Boa steakhouse head chef Jimmy Martinez with bartender April Blanchette. Martinez used to work with Wolfgang Puck at Spago. (photo by John Blanchette)

It was a Tuesday night around 6:30. I felt like a steak with a glass of red wine. So I walked into Boa steakhouse on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Since it was early on a weekday I figured it wouldn’t be crowded.

Was I ever wrong! I had trouble getting in the front door. When I did, a couple of young women (obviously ex-models) explained that there were no tables available, but a seat at the bar would be free soon and I could order dinner there. So I did. It was a good seat because it was right in front of the TV and there was a Lakers game playing. How good can it get?

After noticing how attractive all the waitresses were, a handsome gentleman named Derek, with a nice smile, asked me if I would like something to drink. I told him I would start with the bone-in rib eye medium rare, accompanied by a glass of the Argentine Malbec and water, no ice. “You got it,” he said.

While I was waiting for my steak I watched Derek interact with other customers. I was amazed at the knowledge he shared with the customers about the food and wines. When he described the various dishes they sounded delicious. And his description of the wines was like a professional. When I inquired from him which red wine was his best seller, he grabbed a bottle and a glass and poured me a sip of a California Cab and told me why he liked it. I didn’t like it as well as the Malbec, but I did appreciate the Bordeaux qualities of the wine.

Then suddenly the steak arrived. It was a bit too rare, even for me, so I asked Derek to send it back for another moment on the grill. He did it cheerfully and a few minutes later it arrived just right. Meanwhile the guy next to me ordered the same steak, but he also ordered what looked like Chinese broccoli. There was enough broccoli for three people, but I noted that he ate it all. It was very green.

After my steak, I was still hungry so I ordered an appetizer. Since I’m on a low cholesterol diet, and my wife wasn’t with me, I ordered the seared foie gras. It took a while for it to arrive, but it was worth it. A nice sized, perfectly cooked foie gras was served with a stuffed mushroom pastry, and it was perfect for dessert with my second glass of wine. Dinner, with parking and tip, came to about $100. I guess that’s why a lot of people on the Internet complain about the prices. But while some complain about the desserts or other dishes, no one complains about the steaks.

I’m writing all of this to make a couple of points.

First of all, there is no recession in the restaurant business. The many restaurants that are closing (four in the Santa Monica area so far this year as far as I know) are closing because they are poorly managed. The good restaurants are jam packed, even at $80 to $100 per person. Boa is one example, but try to get a 7:30 p.m. reservation at Maison Giraud or Giorgio Baldi!

Secondly, note what a difference good training makes in a restaurant. Restaurants like Boa and the various Houston sites obviously have extensive and consistent training programs. The people smile. The food arrives quickly, so they get people in and out. The order takers know the wines so they can make a sale, and they know when to ask if you want a second glass, or want to try something else. (I stayed with the same one since it was delicious with the steak.)

And this is the capitalist system we all love. If you give the people what they want (and that’s apparently beef and alcoholic beverages) they will beat a path to your door. If you treat them right when they are there, they will come back.

Most of the great and famous steakhouses are in Beverly Hills. The best known are probably Mastro’s (unbearably noisy), Ruth’s Chris (known for cooking the steaks in butter), and Wolfgang’s (also too noisy when they have music, but there is a nice little room in the wine cellar). In Santa Monica we have the old favorite The Galley (a bit dated), Pacific Dining Car (good steaks, great hours, but it doesn’t have the feel of a steak house) and Boa. Of course there are a lot of places to get a good steak, including Riviera Country Club’s dining room. But a steak house is something special, with a special atmosphere. And Boa has captured it. But perfection doesn’t come cheap.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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