Monday, August 11, 2014

Tapas at Boca Bistro: Encore!!!

What is better than a few hours at the bar with a good friend and some great tapas? 

Is it

(1) Having a stretch limo and a chauffeur to drive you home;
(2) Winning the jackpot in anything;
(3) A cool breeze on a hot summer day while you lounge around in the shade;
(4) Discovering you have superpowers and that you are now cool; or
(5) Going back to that bar with another good friend and eating more tapas.

I won't profile if you selected any of the first four options. I will say, if you picked (5) - going back and eating more - you are officially a foodie!!!

To me, there's nothing that screams good restaurant experience more than wanting to return, and that's exactly what I did last week, to Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Looking for a good Happy Hour speaks volumes about me squeezing nickels these days, but BB offers up a great deal. Everyday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. there are $5 tapas and house mixed drinks, as well as 1/2 price wines, specialty drinks, Spanish cocktails, and draft beer. Both days I visited (Saturday, and again on Thursday after the ballet) there was still plenty of seating in the bar and the dining room, so the space felt open and yet comfortably social.  Yuppies, yes, but friendly ones.

The special wine list was short but thoughtful; I enjoyed a couple of glasses of the Rioja Vega. Foodie Friend tried the Saratoga Lager off a list of ten beers on tap - this one was medium bodied and malty. The draft beer list boasted four NYS offerings, which I was happy to see, including one from the Brooklyn Brewery, and another from the Newburgh Brewing Company. We settled in to decide what to nibble on while we took in our surroundings. The interior was somewhat rustic but still upscale - low lights, stylish accessories, and a few pigs. I liked that the front doors were open to Broadway with the sounds and air and excitement of racing season. I felt almost hip just being there.

We started with Farm Bread and Tomato, listed en Ingles at Boca but as Pan Con Tomate online. The bread was soft, not at all chewy, but dense and perfectly charred. It was topped with a pan sauce of yellow tomatoes then some halved grape tomatoes. Our server, one of many attentive folks behind the bar, offered us balsamic vinegar and olive oil to dress the dish with. A drizzle of the vinegar sprung the flavor of the out-of-season tomatoes and made the dish shine. The tomatoes should improve in the weeks to come. We could have added manchego cheese ($4) or Serrano ham ($5). The portion was generous and with these additions it would have made for a nice little meal in itself. Great olives!

Next we tried the meat plate or Embutidos, a combination of thinly-sliced chorizo (garlickly, smokey, with a taste of vinegar and paprika), a salami laced with peppercorns (intense and greasy in a good way), and fuet (another cured, dry pork sausage which was quite mild and fatty). Everything was delicious, but Foodie Friend and I would have liked some contrast to the selection, like a paté or dried beef, or even some of that Serrano ham. Another little serving of mixed olives scented with lemon peel, garlic, rosemary and bay leaf was a welcome accompaniment.

Our next dish was ordered off the Tradicional tapas menu - not the bar specials - a list with what were likely larger, richer selections like meatballs, stuffed peppers, and ham croquettes. We decided to try the Garlic Shrimp ($10), which was served up with warm bread and an even larger serving of olives than the last one. This dish was incredibly flavorful - loaded with roasted garlic slices, with a slight char. The shrimp were so fresh and perfectly prepared they were almost sweet. I thought it was a bit salty (so the olives didn't compliment) but excellent. I was actually getting tired of the olives at this point. Anyway, I caught FF actually eating the garlic from the broth, it was so mellow! When I went out by night to protect the innocent from the forces of evil even the bad guys commented that I was sweating garlic. Not that I sweat, of course.

But I digress. There were a few specials on the board behind us, and we decided to wrap up our little meal with a tapas of Grilled Yellow Watermelon ($12), topped with a blue cheese fondue made from both cow and goats milk cheeses and a bacon marmalade and sprinkled with chili lime salt, as well as a "microsalad" (a.k.a. watercress) and pine nuts. The whole combination of flavors was amazing - nothing took over and even the watermelon held up against the bacon flavor. This was a perfect ending to our meal - not exactly light but a bit of freshness was a welcome addition to the menu offerings. We got away with four drinks and four tapas for $51.90 plus tip, which we thought was incredibly reasonable.

Encore! It was easy to talk Cookie into bar food after the Bolshoi just a few days later. I ordered the Brooklyner Weiss ($3) from the Brooklyn Brewery - it was served nice and cold, and she had a glass of the house chardonnay, Bodega Norton (Argentina) - always a good choice for inexpensive quality wines. With this we ordered two dishes from the special Happy Hour tapas menu - shishito peppers that were simply blistered and sprinkled with sea salt, and the fried potatoes mixed with salsa brava and topped with aioli. The peppers were amazing - a nice char, slightly crisp, slippery and delicious with beer, ahem ahem. The potatoes were good - not spicy like we imagined, and definitely greasy. So far though, no olives, for which I was a bit disappointed.

Then it was Eggplant Fries scented with thyme, flavored with sesame seeds and a honey drizzle, and the Sauteed Mushrooms, which ended up being a beautiful mix of wild ones served nice and hot - ooooh! these were rich and slightly bitter and meaty and really special. The eggplant was a bit bland, I thought, but the texture was good/not too mushy, also flavored with a sprinkle of fresh thyme. No olives again? But I think I'm just nit picking.....

At this point Happy Hour had ended and the restaurant was getting busy, but we decided on one more dish from the Tradicional menu - the Octopus and Beans ($12). Two large tentacles grilled and tossed with butter beans, chopped olives, citrus zest, thyme and a saffron vinaigrette with a little handful of arugula on top. It proved to be a delicious combination of flavors; the octopus was tender and charred to perfection. Delicioso!!! From the two visits I would say the food was creative without being weird or overly trendy. Boca is offering up a beautiful selection of Spanish style foods that really are Spanish style. Tapas2 was $49.35 plus tip - also a good deal.

And the service? Excellent. Everyone on the floor was attentive, genuine, and on their toes - professional and smiling. The turnaround from the kitchen was really quick. I felt very welcome and comfortable being there.

Foodie Friend, Cookie and I were all very impressed by our visits to Boca Bistro, the fourth restaurant to be opened in the area by DZ Restaurants (Forno Bistro and Chianti il Ristorante are also in Saratoga Springs; Pasta Pane is in Clifton Park). This past year DZ took the next big step in local, sustainable, organic, healthy living by starting up their own farm in Galway, DZ Farm. My impression from reviewing their web sites is that they are smart, thinking, growing, interested in good food and good cooking, and that they will be giving much to our community in the years to come. Thank you. I've got your back.
Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S.:OK if you chose (4) discovering you have superpowers you ARE cool!  (:

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