The Hub gets a dose of Nuevo Latino -- whatever that may be
by Stephen Heuser
For the past year or two, there has been something
percolating through the food world called Nuevo Latino cooking, a cuisine whose
definition seems to depend entirely on where you find it.
In the West, Nuevo Latino is often upscaled Mexican cooking; in the East, it's
a collision of Caribbean flavors and South American ingredients, or vice versa,
mostly at New York prices.
35 Stanhope Street (Back Bay), Boston
Open daily, 5:30 p.m.-midnight (bar open until 2 a.m.)
AE, MC, Visa
Smoking at bar and bar tables
Boston tends to find its own way in these matters, and the trend here is --
okay, there is no trend here. Bits of Latin cookery have been popping up in
non-Latino-owned restaurants; over in Cambridge, Chez Henri has been doing a
French-Cuban thing since it opened a few years ago, and you'll find some New
Floridian ideas at the new Linwood Grill in the Fenway. Joey Crugnale, the guy
behind Bertucci's, is launching a seafood chain called Naked Fish whose
theme is purportedly Latin. But a series of gestures does not a movement
With Bomboa, however, it seems safe to say the trend has landed. The menu is
basically Franco-Brazilian: in the smooth, clubby space that used to be
Restaurant Zinc, you kick off dinner with a caipirinha or mojito at the bar,
start the meal with ceviche served in a coconut, then dig into a
cassoulet-style feijoada and finish with crêpes. Chef Michael Reidt (who
is also a co-owner) was the last chef at Zinc, and he has kept "Zinc's steak
tartare" on the menu, along with a few other bistro dishes.
If you ever visited Zinc, you'll certainly recognize the details here; you make
your entrance through the same imposing wooden doors and belly up to the same
imported zinc bar. But Toteau, I don't think we're in Paris anymore. For one
thing, there's a wavy tubular light behind the bar that, if you watch
carefully, subtly shifts color throughout the night. The upholstery is
zebra-striped. And set into the back wall is a really impressive aquarium, with
live coral, a giant clam, and periodic tidal surges.
With its sleek internationalism and late hours (the kitchen is open till
midnight), Bomboa is clearly aiming to capture the clubgoing Armani crowd. The
bartender one Tuesday was a friendly guy who also works at 29 Newbury and
Avalon. "We get all kinds," he told me as the light behind him shifted from
blue to green, green to red, red to white. "The Newbury Street crowd, older
conservative people; the gay crowd; an international crowd." Just after he said
this, down at the end of the bar I caught a conversation in progress: a
well-dressed guy in his 20s said something about "BU brats" before pausing to
turn apologetically to the woman next to him. She was wearing a black baseball
hat that said BITCH. "Well you're, like, a nice BU brat," he said.
"You're a BU brat," she said.
"No," he said, "I work for a living." He wasn't lying. His job is co-owner of
the restaurant, and a couple nights later I saw him there again, working the
crowd, opening wine, kissing the rich. He seemed to want the restaurant to
It will almost certainly succeed if the chef can figure out how to make
everything as good as the ceviche appetizer. Yeah, it's $12. But
¡ay! was it nice: little cubes of raw tuna and yellowtail and
shrimp dressed with citrus on one part of the plate; a multicolored salsa of
papaya, radish, and purple potato cradled in a crescent of coconut; a single
oyster dressed with bright green cilantro purée. The whole thing was
fresh, Caribbean, and lively; you could even eat the coconut if you weren't
afraid to go at its flesh with a butter knife.
It would be nice if everything had worked that well, but it didn't. By and
large the execution was pretty sharp; it was the ideas that didn't always gel.
An appetizer called "aracaje" ($11) was three shrimp fritters set on some kind
of mashed starch, garnished with beans and a kind of lime curd; the fritters
were carroty things that exploded on contact with the fork, and although they
had a nice smoky flavor that I found addictive, the plate as a whole didn't
hold together for me.
Our more-conservative dishes were similarly back-and-forth. A very nice green
salad ($8) made good use of cashews and hearts of palm cut into strips; the
result was much more interesting than plain greens would have been. But another
basic bistro dish, steak frites ($20), didn't benefit from meddling. It also
didn't benefit from a less-than-$20 cut of beef -- the steak was fatty like
sirloin instead of marbled and flavorful like ongelet -- and the accompanying
red sauce was somehow too thin to do much for the steak-and-potato richness on
the plate. We liked the fries, though, skin-on and dusted with sea salt.
I'm not sure what to think of the feijoada ($20), a soupy Brazilian stew of
sausage and chicken that here was approached like a cassoulet, cooked with
beans and served in a big two-eared iron pot. There wasn't anything wrong about
it -- plenty of meat, nifty serving vessel -- but nor did it really take
Bomboa's wine list
is gratifyingly long but organized with a sort of
brute-force approach: one big page of whites, one of reds, ordered strictly by
price. This makes it hard to navigate if you don't know a lot of wine names by
heart, although it's handy if you approach wine-ordering mainly by cost. (A
wine writer I know takes a more cynical view: organizing lists like this, he
says, encourages people to pay more so they'll be ordering from a more
impressive place on the page.) We ordered the one half-bottle on the list, a
very nice $15 bottle of 1995 J. Vidal Côtes-du-Rhône red.
Desserts are mostly classic non-Latino things, and they are cooked,
interestingly, by Rebecca Esty, who was the opening chef at the Vault. I always
liked her cooking at the Vault; here, the desserts are good but much more
comfort-foody than the rest of the menu. Meaning wholesome crêpes maison
($7.25), with peel-on apple slices and a deep caramel sauce; and banana bread
pudding ($7.25) with a puddle of chocolate and more caramel.
Service was slightly casual for a $111 meal; our waitress was good about
getting us drinks but a bit here-and-there the rest of the night.
By and large, though, the flaws at Bomboa are interesting ones. When a
restaurant is relatively new (in this case, six weeks old) and so conceptually
ambitious, I find myself rooting for the kinks to get worked out, but also
wishing I hadn't been the guinea pig. Right now I'll probably be going back for
a mojito and an appetizer at the bar, as well as to wave to the giant clam.
Stephen Heuser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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