I’ve made no secret of the fact that Boka is one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago or the fact that, at $44 for four courses at a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s one of the best deals in all of Restaurant Week. Boka is, in fact, the restaurant by which I judge restaurants during Restaurant Week – whether or not I would have rather been at Boka instead. Therefore, I’ve decided to visit Boka three times this year during Restaurant Week in order to sample as much of the menu as possible. For this, my first visit of the year, I’ve chosen a seafood-focused meal progression.
This year during Restaurant Week, Boka has skipped the amuse bouche, which means the meal begins with their house-made butter topped with lemon zest and a warm caraway pretzel roll. The small roll is roughly the size of a plum, with a more subtle pretzel taste than the pretzel roll at NoMi.
For the cold first course, I chose Boka’s marinated hamachi with grated fresh horseradish and grapefruit dashi. I like the tartness of the grapefruit, and the kohlrabi adds a nice crunch. It’s a very light dish and a refreshing way to start the meal.
I went with the scallop for the hot second course.The scallop has a beautiful sear and nicely cooked, although I would have liked the scallop’s natural sweetness to shine through a bit more. The sherry comes in the form of a delicious emulsion, and there’s a bit of shaved green apple for tartness. The morcilla – Spanish blood sausage – gives the dish depth with overpowering the scallop.
As a special treat, the kitchen sent out the cavatelli for me, which isn’t on their regular Restaurant Week menu. The sauce is rich and flavorful, the pasta is tender, and shaved truffle tops the cavatelli. Buttery and a little salty, it’s a very decadent yet simple dish.
For my entrée, I selected the off-menu special, a monkfish dish. It’s served with a celery root puree that is light but thick, like a more substantial foam, with the sharper taste of celeriac. There’s a light crunch from the nutty almonds. The fish is juicy and crispy around the edges, but it has a mild flavor, so the olives and pickled golden raisins are a welcome addition. It’s not my favorite of the entrées I’ve had at Boka, but it’s still a pleasant and well-executed dish.
I ended my meal with a fruit-centric dessert, the lightest option. It’s composed of blood orange, mandarin, angel food cake, coconut whip, and mango sorbet. The sorbet is excellent – smooth and slightly tart, with complexity from the bergamot and a pure mango flavor. The coconut comes through in the coconut foam, and crunchy bits of dehydrated mandarin give textural contrast. There’s kind of slightly bitter citrus curd underneath. It’s a lovely way to end the meal, and I would buy that sorbet by the pint if I could.
Boka always sends a little sweet treat or two at the end of the meal, which puts me in a contented mood as I reach for the check. Tonight, the mignardises are candied grapefruit zest and a chocolate truffle. The slight bitterness from zest keeps it from being too sweet, the truffle has a crisp chocolate shell and a smooth dark chocolate center.
The service is very friendly and knowledgable, as always. The food is beautifully plated, carefully composed, and precisely executed, just as I’ve come to expect from Boka. While not my favorite meal that I’ve had at Boka, dinner tonight is still a shining example of why Restaurant Week is one of my favorite times of the year.
Boka – 1729 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL
Theatres Nearby: The Steppenwolf Theatre is just across the street from Boka; the Royal George Theatre is less than a block south of Boka. The Greenhouse Theater Center is just under a mile north of Boka, just a few blocks east of Halsted Street and the 8 bus route. The Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre is about a mile north of Boka, also just off Halsted Street and the 8 bus route. Boka is also roughly fifteen minutes away from the Loop theatres (the Goodman, the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and the Bank of America Theatre) via the Red Line or a cab.