You don’t often hear people ordering their steaks “crunchy,” but you might just develop a taste for it if you go to La Boca on a night when the special skirt steak is available. It’s a steak that defies just about every expectation usually held out for good beef chewy instead of tender, not particularly juicy and, indeed, crunchy but then La Boca itself aims for quite a different set of expectations for steakhouses.
La Boca is modeled after the steakhouses of Argentina and ordering a steak here is not automatic like calling out your go-to T-bone or strip but rather something requiring a new look and in some cases significant tableside coaching from the staff.
So it goes with that skirt steak special, which is grilled with the animal’s silver skin a membranelike organic cellophane that is normally removed by the butcher. La Boca renders it into a crust that actually does crackle under the teeth, like a beefy potato chip fused to the surface. But its essence has seeped back into the steak, with the result being something intriguing, delicious and quite unlike steak you’ll encounter at any other local restaurant.
Difference is the dynamic at La Boca. Each bite of steak can seem different from one to the next because of combinations of textures and the variety of tart chimichurri sauces that come with most selections.
Argentine-style steaks are the specialty at La Boca
La Boca’s bife de lomo is the house filet mignon, and while it may technically be the finest cut on the menu it is, for that reason, not my favorite choice here. Any number of restaurants might do the filet as good or better, but no one in these parts is cooking the vacio a huge marinated flank steak like this, much less the centro de entrana, a hanger steak that has made cameo appearances in my dreams since our first encounter under the heavy timbers of La Boca’s low ceiling. It’s listed on the menu as a 12-oz. cut but seems closer to a whole pork tenderloin grilled just for you. The exterior is crusty to the point of carbon then works its way back through a ruby color chart to the center for a mouth-pleasing dance of flavor and texture that goes on and on.
The steakhouse is the latest restaurant from chef Adolfo Garcia and his business partner Nick Bazan. They also run RioMar, the Latin-Creole seafood house that is on my personal short list of the city’s best restaurants. It is located on the opposite end of the same block and that’s usually where you’ll find Garcia cooking most nights. At La Boca, chef Jared Ralls, formerly of Vega Tapas CafŽ in Metairie, runs the kitchen.
As much as La Boca embraces the South American steak aesthetic i.e., make it crusty and make it big the restaurant also has an Italian streak that is just as much a part of its Buenos Aires idiom. Italian immigrants poured into the city late in the 19th century and their culinary traditions made the same kind of impact on the Argentine palate as they did in New York or New Orleans. There is always a pasta dish or two at La Boca, the best of which is the “noqui,” the potato pasta known outside Argentina as gnocchi. Here it has a toasty flavor and a rich creamy sauce, al dente bursts of crisp green peas and flecks of pancetta. Another example is the ravioli, tender bundles of cheese lightly drizzled with olive oil and served with shiitake mushroom and disks of sliced asparagus.