The plan was to get a reservation at Alinea. With all of the attention focused on Next, we assumed that a table at Grant Achatz’s other restaurant would be easy to obtain. Unfortunately, those lousy Chicago summer tourists managed to snatch up every available reservation for the week we’d be there. Fortunately, Claudia, an old MIT friend and recently-arrived Chicago resident, managed to find the next best thing: a table at Boka.
We made He Who Will Not Be Ignored wear decent clothes and drove to the Old Town neighborhood, where we discovered that our destination was two doors down from Alinea. I didn’t get to eat there, but I touched the building. We were led inside, where we seated at the four-top near the bar. We chose to forgo the tasting menu, instead ordering a variety of dishes we (mostly) shared.
Fresh oyster, grilled watermelon gelÃ©e, pickled rind, champagne vinaigrette
One oyster, which I didn’t share, was a refreshing change from the citrus/spicy garnish usually paired with oysters.
Grilled baby octopus, mussels, kumquat & fennel salad, yogurt-horseradish sauce, BBQ eel
He Who Will Not Be Ignored ordered this, which surprised the waiter as much as it did me, but he ate the whole thing before I had a chance to sample it. I’ll have to go with He Who’s “awesome” judgement.
Grilled sweetbreads, butter poached escargot, black garlic, favas, maitake chips, sweet corn sauce
The escargot and crispy mushrooms were a first for me, but they provided complimentary textures to the soft sweetbreads. And I’m definitely thinking about how to replicate the corn sauce.
Seared foie gras, toasted strawberry quick bread, orange blossom yogurt, rhubarb, pine nut tuille
This was the second foie gras dish She Who Must Be Obeyed ordered for the week, and the second that incorporated strawberries.
Red Inca quinoa, raspberry, feta, toasted macadamia nuts, basil, vanilla-balsamic reduction
I was certain that this dish was one of those “appease the vegetarian” entrees. I figured that everything on the plate was meant to be a distraction from a not very exciting cooked grain, but, when eaten together, the salad proved to be very refreshing.
Grilled muscovy duck breast, confit thigh, summer squash succotash, lima beans, corn bread sauce
He Who ordered this, and Claudia followed suit (“I think he’s on to something”).The breast was perfectly cooked, and He Who actually ate the vegetables – even the lima beans.
Braised beef short rib ravioli, organic carrot puree, english peas, porcinis, pickled wild lilies, summer truffle jus
She Who and I ordered this. They had us at “beef short rib ravioli,” but what put it over the top was the supplement of – say it with me – fresh black Australian winter truffles.
Chocolate ganache, apricot-espresso sorbet, pistachios, apricots, chocolate crumbs, apricot sauce
The adults shared this, more of an accompaniment to after-dinner drinks than a dessert course.
I didn’t know what to expect from Boka, having never heard about it before stepping through its doors. I learned that the chef, Guiseppe Tentori, had been chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s before opening his own place. I could see and taste the discipline and attention to detail on each plate, but enjoyed the informal setting. I still plan on eating at Alinea during my next Chicago visit, but I think Boka will also be on that trip’s short list of dining destinations.