Boca: Used to be "Smoke" in Hyde Park in Tampa--how is it?
I live in Tampa, but for the last 18 months, I have been in North Florida most of the time (5 days out of 7). While there, restaurants in Tampa keep changing, WITHOUT MY PERMISSION! The latest victim I have just encountered (although the change may have happened some time ago) is "Smoke," which I thought was an excellent barbeque place. It was located in Hyde Park. It is now "Boca." Is it any good?
Geoffrey, where have you been? Anyway, I think Boca is good but a bit inconsistent. They do nice things with fish at dinner. For brunch, they have excellent pancakes with fruit from King Family Farm. A lot of the food, in fact, is locally sourced. They make sure you know that too. I hate to deduct points for trying too hard (you want people to try hard, right?), but I could do without all of the ideology ("farm to table", "locally sourced", and such written on the front of the restaurant) and the posing (e.g. the rock and roll theme). In the end, that is just a niggle as the food is pretty good. The nice thing is that they are doing a very good business. I hope other restaurateurs will take hope in the fact that the community will support a good restaurant. It's interesting that Boca, Pane Rustica, the Refinery, and Wimauma are all serving similar food and doing it with some success.
We just went for the first time last night. The three of us had the gazpacho with a dollop of lump crab (I think it was a "special"), the snapper en papillote, the spinach salad with apple slivers, almonds and fried goat cheese, and the steak and egg salad.
GAZPACHO: served first, and the only app we ordered, and I was ready to call my wife's decision to eat there another waste. It was bad at any price, but especially at $7.00. My wife, who likes to like new places in Tampa, and cuts them a lot of breaks, and who falls for all the posing that CFish refers to above (all true, by the way; it does seem like they're trying too hard at first) said it was pretty good. I thought it tasted like they dumped in the whole spice cabinet to camouflage the fact that they were either using canned tomato juice, or that the whole thing had been sitting in the walk-in for the better part of the week. I was about as impressed by this "fresh" "locally-sourced" "heirloom tomato" soup as I was a few weeks ago with the "fresh" house salad at Wimauma. Bad. Very bad. More on this later.
Then came the mains. SNAPPER: One of the best fish dishes I've had in Tampa. Execution was flawless, snapper was supple, tender, and completely infused with the deliciousness of the vegetable medley which accompanied it. Very elegant, very simple, the flavors of the fish and the vegetables were allowed to stand on their own. Worth every penny of $21. We will be back for this.
SALADS: Excellent. I have never had salads greens dressed this well in Tampa. This is a bit like celebrating a grown person being able to cross a street successfully ("Yey! You did it all by yourself!"), but in Tampa, salad greens and the manner in which they are dressed/presented are generally an abomination. It's not difficult to do, and shouldn't be like spotting a unicorn, but regrettably it is rare to find here. So, when I discovered it last night, I felt like shouting from the rooftops. I felt strongly about it also because I was able to confirm the presence of the correct technique across two salads. MIL had the spinach salad with the goat cheese and other accoutrements, and I had the steak and egg, which had the fried, runny egg on top of a mesculin/frisee mix, with slices of steak on the side topped with blue cheese. Again, nothing ground-breaking here, but the fact that the guy/gal on salads (at least the one in the kitchen last night) was able to toss both salads so well that each leaf glistened with flavor, was not soggy but crisp, did not have refrigerated chill on it but was at room temperature, and no puddle at the bottom of the plate -- well, that was nothing short of revelatory here in Tampa. Somebody learned how to cross the street. $11 and $14 for the salads. Very reasonable. I will be eager to eat another salad here and see if our experience was a fluke. (BTW, I'm the first to admit I haven't eaten everywhere in Tampa, so if there are any other places that prepare greens like this, I'm all ears.)
CHOC "BON-BON" DESSERT with STRAWB ICE CREAM and BLUEBERRIES. Excellent dessert. All of it house-made, including the ice cream. Not too sweet, not too rich, very refreshing, very impressive. It is almost as rare to find a dessert in this style here as it is to find a salad like the one described above. I ordered drip coffee, they made me a fresh pot, and it was also excellent, great flavor.
Service was very attentive throughout, from the moment we walked in. Everyone was very eager to help and make sure we were well taken care of. The manager stopped by, and I told her about the gazpacho. I told her that I was only mentioning it because EVERYTHING else was excellent to outstanding. How could that gazpacho have come from the same kitchen? She said something about sometimes getting the last of a batch, blah, blah, blah, she was very gracious, and understanding. I told her I wasn't really complaining, I was giving extreme compliments to the rest of the food, because we were really, really happy with it all. The bill came, and the gazpacho had been taken off. I was really surprised. I'm not one of these send-it-back guys at all, so it was a nice, unexpected touch.
I'm intrigued by CFish's comment about inconsistency . . . and secretly hoping it's not true! I'm an optimist, but I've been let down before . . . we'll see. Man, between that fish, the salads, the dessert -- I was just so impressed. My wife loved it so much, I know we'll be back within 2 weeks, and I'll report back.
I ALMOST FORGOT: As we were getting into our car, a youngish man comes around the corner, and asked us how everything was, introducing himself as the chef de cuisine. I told him what I thought about the gazpacho and what my suspicions were. He immediately admitted my "good call" and that it was "on its third day." I felt vindicated (since my wife thought I was exaggerating), but more importantly, I actually gained respect for the guy and his kitchen, that he would come clean like that. He asked me to come back next time, and assured me it would never happen again, to let the server know I was back for the gazpacho, and that he would make it right. Wow. I am not an Anton Ego, believe me, but the staff not only seemed to genuinely care about what they were serving, they also seemed like they would truly want to improve where possible. Well done.
That's too bad about the gazpacho. When I ordered it, it must have been made very recently because it was among the best I've ever had. Sweetness of tomatoes balanced against acidity and a good bit of spice very nicely. On the other hand, the entree I ordered which was the staff meal (or whatever the mystery dish you can order there is called) was very disappointing. It was octopus risotto marked by a complete lack of flavor in the risotto and a few small pieces of octopus.
It's good to know the gazpacho can be good -- thanks for sharing. It's funny you mention the "staff meal" because I was really tempted by that. But I wasn't convinced; it just didn't make sense. $16.00? For something that by its very definition is a Grade B meal? It's a cute concept, but not a cute price.
Thanks to all of you. (Hi, rhnault!) I've got to give this place a try. I hope that more Chowhounders will continue to comment. CFishman, I've been in Tallahassee and remain there week days, though I still consider Tampa home. (The market for 61 year old lawyers is limited.) Yeah, Pane Rustica, the Refinery, Wimauma, and now Boca are all serving what I would call "gourmet southern," at least with about half their menu. and they are doing a great job. To your list of avant garde terms, CFishman, could be added "organic," and "seasonal," although I don't know whether this restaurant has used these terms. They are certainly used everywhere now.
Noice, thanks for the detailed review. It told me a lot. I love it when Chowhounders give a detailed review like that. It really gives one a sense of the restaurant.
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