Salad ($9) was the best of the bunch, containing the aforementioned lettuces as well as a nice smattering of thinly sliced apples, sort of candied walnuts and bleu cheese. No one ordered the Basil Fed Escargots ($12), which is shame because I would have liked to pontificate more on the pretensions of listing the animals’ diet before it becomes part of yours. Although grass-fed beef is a menu staple, so I take that back. I would also have taken back the half-dozen oysters ($12), if I had been the one who ordered them. They were not cold, not fresh and not even honored with a varietal name. And so… on to the main event. I had the Sea Bass, served with a couple of baby Yukon golds, some slimy spinach and a bunch of beurre blanc sauce and topped with shavings of fried onions not dissimilar to the stuff that comes from a can. This time, the fish was fresh, and nicely cooked, with a crispy skin and a moist interior, but the sauce was so utterly cloying, it all but obscured the fine fish. I cannot recall the price, but it was too much. The 3-way Duck ($29) sounds naughty, though it was not nearly as risqué on the plate, consisting of one badly confitted duck leg, an unappetizing slab of duck foie gras sautéed to a deep and over-cooked brown and served with a too-sweet raspberry sauce, and a duck breast, seared, thinly sliced and fanned out prettily. The Steak Frites ($34), in this case a Kobe Flatiron, was topped with a thick peppercorn sauce, totally unnecessary for a nice piece of beef, and this one was. The fries were good, thin and crispy and coated with flakes of green herbs. One constant theme of the place is a ton of sauce. It is no secret to chefs in France that poor ingredients can be dressed up in a rich sauce to good effect… or to bad effect, depending on whether you’re the restaurant owner or its customer. At Chat Noir everything was drowned and overdone. The side dish of spinach served, apparently, in its own cooking water, was wet and slippery to the point of making it almost impossible to harness with a fork. Even the chocolate soufflé suffered from too much sauce, in this case a chocolate one that tasted like Herseys. The soufflé itself was not at all terrible. It was fashioned with Scharffen Berger chocolate, which made me homesick for the Bay Area. In fact, the entire dining experience made me homesick for the Bay Area. Walking the very short distance back to my car on the warm, windless night, I recalled the many hours I had spent over my years in SF circling around the Mission trying to park within hiking distance of Delfina. And I was sad. About that wine list? It includes some gems, and the prices are fair. This is saying a lot, considering. We had a few glasses of the Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc ($8) and a bottle of the 2001 Château Pallieres Gigondas ($45). It is rare to see a wine list in Orange County with a decent selection of the French stuff. Francophiles will find something tasty at Chat Noir to drink, even if the food leaves you listless. Got any tips on the foodie scene down here? Post your comments! —Elisabeth Schriber Chat Noir 655 Anton Boulevard Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714) 557-6647
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