Boca is the Spanish word for mouth and now it’s the name of a new authentic tapas bar and restaurant that debuted in downtown St. John’s on Friday night.
“The mouth is the centre of many pleasures, food and drink in particular,” says Lorne Loder, one of the co-owners of the restaurant along with Derek Locke and John Cook.
“Eating, drinking, talking, smiling.”
The ownership team believes there’s a growing desire on the part of local diners to move away from the traditional three- and four-course meals toward a more casual dining experience focused on sharing food and conversation in an environment devoid of pretention.
“In essence a tapas bar in Spain is a speakeasy where you go and have a drink, a bite of food and conversation,” says Locke, adding that atmosphere will trump music.
“We’ll never have the music so loud that you can’t have a good conversation and it’s a void in the marketplace here in St. John’s right now.”
There are other restaurants in the city offering a tapas menu, but Loder and Locke insist the 140-seat restaurant they’ve created in the former Cellar restaurant at 189 Water St. — once home to popular nightlife destination Uncle Albert’s — is the real deal.
“Tapas are an authentic Spanish item and you’ll see we’re authentic,” says Locke. “These are the top hits at Spanish tapas bars from northern Spain to southern Spain to the major cities. Anywhere in Spain you go, you’ll see these exact things.
“I think that people here are going to be in for a treat.”
Perusing the Boca menu, you won’t find a separate list of starters, entrees and desserts, but rather a list of hot and cold small plate offerings bookending a sampling of charcuterie boards comprised of meat and cheese imported directly from Spain.
“There’s a lot of things on the menu that people simply haven’t tried before around here, unless they’ve tried it in Spain,” Loder says. “I don’t know of anything on the menu that’s available anywhere else in the city.”
Preparing the delicacies in the modest kitchen is well-known head chef Gregory Bersinski — formerly of Bianca’s and later Bistro Sofia — and his right-hand man, Javier Jaso.
“The way we designed the menu, you can close your eyes and pick anything, cold, hot, it’s all good,” says Bersinski.
Loder says the duo has a great degree of freedom in the kitchen.
“We have a fixed menu, but we’ll also be having features as well and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.”
The menu also includes paella every Thursday, an affordable and quick daily lunch special that includes two tapas and a glass of house wine, which Loder expects will be a popular item.
On Fridays, Boca’s happy hour will feature discounted rates on jugs of sangria, and Bersinski will carve complimentary Iberico Jamon — a type of cured ham from Spain — directly off the leg of ham.
“We want to bring happy hour back to the city and with the leg of ham being carved during happy hour, it’s a great visual,” says Loder.