However, a good steakhouse that doesn’t feel like I should be sitting in a leather wingback chair wearing a silk smoking jacket and balancing a very dry martini, or perhaps two inches of Makers in a tumbler, whilst tapping a Cuban against a gold-plated ashtray, or rather, be sitting on the lap of a silver-haired man doing that, is hard to find. They’re all part of the sacred inner testosterone circle of the Billionaire Boy’s Beef Club, and as such, all look, dress, and act the same. “Steakhouse” seems to be synonymous with dark wood, dim lighting, leather chairs with brass furnishings, and very wealthy older manly men. I don’t mind “traditional American steakhouse” decor that makes me want to whisper “Colonel Mustard, with a candlestick, in the study,” but it’s just so…uninteresting if it’s the same across the board.
*blush* I don’t mind the wealthy older men at all (and that by itself is a topic for another day). *blink blink*
Boa Steakhouse, however, eschews such a homogeneous hetero hideaway atmopshere by opening its inner queer eye and letting a metro steakhouse out of the closet. Boa is younger. Boa is louder. Boa is a little bit fashion forward and uses pomade to Kyan-ize its hair.
I’ve been to both LA outsposts of Boa Steakhouse. Back before some trademark or copyright legal action forced it to castrate “Bal” from its original name Balboa, I had dinner at the Grafton Hotel location on Sunset. Like Nicky to Paris, being in the Grafton Hotel alone makes Boa hip-by-association. Boa opened in Santa Monica, and in that location, I’ve only had drinks. I don’t know which place I like better. That’s like trying to decide which is better – dinner or drinks. I guess it depends on the date. There is also now a restaurant in Vegas inside Caesar’s, but why would I ever go to Boa in Vegas when there are two locations in LA? That’s like going to Italy and shopping at Benetton in Rome.
The appearance of dark wood is a quick, respectful nod to traditional American steakhouse, but the wood is polished, with straight, modern edges. Leather, too, makes a showing. The walls in the Sunset location look like giant sueded quilt and the rest of the decor and corresponding vibe is sleek, swanky, and sex-ay. Boa’s uniquely indentifying characteristic is the multi-colored stripe, narrow, rectangular box lamp, suspended mid-air via thin poles that run from ceiling to floor. The lamps always appear with their indentical BFFs all perfectly spaced apart to make sure one doesn’t hide another from being seen.
Boa on Sunset is loud. When first we arrived, the noise could rival decibel levels of Avalon, but without the beat. We waited in the adjoining bar for our reservation, sipped on very strong cocktails while watching the reservationless plebes awkwardly reach across small sitting lounges to cut into steaks and seafood on plates precariously wobbling on cushioned ottomans. If I lived closer to West Hollywood, I could imagine myself in the small, dark bar of Boa every third week. (Every week might put me in the “problem” category.)
We sat outside amongst the handful of tables on a tiny patio that overlooks the hotel pool. Thankfully, the dining room din stops at the patio door, so we didn’t have to rely on lip-reading skills to communicate. On a summer evening, the patio is the best seat in the house. Unless you want to be seen. Then you should go back inside, make your way to Boa’s bar, then step outside to “smoke” on the front sidewalk. Put your sunglasses on because the headlights are sooooo bright on Sunset.
For as modern and updated as the decor is at Boa, the menu remains traditional. The most interesting item on the list of appetizers is the Dungeness crab cake, but I quickly forgot about it when my eyes widened at the sight of The Wedge among the salads. A wedge of simple, crisp Iceberg lettuces drizzled with a creamy bleu cheese dressing could quite possibly be the American steakhouse’s greatest contribution to gastronomy and close to $15, the most profitable business maneuver in steakhouse management. It’s so good, it is called The Wedge, not Iceberg with bleu cheese dressing, not Iceberg salad, just The Wedge. I can’t believe I had to share it.
Different cuts of steaks range from a prissy little petite filet mignon to a bone-in ribeye. Boa also offers rack of lamb and free-range chicken breast under the “Turf” section, and a few different fish under the “Surf” section. That’s all I’ll say about that, lest I offend any non-beef-eater steakhouse go-ers by implying that they are weak. You can opt to have your meat prepared with a rub like peppercorns or herbed butter, and sauced with everything from a Bearnaise to their signature “J-1” steak sauce. I eat my meat bloody rare and naked.
A good steak depends on the lusty affair between Mother Nature and the cattle rancher, which is beyond the control of the kitchen. The true test of a steakhouse kitchen’s greatness, then, is in the preparation of their vegetables and side dishes. Boa was already halfway to an “A” with their offering of The Wedge, and could have set the curve with their French fries, but missed the mark by a few points because they were too crisp. I like a good mix of crispy and soggy, whether that be a crisp exterior that gives way to a steaming, pillowy softness inside each fry, or that some fries are completely crisp to the point of crunchy, amongst a soft, squishy nest of some soggy, limp fries.
After cocktails in the bar, wine at the dinner table, an enormous side of cow and French fries that were only *eh* but they’re fries, dammit, so I ate them all, we had no room for dessert. An after-dinner mint counts as dessert, right? Especially if the mint is muddled with lime and sugar and refreshed with rum and club soda. :)
Boa’s Santa Monica location has the same decor, but with a different clientele, has a slightly mellower vibe. It’s nowhere near as noisy nor crowded, and the people range from 3rd Street Promenade tourist families to expense-accounts to local Westside hipsters. Santa Monica’s menu is broader than Su
nset’s. The additional offering of “entrees” like pasta, as well as a complete lunch menu must have been added to cater to the broader market. We’ve only ever perched upon stools next to a business traveler dining with a copy of the New York Times at the bar or draped ourselves over the low bar seating around small tables for drinks.
Delicious Sarah, with a Citron/soda, in a very metro Santa Monica “study.” Killer!
101 Santa Monica Boulevard (@ Ocean Avenue)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
@ the Grafton Hotel
8476 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA
** a year ago today, i had not-so-hot memories of geisha house **