La Boca

Up a flight of thirty or so stairs on Emek Refaim is La Boca, a Latin-inpired restaurant in Jerusalem. With its comfortable, high-backed leather chairs and deep brown tables, the restaurant held the promise of a good meal. And it delivered, mostly.

The music playing was Spanish guitar, which for a Latin restaurant is apropos for the ambiance. I could have done without the toy sombrero hanging on the wall, but the authentic gaucho mates more than made up for it.

A small menu in a restaurant tells me that the chef is not trying to be all things to everyone. It focuses the chef’s attention on a handful of quality ingredients that he or she can buy with expertise. The menu was not limited at all, featuring all of the expected proteins used in authentic dishes in both appetizers and as entrées.

Our waitress brought menus quickly, and we deliberated our choices. We each decided on appetizers — two soup specials and two plates — and three of us ordered drinks. I assume the waitress knew that I was driving, because she didn’t bother to ask me if I wanted something to drink. Go figure.

The small loaf of bread was served with three dips: tomato salsa, roasted eggplant, and a chickpea/tumeric dip that wasn’t very Latin, but it was very good. I know a few tricks about keeping bread fresh for service, but I would have bet real money that the bread they served was fresh-baked from their ovens, which is pretty impressive for a 60-seat restaurant.

The restaurant had a special on a red wine, which one diner enjoyed. The second had a mango margarita which she enjoyed immensely. The third drink served was supposed to be a piña colada. When it came to the table, it was brown. We were hesitant to try it. The waiter/manager came over apologizing as the diner finally mustered up the courage to try it, and it turns out that he had used coffee liqueur instead of pineapple. The coconut/coffee combination was an accidental winner; the cocktail was a huge hit.

Each of the appetizers were served with homemade nacho chips. Not the cheesy sodium triangles (that I love) but the real ones. I haven’t seen masa harina around in stores, so I’m guessing they’re either cutting up pre-made ones or using wheat flour. No crime there, since they’re a pain to make anyway. The cool part was that there were exactly the right number of chips for the portions served.

Two diners had the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup special. When the soup arrived in a comically long boat-shaped bowl, the color of it had us all look at it quizzically. It wasn’t supposed to be orange, since sunchokes are pale cream to stark white. It turns out it was butternut squash and corn soup, which may or may not have had Jerusalem artichokes in it. It was pretty spicy too. “Not what I expected” was the definitive comment from both diners.

The Sambarela con Pollo was a cooked tomato salsa with chicken and okra. The general feeling was that it was good.

At this point I should go on for about sixteen minutes how I waited and waited and waited for my Ceviche. You’d think they’d serve the guy with the notebook first. Hell, you’d think the dish they didn’t have to cook would have come first. Well, about thirteen minutes into waiting, while everyone else was eating, the waitress appeared with a salad and profuse apologies. Excellent damage control. I was finally rewarded with my appetizer, and it was exactly as a ceviche should have been: light, creamy and citrus flavor laced every bite. It was salmon and tuna and Israeli salad and it was all very good. The only discordant note was that the chives it was garnished with were pretty on the plate but unwieldy. I picked them up and dumped them unceremoniously on the side of my plate while my fellow diners ate the rest of my consolation salad.

The appetizers were cleared and our mains came out. Together. I had the Rump Steak, medium rare. Some of it was medium, some of it was rare. And some wasn’t cooked at all. Other than that, it was a tender, tasty piece of meat. It was served with three dipping sauces: sweet chili out of a bottle, a balsamic vinaigrette, and a third one we had a little trouble identifying. The smashed potatoes were good, and the string beans were also good. I left the uncooked meat on the plate for the chef to see when the plate was returned to the kitchen.

The Entrecote was cooked medium rare, again, mostly. It was, unlike other Israeli restaurants, seasoned with salt, which did exactly what it was supposed to do: it brought out the flavor of the meat. This was noted by the diner.

Two diners shared the Parilla, a sort of meat-centric paella. The oversized bowl-dish was laden with lamb chops, chorizo sausages, chicken, potatoes, and meat. The chorizo smelled better than it tasted, but it was still very good. The lamb had a weak flavor, but I can’t really fault the kitchen for that, unless it was due to freezer burn. The meat was soft but I have to say honestly, it looked like roadkill. We picked it up so I could play Guess Where On A Cow This Is From, and I didn’t have a clue. The chicken was seasoned with cumin which worked well and tasted good.

All of the portions were adequate, except for the parilla, which was huge. Everything was well-seasoned without a single dish being too salty. This tells me that the chef was tasting his food during preparation. At some point there was the requisite chimichuri on the table which was bright and flavorful, but I don’t remember what it was served for.

We passed on dessert, since Aldo’s was downstairs, but left feeling well-fed. Was it wow amazing? No, but La Boca delivered the authentic, ethnic flavors of Spain and Latin America.



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