The parkside building that houses Boardwalk Bistro on Broadway can’t boast the age of Liberty Bar’s rambling home, but it shares a number of features with the more venerable institution. Namely, a varied, international menu that runs the gamut from Mexican to Mediterranean, a nicely balanced wine list, and efficient and personable staff. Definite pluses at Boardwalk include its patio dining, which wraps around the front of the restaurant, and live music on the weekends.
At either restaurant you can run up a fair-sized tab, but you can also enjoy a filling and appetizing lunch for less than $10. The midday crowd favors military personnel in uniform, young couples, and older groups of women, while evening diners tend to be 40-plus couples and foursomes. On Mondays from 7 to 10 p.m. the jazz group Small World performs a jam session, often expanded by one or more local musicians — just cool music on Monday, no dinner.
Barbara Hunt, a dietician, and her husband Randy, a chemist, started the restaurant in 1988, and it has been drawing fans of European and North African dining ever since. Local duos play ’30s and ’40s jazz on weekend nights. The Saturday night we went, Aaron Prado on piano with his dad George on bass played a selection of Duke Ellington tunes and a few numbers from Porgy and Bess. Because Boardwalk relies on duos without horns or drums, the music never drowns out table conversation.
The lunch menu offers several hearty entrées, like the delicious walnut-encrusted pork loin drizzled with raspberry sauce, the chicken and spinach lasagna, and the rich chicken gorgonzola. Vegetarians will find ample choices, such as a spicy paella with artichoke hearts and eggplant. Sandwiches include the usual burgers and Reubens, but I recommend the muffaleta, one of the best this side of New Orleans. It’s a thick piling of salami, mortadella, provolone, and ham on a bun, smothered in an olive tapenade.
Another lunch favorite is the seafood paella: saffron rice simmered with clams, large shrimp, pieces of snapper, bay scallops, sausage, chicken, and red peppers. For an extra $2, diners can add a salad to any entrée.
For dinner we decided to try the five-course tasting menu ($34) and put ourselves in the hands of our waiter for the wine pairings ($18). I started with the lamb stew, and my companion had a cup of a creamy potato and leek potage that had a rich, buttery flavor. The stew was full of beans, carrots, tomato, corn and, of course, moist pieces of lamb. With the soup course, we had a New Zealand Drylands Riesling with a touch of apple.
Salad is either a Caesar or a European, the latter being arugula, tomato, goat cheese, and a touch of feta. It went very well with the white Bordeaux chosen for us. Between courses the young pianist came by to ask how we liked the music.
My companion’s fried calamari, served with both red and green tomatillo sauces, made a great appetizer, paired with a dry Oregon pinot gris with a perceptible taste of melon. I managed several bites before she firmly directed me back to my own choice, a lightly fried lamb spring roll with a black-pepper dipping sauce, accompanied by Markham Napa Valley Chardonnay, a smoky wine that gives off a hint of vanilla.
To my mind, the meal that defines Moroccan cuisine is a lamb tagine. This is one of Boardwalk’s signature dishes, and it lives up to its billing. Diced lamb is marinated overnight in several spices, usually cumin, cloves, garlic, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and coriander, and then simmered with eggplant and served over couscous with cucumber strips. It stood up to the fruity, full-bodied California zinfandel served with it.
Deciding that I was overdosing on lamb, my companion ordered the haddock, presented with a white-wine jus over an asparagus basmati rice in a citrus sauce. The fish was perfectly done, soft and flaky. The wine pairing was a soft Albariño.
By the glass, Boardwalk offers about 15 varietals at $6-$9. The wine list is impressive, with more than 100 offerings, well chosen and well priced (most less than $45, and several less than $30).
Just because we were pleasantly full was no reason to pass on the desserts. We opted for cheesecake with seasonal berries and a raspberry sorbet, but soon found ourselves looking longingly at fellow diners’ carrot cake and tiramisu. A white Portuguese port capped off a delightful meal, and we sat back in our overstuffed chairs to listen to the Prados’ closing selection of “Summertime.”
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