July 5-11, 2006

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First Bite


By David Sason

When a new steak place opens in Marin, it's news. So when my girlfriend and I finally made it over to Boca on a Wednesday evening, with over a year of talk behind us, expectations were high, as were my hopes of leaving Outback Steakhouse and, oh God, the Sizzler behind me forever.

Boca sits between a bank and an office building at the old site of Orsi, an Italian restaurant whose rapid decline before closing I can still taste. But bad memories vanished when surrounded by Boca's warm rustic décor, which evoked a South American ranch, or estancia. Especially charming were the metal rim chandeliers dimly lighting the room, each with a tiny lampshade atop a melted candle base.

When I took my seat at our corner table, all I saw was a gigantic painting of a bull, his horns and eyes piercing me. As an animal lover, I found this a little daunting, but the bold leather placemats helped me pretend I was a gaucho in chef George Morrone's native Argentina.

We started out with Betty's beef, raisin and olive empanadas ($7.50), served with a perfectly mild chipotle sauce. This ideal appetizer's delicious ground beef scraps didn't linger long in the basket.

Next was the Boca salad ($7.50), organic greens topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette, gorgonzola cheese and delectable caramelized walnuts, oven roasted in sugary coating. I don't think I've ever devoured a salad like that in my life.

Our ebullient waiter recommended their grain-fed hanger steak ($24.95) before offering a dissertation on the strong flavor of the nonworking stomach muscle and its enzymes. The bull's stare intensified, but I averted my gaze and ordered the grain-fed porterhouse ($28.95), cooked to juicy perfection. As I obliviously drenched my succulent morsels in the béarnaise sauce, my favorite of the four provided (including two chimichurri sauces traditional to Argentina and Uruguay), my girlfriend firmly reminded me, "That's what the little spoons are for."

For dessert, we tried the dulce de leche ice cream ($7), served over warm fudge cake dripping with decadent chocolate sauce. Plates for sharing would have been nice, but it didn't last long anyway. Our server generously explained how the dish was made and even gave directions for making it at home. Although the palpable restaurant noise made it difficult to hear him, I didn't mind--an upscale steak and seafood joint in Ignacio with marvelous service and a down-home vibe is certainly something to make noise about.

Boca, 340 Ignacio Blvd., Novato. Open for dinner daily; lunch, Monday-Friday. 415.883.0901.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.