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Classy newcomer makes your mouth happy
Special to The Seattle Times
The look blends equal parts L.A. and New York with a splash of Vegas. The name — an acronym for "Bold Original Kitchen Artistry" — sounds like the brilliant idea of an over-caffeinated marketing team; perhaps the same group responsible for the menu's penchant for word play. (Raw tuna rubbed with warm olive oil is dubbed "sashimi VO5.")
That kind of posturing could provoke major eye-rolling in a town whose millionaires and billionaires practice unpretentiousness with a concentration the rest of us reserve for yoga. But BOKA Kitchen + Bar, the sleek new restaurant housed in the Hotel 1000, resists taking itself too seriously; rather than seeming affected, the effect is simply fun.
There are enough thrilling moments all the way through chef Seis Kamimura's eclectic American menu to serve as a reminder of why he captivated the clientele at the erstwhile Bada Lounge in Belltown. His stylish plating and fancy condiments (lavender honey, seasoning salts, flavored oils) won't surprise customers of Les Cadeaux Gourmets, his former Queen Anne Hill boutique.
Some of the menu's clever word play is apt. Crab "cupcakes" and Thai-spiced chicken "lollipops" represent the best of a gimmicky bunch of "urban bites."
BOKA Kitchen + Bar
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily, 10 p.m.-midnight Mondays-Fridays.
Prices: Lunch starters $4-$7, entrees $9-$18; dinner starters $4-$10, entrees $16-$40.
Drinks: Full bar; classic and contemporary cocktails and mocktails; a wine list as eclectic as the menu offers interesting choices by the glass and half-bottle.
Parking: Valet parking $7.50.
Sound:< Surprisingly well-modulated given all the hard surfaces.
Who should go: Great for a quiet business lunch; evenings belong to the young — and trendy — at heart.
Credit cards: All major ones accepted.
Accessibility: No obstacles to access.
The irresistible cupcakes are made of cornbread studded with crab; the crème fraîche "frosting" is dusted with saffron salt. The savory lollipops, meant for dunking into peanut sauce, are speared on flavored sticks (no kidding: they make your tongue tingle).
And speaking of the lingual, don't miss "tongue & cheek," an audacious juxtaposition of braised veal cheeks with uni (sea urchin) over sautéed pea vines and risotto. The rice is haunted by the sea urchin's musky flavor, and a pale-orange slab of it reclines over meat so relaxed there's no need for the handsome Laguiole knife provided.
"Hamachi ceviche" combines taste and texture in another startling way. The clean, sharp flavors of cucumber, yuzu (a sour Japanese citrus fruit) and lime are concentrated in a gelée that's diced into pale-green cubes as squishy as a skinless grape. The gelée gives structure to this sphere of minced raw fish, faintly crunchy with finely minced bell pepper and cucumber, and briny from a sprinkle of caviar.
Sometimes "bold, original kitchen artistry" demands restraint. Behold a gorgeous wild salmon fillet slow-roasted with just salt, pepper, oil and vinegar (hence the moniker "salmon s.p.o.v."). Thus unembellished, humbly bedded with roasted carrots and fennel on tiny lentils fragrant with bay leaf, the fish astonishes with its rich flavor and intense color.
There are plateaus among these peaks. Thai bouillabaisse gathers cod, clams and andouille sausage in a sassy enough saffron broth sparked with lemongrass. "My father-in-law's lamb" is tender but tame despite a gloss of mint oil and harissa on the rosy slices of roasted tenderloin.
A few dishes get tangled in their own clever conceits. A drizzle of chili oil tempers the sweetness of corn soup served in a glass coffee cup, but fishing out the sunken eggplant caponata is an awkward business. "B.L.T. soup" promises bibb lettuce, tomato flan and bacon confit, but mine was minus the flan. It did have plenty of bacon, and a few cherry tomatoes bobbed in a green pond that sure enough tasted like liquid lettuce — and gets tedious fast. (Note to kitchen: How about adding some of those terrific torn and toasted croutons that come with the Caesar salad?)
Even salads can be rousing here. Golden raisins and capers balance the sweet/tart vinaigrette dousing a kaleidoscopic assemblage of beets and pasta pearls — nicknamed "rubies and pearls." But the real gems are the caramelized mission figs, glazed with lavender honey and bursting with sweet gorgonzola, plated with baby arugula and candied walnuts.
Along with soups and salads, the more casual lunch menu offers a handful of entrees (salmon among them) and sturdy sandwiches like Peppadew-pepper-spiked seared ahi stacked on ciabatta and a gorgeous grilled cheese made with aged Gruyère on sliced sourdough.
Dessert could be as witty as coffee and a sandwich — a vanilla ice cream sandwich made with devil's food cake accompanied by an espresso float — or as improbably wonderful as honey-sweetened crème fraîche cheesecake on a pistachio crust with poached peaches and candied fennel salad.
BOKA's kitchen is hidden, but its zinc-topped bar is a focal point. Vodka bottles sprout from shaved ice like flowers in a vase, ready to be poured into such finely tuned cocktails as the white peach and rosemary Cosmopolitan. (Its effervescent virgin cousin, the Tuscan Fresco, is equally sophisticated.)
The sexy interior by Mesher Shing plays with color and curves in an array of materials: fabric, metal, wood, glass and stone. Wide windows bring the urban streetscape and sidewalk tables into focus during the day, but darkness heightens the drama of backlit walls that blush through a changing spectrum of hues, fading from hot pink to chilly gray and back again.
Service runs hot and cold, too: one night slick and focused, another slack and forgetful. Managers are present, but their presence is seldom felt. That needs to change. A package this classy deserves better wrapping paper.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sample dinner menu
Dungeness crab cupcakes $4.50
Caramelized mission figs and arugula $8.00
Hamachi ceviche $10.00
Tongue & cheek $23.00
Salmon s.p.o.v. $24.00
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company