Boston's South End is in the midst of a renaissance as a dining destination: recent hits like Kitchen, Yakitori Zai, and Vejigantes are soon to be joined by newcomers Cinquecento, Boston Chops, Five Horses Tavern, and Estelle's. Into this seething mix comes BoMA Restaurant + Bar, putting a casual accent on the ever-popular locally sourced New American idiom in the space once occupied by Pho Republique. In style, it appears to have borrowed a few decorating tips from close neighbor the Gallows, with its mix of new and reclaimed woods, Edison-bulb lighting, exposed brick, leather banquettes, and quirky art.
The specialty cocktail list features well-made classics like the Boulevardier, here dubbed the "Ryeoni" ($12), a Negroni variant with American straight rye subbing for gin, and originals like the Smoking Margarita ($12), which adds literal smokiness to the classic margarita by using single-village mezcal instead of tequila, and adds heat with muddled fresh jalapeño. The strong hospitality ethos behind the bar is also a major asset. Meanwhile, the kitchen's long suit appears to be its small plates, like good crisp duck-fat French fries ($8) with just enough of the rich flavor of the frying medium squeaking through, served with excellent house-made ketchup with a hint of star anise. An appetizer of roasted Wellfleet littlenecks ($12) is simply outstanding: five beautiful, plump bivalves underlain with a cassoulet-like stew of cranberry beans and chorizo (in the Latin American fresh-sausage style), plus some grilled crostini for sauce-mopping. A brace of tacos ($10) tops soft corn tortillas with slow-cooked short rib, shredded cabbage, and queso añejo, a nice riff on Korean-Mexican kalbi truck tacos that could arrive at the table hotter.
Pizzette ($14) is effectively a terrific thin-crust pizza with a fine seasonal combination of toppings, including wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, spinach, and fontina, but an unadvertised drizzle of truffle oil feels superfluous. A large plate of roasted Statler chicken breast ($23) is perfectly done, moist and flavorful, atop a respectable lemony risotto with wild mushrooms. But the kitchen frequently commits small errors: a kale and shaved-fennel salad ($9) reveals not a shred of detectable fennel, leaving a bland result. Grass-fed hanger steak ($26) features generous chunks of nicely charred but quite underdone beef, flanked by Texas hash (a mix of halved fingerling potatoes and roasted beef brisket) and sautéed kale, all covered with a sprinkling of sweet-potato chips. But the plate is suffused with a unattractive orange puddle of melted chili-garlic butter. A dessert of warm apple-cinnamon bread pudding ($9) features a lovely custardy pudding but is marred by chunks of unpeeled (allegedly local) green apples.
Dining-room service is obviously eager to please but also muffs small details, like leaving empty plates unbussed or dropping off a dessert in a scalding-hot crock without a word of warning. The waitstaff isn't helped by the bar area's physical layout, which on busy nights creates a difficult traffic flow that forces servers to struggle through crowds. Outside of this upmarket urban neighborhood, these blemishes might be easier to overlook, but they start to add up in a restaurant where dinner for two — a couple of small plates, two entrées, a dessert, and two short pours of plonky wine by the glass ($8–13) — can easily exceed $100. BoMA has a lot of charm and promise, and initially works as a fun place for drinks and grazing, but if it hopes to cultivate the repeat business of locals in its increasingly competitive South End setting, both the front and the back of the house will have to add a little more refinement and polish to their game.
BOMA RESTAURANT + BAR :: 1415 Washington St, Boston :: 617.536.2662 or bomarestaurant.com.