One of the Best Meals I’ve Eaten in Chicago: Boka in Lincoln Park

Boka Chicago

Died. Went to heaven. Boka in Lincoln Park, I surrender. You can have my heart forever.

On a hot summer night, Brian and I sat inside his place waiting for our reservation as I slurped down a fresh cup of French-pressed coffee. Originally we had opted to stay inside and have a lazy, relaxing night, but I had an itch to get out and try something new. It was late Friday, and I had just come home after a long week of work in the wild world of advertising. This coffee was needed sustenance that would carry me through the night.

Brian had heard rave reviews from his colleagues about Boka; I on the other hand, had heard nothing. Nothing at all. Zip. Zilch.

I was intrigued.

We impatiently left earlier than we needed to and waltzed on over to Boka hand-in-hand, giddy to explore this unchartered, new-to-us territory.

May I set the scene of Boka? As you walk inside, you can feel the restaurant absolutely dripping with romance. Tribal-tiled floors, elegant light fixtures, quotes painted in cursive on the walls, and bustling laughter from the bar make Boka feel like an eccentric, yet welcoming sanctuary. Brian and I sat in this room, right in front of the preserved moss. It was weird, but at the same time it was perfect. I couldn’t get enough, and it feels strange to depict.

Even the music brought a funky and irresistibly cool element.

As Brian and I nestled in, our server came over to take our drink orders. Boka is apparently known for their extensive wine list, so I decided on a glass of Riesling, which sounded so crisp and refreshing on this particularly humid night. After deeply studying the menu (as we always do), we eagerly placed our first order, and this is what arrived…

marinated hawaiian striped marlin at Boka Chicago

The marinated Hawaiian striped marlin with ginger, grapefruit, and Vietnamese coriander.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when we were headed to Boka, yet I was more than pleasantly surprised with this first dish. Simply put, it was a work of art. The texture of the fresh fish, married with the sweet grapefruit came together in perfect harmony, with an unexpected yet balanced zing of flavor thanks to the ginger and coriander. Brian and I both looked at each other in utter disbelief that our first dish could be THAT good. Our expectations were set.

I should note here that Brian and I did receive these next two dishes on the house. A front-of-the-house employee recognized Brian from college, and must have tipped the kitchen off as to where he currently works, given our surprise and delight by a couple of plates that showed up next. Regardless, my opinions are still 100% my own, and neither of us were invited to review or try this restaurant beforehand. Moving on…

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Above is the heirloom carrot salad with pistachios and smoked goat cheese. $10 is a steal for this dish, given you’ll receive a beautiful plate of food, as well as a delectable medley of different textures that all somehow complement each other. I would’ve never ordered this on my own, but it stood out as one of my favorites for the night. I love how this salad features flecks of green throughout, with a bright orange ribbon of carrot to top the dish off.

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Believe me when I say that I swooned over the creativity and passion that emanated from each plate that made its way over to our little corner. I can attest that you do, in fact, eat with your eyes.

Next up was the best octopus I’ve ever had. Maybe I said that about Cocello’s octopus – actually, I’m pretty sure I did. While prepared differently than what I’m used to eating, this was piping hot and tender all the way through. While I typically prefer my octopus to be a little crispy, I got none of that here, and loved this octopus more than any I’ve ever had before. We did not order this dish, so I’m so grateful it was brought out to us. Incredible. Highly recommended.

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Let me take this moment to talk about the bread for a second. Boka’s homemade butter and toasty, warm bread (sourdough, if I remember correctly, as well as miniature pretzel rolls) made this meal companion impossible not to devour. I felt like we ate a whole plate of bread. Ok, we did. Owning it. The homemade butter was a deep, rich yellow in color and tasted like a cloud. Is that accurate? My mind and taste buds reminisce and say yes.

I may not be the most technically savvy when it comes to describing my food, but if you want to go to Boka after reading this post, then I’ve done my job.

Next up, Brian and I ordered the salt cod ravioli.

 

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Another uncontrollably gorgeous plate of food. While on the smaller side, neither of us noticed. We were so in awe by each dish’s ability to deliver such complexity in flavor that every taste was worth whatever portion size. Simply seasoned yet delicately prepared, these ingredients created the perfect bite.

At this point, we were in a state of bliss and probably could’ve passed on entrees, even though we had already placed our orders. However, I know that I speak for both of us when I say that we were driven by curiosity and a desire to experience and taste more, even if our stomachs were telling us otherwise. We were smitten and dizzy with Boka love at this point.

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Grilled beef short rib for my guy, halibut for me.

Hot tip: I recommend trying Boka just for the starters, over a starter and entrees. While these entrees were wonderfully done, Brian and I were so mystified and enamored by our starters that the entrees almost felt like an interruption to a perfect sequence of plates. Stick with the starters. Order them all. Or order a single entree and split with the table (along with starters). Boka, we learned, was all about embracing each bite and fully appreciating the level of detail and care that goes into each dish.

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Last, but certainly not least, we were treated to dessert. Spoiled, really. The creme fraiche cheesecake ended our night on a pathetically happy high note. I impatiently waited to post my photo to Instagram so that I could tell all of my friends about my night. Brian was eager to meet the genius behind it all, Lee Wolen. And as luck would have it, we had the great opportunity to briefly chat with Lee before heading home in sheer delight.

Thank you, Boka, for an unforgettable night. I will sing your praises until I am lucky enough to stop in again.

If  you plan on visiting, ask for Mumo. She was our server, and I have not received such memorable service before. Mumo is knowledgeable, friendly, polite and kind, and will make your experience worthwhile.

Boka: 10/10

To Go or No: Go. Yesterday. 

 

Sneak Peek: River North’s River Roast

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On a bright and beautiful Saturday morning, the birds were singing, the skies were blue, and Brian and I had very…atypical plans, if you will. First of all, Brian was granted the entire weekend off from work (which never, I mean NEVER, happens) – AND, we had plans for brunch. He was recently invited to the soft launch of River Roast, located right along the river in River North – so we decided to go check it out. Truth be told, while breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I am definitely not a die-hard brunch go-er, but I welcomed the thought of a delicious, filling meal to kick off the weekend.

Given this was a soft launch (meaning, the restaurant was not open to the public just yet) I think it’s only fair to tell you the highlights without subjecting the restaurant to a hard-and-fast score like I typically do. The first highlight, of course, was the Illy coffee. Simply the best of the best. Not a crucial detail, but clearly set brunch off on a good foot. Brian and I then ordered the soft scramble with smoked trout, roe, and rye toast. This was very good  - if you love creamy scrambled eggs, then this dish was made for you.

For our mains we went a little crazy, and were the first patrons to order the Big Fish – a fried fish on a skewer. The presentation left us surprised and a little confused, and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything quite like this dish before. The fish came with crispy potatoes which were a little overdone. We also decided on the biscuit and honey as well as the scotch egg. While I didn’t eat any of the scotch egg, the fish was perfectly cooked and piping hot. The biscuit with honey was also a cute idea.

If you have plans to check out brunch (or lunch, or dinner) in River North, I recommend stopping along the Chicago River and trying River Roast. I felt great about our meal there and I think they’ll be a hit.

Afterwards, Brian and I were SO STUFFED. So we walked up the stairs to LaSalle, caught some fresh air, and watched kayakers crash into each other.

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Superb weekend start.