A Happy Hour writer and a famous food critic walk into a bar ...
Happy Hour writer Tan Vinh takes in some small plates with former New York Times food critic and author Frank Bruni.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Happy hour |
Befuddled, former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni winced at the chameleonlike panel behind the bar at BOKA Kitchen + Bar. The panel morphed from red to blue — or was it orange? It made the ambience more confusing and unfocused, which summed up the meal that would follow.
First, the back story. Bruni came to town to promote his memoir, "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater." We didn't have time to hit The Herbfarm in Woodinville, which is where Bruni, chief critic from 2004-09, wanted to eat. And to make sure he wouldn't be late for his book reading at Elliott Bay Book Co., we grabbed a bite five blocks away.
The critic who has eaten at the top restaurants around the world actually loves bar food. So we grabbed two seats at the bar.
I told him I would pick up the bill. I also told him there's no such thing as a free lunch. This week, Bruni critiqued the bar food for the happy-hour column.
Pork-belly steamed buns: That it's a take on a signature dish of star chef David Chang at Momofuku in New York City is not the sin. The sin is taking a fatty and flavorful piece of meat and giving it "a pulled-pork texture. And the bun tastes like a soft Ciabatta roll."
Crab cakes on sugarcane skewers: "Not enough strands of crab flavor. But as a bar snack, it does what you want it to do. It gives you a nice hunk of crunchy [texture] in your mouth. It's a proper alcohol sponge."
Chili and garlic shrimp with basil, mint and spicy chili aioli: "Nice heat. Flavorful. I like it better without the aioli, which tasted like" the sauce served with patatas bravas in a tapas joint.
Olive-oil-poached tuna salad on baguette with pickled vegetables: "It gives me nothing" in terms of flavor. "There is not enough oil. Not enough mayonnaise. There is no personality. It's like the Walter Mondale of tuna."
Charcuterie plate: The pâté tasted so salty, Bruni wanted to spit it out. But the Mole Salami from Salumi Artisan Cured Meat: "Hmm. Wow. It has a wine-y flavor and not as peppery-dominant as other salumi" on the market.
The food seems reasonably priced for happy hour, but BOKA doesn't take any risks, Bruni said. "It's a study in caution and overdone trends." The lounge, with some contemporary and abstract art, didn't work for Bruni.
"It's bizarrely bright. It doesn't feel restful at all."
The background panel morphing into different hues every few seconds is emblematic of the bar food and the lounge, "a jumble of mixed signals." Maybe BOKA wants to be "a sleek cocktail bar, but then they're showing a football game," like it's a sports bar.
BOKA Kitchen + Bar, 1010 First Ave., offers happy hour Tuesdays to Fridays, 3:30-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.- closing, Saturdays 5-7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to closing and Sundays and Mondays 3:30 to closing. Bar food half-off and well cocktails ($4.75), beer ($3) and wines ($5). 206 357-9000 or www.bokaseattle.com
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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