There are no high ceilings or columns or big patios, and even if there was a patio, there wouldn't be much outside to look at. In a strip on a quiet side street near Westheimer in Tanglewood, Boada greets visitors with a bright dose of red paint and some icicle lights.
Inside just over a dozen tables are tucked into the pocket-sized space, with red and gold on the walls and a bar area in front of the attention-grabbing wood-burning oven. Though space is limited, the touches of class — white tablecloths, a few flowers here and there, friendly and attentive service — make it feel charming instead of cramped. With Arturo himself making periodic tours to talk to diners, it does feel like a true neighborhood spot.
I started with the camarones hennessy en hamaca, a bowl of juicy sauteed shrimp with hearts of palm, tomato and cilantro in a thick soy-ginger sauce over a bed of plantains. I thought the plantains were unnecessary and a bit dissonant, but everything else about the dish was mouthwatering. including the sweet-spicy-acidic sauce that we soaked up with the table bread.
The menu, like Boada himself, is part Italian and part Latin. As a committed Iberophile (that's a lover of all things Spanish), I had to order the papas bravas. The dish was actually nothing like the versions I ate in Barcelona — instead of gloried fries with spicy mayo, Boada's papas bravas are chunks of red potatoes and chorizo in a chunky, spicy, tomato-based sauce. The result was unsurprisingly heavy, but the chorizo was particularly tasty and the spicy flavor was on point.
I did have one other appetizer, a special that was a mix of beef chunks and tomato. I've forgotten the exact name of the dish but I do recall the beef tasting somewhat dry and overcooked.
Though there is plenty of steak and seafood to tempt, I took a chance on the chorizo pizza, one of a quartet on the menu that are made in that wood-burning oven. The crust was floury and thin, but not charred — overall pretty decent — but it's the toppings that set it apart. The carnitas pizza is somewhat like a barbecue chicken pizza, in that the barbecued flavor of the meat permeates every bite. Then there's onion, cilantro and a lime wedge to squeeze on it.
I thought it was a little strange. My date loved it.
In my opinion the most ingenious part of the meal was the surprise dessert — two bites of crème brûlée delivered on spoons. It was the best version of a crème brûlée I've had in Houston (that's not as great a compliment as I'd like it to be) and it was the perfect size. A kiss of sweetness to seal the meal, and done. I don't know why every restaurant doesn't offer something like it — seriously, it's genius.
At Boada the dishes are classics, the flavors are simple (for the most part) and it's all about the cooking and the presentation. It's not extraordinary, but I don't think it's supposed to be. It's solid, good and comfortable, and sometimes that's enough.