Monday, September 19, 2011

Road Trip: Boca--Cincinnati

Wow. So, you know how I am always bitching about how Indy has no good Italian places?  Well, this restaurant, this one right here, is the reason why.  What I wouldn’t give to have this restaurant, or one like it, in Indy. And it is in Cincinnati people, it isn’t some fancy East coast or West coast spot, so it is possible to pull it off in the Midwest. 

We were visiting friends in Cincinnati and decided to pick one of the many places on my “list” to try—there are so many places in Cincinnati that I want to go to.  We had a hard time narrowing it down, but ended up choosing Boca.  On the weekends they have a prix fixe menu where you get 2 courses plus dessert for $57 or 3 courses plus dessert for $69.  I really wanted to try several of the lighter first and second course items though, but thought I might be getting ripped off since I wasn’t getting the bigger main dishes.  I asked the waiter and he said they would happily just charge me the a la carte prices for whatever I wanted (which is how they charge during the week).

So I started with the wild striped bass crudo which was amazing ($14 a la carte). The raw fish was thinly sliced and so delicate in flavor. It was topped with some quartered cherry tomatoes, a bit of cantaloupe and pickled eggplant and just a tiny bit of heat from some chilies. The eggplant was understated, but balanced the sweetness of the fruit. It was drizzled with olive oil.  Seriously, it tasted as good as it was lovely.  It wasn’t a huge portion, but just the right amount for a first course.

My second course is something I have been dreaming about ever since I ate it. It was “capalleacci di mais tartufo nero” ($12).  Holy moly was it good. It was housemade pasta stuffed with sweet corn and mascarpone (think sort of like flat tortellini) and topped with a brown butter sauce and shaved summer truffles.  That’s what I’m talking about.  It was rich, but with a sweet, slightly tangy taste from the mascarpone (and intense creaminess) but the pasta wasn’t so full that you only tasted the insides.  The sauce was light, with deep earthy flavor from the browned butter and the truffles.  I seriously wanted to order another dish of it for my dessert.  Again, the portion was not large, but just enough to leave you wanting just a tad more. And looking forward to what was next.

For me, that was a seared day boat scallop with caramelized Brussels sprouts, a brown butter truffle vinaigrette and shaved Parmigiano reggiano on top ($16).  This dish fairly blew my mind as well—I loved the combination of the brown butter with a vinaigrette—tasted like aged balsamic vinaigrette—I mean the Brussels sprouts were so caramelized with such a distinct balsamic flavor, at first you almost forgot what they were. But the vinegar taste with the sweet, buttery scallop and a nice slice of Parmigiano on top, and just a hint of truffles…well, it was seriously delicious.

Just to quickly hit on hubby’s dishes, his panzanella was the only thing that was a little disappointing throughout the evening. The bread tasted a bit like croutons, not the ripped up pieces we both like.  But his second course, the “Bavette con Bottargo” was really good. And another really good example of something different done with pasta in a classic Italian style that ISN’T MARINARA OR CREAM SAUCE.  (It really does exist).  So it was linguine pasta mixed with some roasted tomatoes and little bit of chili oil and topped with breadcrumbs and cured tuna roe. Bottarga is basically the roe pouch of a fish (tuna here) that is cured and then grated over the top.  The flavor is of the sea, but not super fishy.  The bottarga was mixed with breadcrumbs adding to the texture.  Hubby had seen Anthony Bourdain rave about it at some point and couldn’t wait to order it.  He loved it.  His sous vide wild salmon was also perfectly prepared.  Sous vide” means the fish was slow cooked sealed in a plastic bag at very low temperatures.  Everything I have ever had cooked this way (will never forget the lamb at The Fat Duck in England. Never.) has been so good—super tender and even though it is cooked for a long time, remains rare in appearance, but the same from the outside in.  This salmon was super tender and I loved the sherry vinaigrette over it and the accompanying beets and haricot vert (fancy French word for green beans).  There were some bits of hazelnut throughout as well adding a nice little crunch.  Salmon is not my favorite fish in the world, but I would eat this again in a minute.

We also got our desserts as part of the prix fixe dinner (although by the time we got there, we could have easily skipped it). I had a perfectly nice cheese board with the right simply toasted bread, and the perfect accompaniment of quince and melon (I love some sweet with my blue cheese).  Hubby had the dark chocolate pot de crème which I thought was well done for what it was, but he was just so-so on it (he isn’t a big dessert person).  But overall I left this meal with mixed emotions. I was really happy because we had an amazing meal with good friends.  The staff is also really down to earth and friendly and the restaurant has a nice buzz to it without being too noisy.  I was a little sad though that it seems impossible for Indy to pull off an Italian place like this.  But I can keep hoping….

3200 Madison Road
Cincinnati, OH  45209

Boca on Urbanspoon


  1. Giuseppe in Montgomery OHSeptember 19, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    Erin, glad you liked it and as much as I also "bitch" about the lack of Italian in the Midwest, you've hit it. Boca is excellent and not "sauce happy".

    Cincinnati is getting better Italian wise. I still like Via Vite downtown and can't wait to try Enoteca Emilia on Madison Road in the O'Byronville section of Cincinnati's "East Side".

    Also, anyone tried one of the myriad Zagat rated 22 and above Italians in St. Louis? Some seem promising.

    Thanks Erin for reminding me that I do have a jewel so close (20 minutes).

  2. Giuseppe (haha), yes, you are lucky to have Boca so close. If I lived that close, I would have tried everything on the menu by now I think. I haven't been to St. Louis in years. I am sure there are some gems there though.

  3. Indy did have a similar place. It was called Tavola di Tosa. It went out of business for lack of sufficient business.

    There simply weren't (and probably still aren't) enough people in Indy who thought the food served at that place was what they wanted nor what they were willing to pay for.

  4. Anon, I have heard many many people discuss Tavola di Tosa. And while I would have loved to try it, it closed before I moved here which was over 5 years ago. And I like to think that Indy's food scene has grown since then. Not to mention, I think the location probably didn't help Tavola.

    thanks for commenting.

  5. Being Italian, I stay away from Italian food in Indy. Capri usually has a Ossobuco that is worth talking about, but that is about it. Though I would agree that the food scene here has changed, the Maggianos, Olive Gardens still are busy. Plus, I talk to people all the time about food and Ambrosia, Mama Carrolla’s, and Amalfi are still amongst a lot of people’s favorite restaurants in Indy. I actually like the pasta at Pizzology quite a bit, it is about as good as we have here in Indy. The second picture here looks awesome.

  6. wibia, agreed. And I also agree that Pizzology has pretty good pasta. I still have hope that we will get a great place here sometime soon though... :)

  7. Looks like Boca is moving...