More than fifteen small plates and twenty wines by the glass play a starting role on the menu at downtown’s new Boca Restaurant & Bar, a lively Mediterranean-inspired eatery in the building that housed Acqua restaurant for some twenty years. And that’s just for starters.
In late September, Norwalk resident Revisson Bonfim, a bond analyst with dreams of owning a restaurant, opened the doors to a Mediterranean venue with a welcoming vibe and, as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” He explains: “I had been involved as a silent partner in restaurants before, but I didn’t like the idea of giving money without being able to provide my input. When the building became available, I was ready.”
Bonfim says, “The idea was not to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to create a place where the concept was to provide good food and wine and not charge astronomical prices. A place people want to return to again and again.”
To accomplish this, he put the menu in the hands of Chef Luis Arias, formerly of Molto in Fairfield. “This is his menu,” Bonfim says. “The reason why it works so well is that the chef is an owner. To him, it’s not just a job, it’s his business, and he wants to make sure people come back.”
Boca dishes up unique and flavorful Mediterranean cuisine from the coastal regions of France, Italy and Spain. The selections include more than seventeen tapas, artisanal wood-fired pizzas, salads, chicken, fish, pastas and seafood paella. With an extensive yet fairly priced wine list, attentive service and a busy bar scene, Boca is a welcome addition to the Westport dining scene.
As diners make their way up the stairs to the lofted second-story dining areas, they notice a few changes to the décor. Acqua’s formerly rustic Tuscan motif has given way to a more relaxed and contemporary style, with simple red and black accents, wooden tables without cloths, and pictorial wall panels designed to muffle the din, though there’s a good-time energy that hums throughout the space.
The upstairs bar area is perennially busy, with locals catching up at high-top tables with views of the Saugatuck. The large pizza bar itself is ringed by ten seats flanking the wood-fired oven, where friends stop for a glass of wine, a cold draft beer or specialty cocktail, as well as well-priced burgers and tasty tapas, like creamy burrata, baby lamb chops, braised littlenecks and, of course, individual thin-crust pizzas.
The main dining room is a few steps below, in an area better suited for more private dining in cozy alcoves.
First timers seeking to sample the menu won’t go wrong ordering a combination of cheeses, charcuterie and tapas from the starters sections. After the first few dishes, it’s clear that Chef Arias is a stickler for top-quality ingredients. For instance, he uses only No. 1 grade tuna in his sublime Tuna Tartare, and finishes it with aged soy, toasted sesame and avocado. Other winning tapas include the Crispy Artichokes, lightly fried and served with a side of marinara; Roasted Brussels sprouts drizzled with truffle honey; and Fig Bruschetta, spread with goat cheese, fig puree, honey and walnuts.
On three recent visits, our strategy was to order a sampling of starters, followed by one of the six salads (Caesar, kale, garden, quinoa, beet or chopped); and then split a pasta, paella, entrée or wood-fired pizza (our favorite: the Picante, with San Marzano tomatoes, hot sausage and olive oil infused with spicy red pepper).
Not in the mood for sharing? No problem. Choose from a range of entrée options, from the fresh grilled branzino served over roasted veggies to the flawless grass-fed burger, a blend of chuck and brisket, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic drizzle.
Whatever your mood, the common denominator here is value and no “snob factor.” How refreshing to find delicious, well-portioned plates that aren’t precious or overwrought, and a bill that doesn’t induce sticker shock.
Boca Restaurant & Bar
43 Main Street
Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Sun., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.