Since restaurants are ostensibly about food, I've decided to tackle that first and get it out of the way of what some times is at the heart of the experience of dining out: the ambience. Of course, I've had wonderful food served up on grimy tables by indifferent wait staff and not cared a whit, coming home with heart and stomach aglow with satisfaction. But when the food is mediocre or just a few notches above, as the median experience tends to be, the atmopshere and setting can make that important difference to your evening away from the mundane routine at home.
Boca Bar (Costa Rican cuisine)
11 Pine Street, Waltham MA, 02453
The complimentary nacho-salsa nibbles were a disappointment. The nachos were tough and possibly stale and the salsa had a slightly metallic taste, invoking the thought of the kitchen staff working harder with a can-opener rather than a mortar-and-pestle. I'm going to cheat though and say that I have been here before a few times and this was an aberration: the other 2 times everything was fresh and tasty. I'll chalk it up to the scarcity and cost of fresh tomatoes. This time.
We skipped appetizers and went straight to entrees which seemed fairly priced for dinner between $10 and $14. In the past I've had a wonderful empanada starter that departs from the commonly accepted definition in that it's not fried pastry shell but more like a crispy taco with a great jicama coleslaw component to the filling.
My chicken fajita was very good: the meat was tender, juicy and mildly seasoned to impart a lovely curry-like flavor. The Cosmopolitan was also competently made. My husband's garlic broiled fish was only average though his rice and beans side dish was subtle and tasty.
This is a warm and cozy place thanks to a decor that is essentially a patchwork quilt of cliches but works, at least for me, in bringing this rather small space a sense of vibrancy.
The entrance is a short warmly lit hall with a few gaily decorated hand painted wooden knick-knacks that invoke warmer climes. If images of Mexican wood workers wearing grins on their weather beaten faces flash across your mind, you would'nt be too far off. You'd at least have landed accurately in Central America: Costa Rica lies south of Nicaragua (which is a few countries south of Mexico) and north of Panama.
The dining space looks cramped on first sight with low per-capita floor space. Almost a bar in restaurant's clothing....although the large tiki-hut bar with seating occupying at least half of the far wall might have a little something to do with that impression.
On the right and lining the picture windows on the outside wall, is a row of small cocktail tables ringed with bar stools. The view is admittedly only a row of cars parked on the dark and narrow road or, if you crane your neck, the Embassy Theater marquis. Still, in that corner it's the kind of urban chic that only too little space and uncomfortable seating can provide. The effect is complete with club type chains sectioning off the little strip.
Along the left wall a lounge atmosphere is introduced by a thatched roof running the entire length, under which rattan couches and armchairs square off little nooks, each complete with wall mounted flat panel TVs broadcasting sports or music videos. Rattan might suggest coziness but lacking cusions as they do, they don't make for very comfortable seating. Together with the low coffee table in the middle, it turns out these nooks are primarily geared towards a lounge like experience (sans dancing and thumping music) where drinks play the largest role with perhaps finger foods/appetizers that do'nt require the use of silverware. We had a 3 year old with us so the freedom and space of a sofa definitely reduced the squirm factor that creeps in about halfway into every dining experience and hastens it's rapid conclusion (before squirming degenrates into total meltdown). Still....be warned it's a nice place to chat and have drinks with freinds but drippy, cheesy fork-fulls do not belong here. Not unless you're ready to deal with the floor wearing some of your meal and the guilty compensatory tip you'll give the wait staff for having to clean it later.
The inner recess of the restaurant is a short wall with a floor to ceiling papier mache replica of an active volcano (complete with running lights that change color) that ought to be supremely tacky but somehow gels with the place and fades from view after the initial shock of seeing it.
The central area is occupied by a row of regular issue four seater tables. We are told that these disappear after 9 pm on designated weekly nights so that area can serve as a dance floor. A DJ provides music of a scheduled Genre (Salsa/Merengue on Wednesdays, for instance) and patrons apparently dance to the beat.
On the whole, what is seperately tacky comes together to create an enticing whole for me. Adding to the synergy is the owner/manager Keith who introduces himself to every table and chats for long enough to envelope you in his island accent (though Costa Rice is decidely land bound and Central American) and make you feel pampered. So even though the cushionless rattan chair has been poking your behind for an hour and your bare arms have waffle weave impressions from the armrests, you start feeling like you've actually been having a pretty relaxing time. Of course, this is a woman's point of view...Keith does'nt exactly hurt the eye and he does have that accent. I can't vouch for how it worked on the men in my party: I suspect my husband was unmoved at best while my 3 year old son was definitely unimpressed. Now if Keith sported wheels, a smokestack or at least airplane wings.....
A good place for tasty food and a cozy chat. Not a fine dining experience and probably not good for a large party. It's proximity to the Embassy cinema also makes it a convenient place to get a quick bite and drink before or after a show.