Boston has no shortage of steakhouses, as anyone who spends time in the city knows: They tend to be big, shiny, and highly visible. The new Palm, for instance, opened this month, unmissable in its Financial District location. These restaurants also tend to be outposts of chains headquartered elsewhere, with nearly identical siblings in many major cities. You’ve got your Ruth’s Chris, your Capital Grille, your Morton’s — places that offer a consistent, reliable experience, if not an adventure.
There’s a lot to be said for that, but it’s not always how we eat today, when restaurants pop up for a few days then disappear, when sophisticated dishes are served on the street out of trucks. Adventure is in season.
And so it is refreshing to stumble across the anti-steakhouse, tiny and without signage, hidden away, in fact, inside another restaurant altogether. Bogie’s Place is a 20-seat secret in the back of Downtown Crossing’s jm Curley. Where jm Curley is casual, raucous, and known for burgers, Bogie’s is intimate and hushed — jm Curley all grown up. Indeed, its entrance is marked by the words “Adults Only. Please No Cell Phone Use.” Inside, one finds a diminutive bar and a few comfortable booths. The walls are wine-colored. Jazz plays. A woman in a red velvet dress with floral tattoo sleeves shares foie gras and slabs of meat with her date. A group of businessmen demolish caviar, presented in a show-stopping silver bowl that also holds chilled glasses of vodka. There’s a discrete powder room, with a blown-up image of Nixon bowling on the wall (a tribute to the movie “The Big Lebowski”). Reservations are highly recommended. Service is highly personalized. Every visit is a private party.
Although Bogie’s Place is separate from jm Curley, the menu shows the hand of executive chef Samuel Monsour and crew, who are skilled at dancing between high and low. There are serious steaks here: a 12-ounce New York strip, with the deep, meaty funk that comes from 30 days of dry-aging; a 20-ounce prime cowboy for an experience that is prime carnivore, unquestionably the thing to order when one needs to dig one’s teeth into something. There is also a “vegetarian filet,” made from sweet potato, black beans, and grains, a crunchy fritter of a creation that is as tasty as it is unexpected (hat tip for avoiding the grilled portobello mushroom, the cliched vegetarian substitute for meat). These all can be augmented by a selection from the part of the menu titled “Hook It Up”: spice rub, blue cheese, foie gras butter, bone marrow, each more decadent than the last.
For the most part, Bogie’s Place skips steakhouse tropes, although there is an exemplary version of the wedge salad: fat, crisp cross-sections of lettuce in a wash of blue cheese, with bacon, tomatoes, and croutons. Beer and cheese soup, made with Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing Co., Grafton cheddar, and Texas Pete hot sauce, is rich yet balanced, and served with all the elegance of a fine bisque, poured into the bowl from a pitcher tableside.
Much of the small menu is devoted to “Bogie’s Seven,” rotating riffs on dishes such as a clam canape, foie gras, baked potato, and crostini. One month the clams might be pickled in shochu, served with seaweed, cucumber, and horseradish foam. The next, they are fried clam-shack style, stacked with slaw, remoulade, and cornichons on potato bread, a presentation marred by a mouthful of grit. Jm Curley hosts regular benefit dinners with guest chefs, and the macaroni and cheese at Bogie’s Place pays tribute to these visitors: Mexican ingredients for Alex Stupak of New York’s Empellon Cocina and Taqueria; kielbasa, dill, and creme fraiche for Chris Pandel of Balena in Chicago. (All that Windy City excess does make it hard to taste the pasta and cheese.)
If a beautiful array of carrots — orange, yellow, deep purple — could stand a longer roasting time and a foil-wrapped baked potato with root vegetables and melted cheese is a bit of a mess, there is meaty consolation in crostini topped with lush head cheese, microgreens, and orange-coriander aioli. And for a reminder that the kitchen is comfortable with classics as well as its own inventions, there is perfectly prepared foie gras torchon, sweet and springlike with rhubarb, pistachio, mint, and bruleed sugar. It is as Rat Pack smooth as Bogie’s Place’s namesake actor.
For dessert, there is one choice, the molten chocolate cake one might find at another steakhouse. That one wouldn’t be served with orange zest and sea salt ice cream, Grand Marnier caramel, and chessmen cookie crumbles, however.
Jm Curley has a wide-ranging and compelling beer list, and cocktails are well made. It’s not really a wine kind of place. Bogie’s is different, with a list of about 20 red and 20 white bottles, often sustainably sourced. By the glass it offers three whites, three reds (the syrah is a fine match for the steakhouse fare), and sparklers for a range of budgets. (The gentlemen with the caviar service, we hope, are drinking Gaston Chiquet’s “Special Club” bottling.) The cocktail list focuses on versions of classics such as martinis, Old Fashioneds, and French 75s.
A big, shiny, highly visible steakhouse would offer a deeper selection of wine, steaks, sides, desserts — deeper, but not necessarily better. As a boutique steakhouse, Bogie’s Place is very successful. It might be one of the better places in town to discreetly consume beef, if not for one serious flaw: Meat can be overcooked and oversalted.
“How are your steaks?” our server asks one night.
“Actually, mine is well done,” says the man who ordered the cowboy medium.
“Oh, well, so long as the texture is to your liking. . .” she replies. Not the right answer. It’s the one misstep in the otherwise accommodating service. And it wouldn’t happen at a traditional steakhouse.
In a pop-up, food truck, restaurant-within-a-restaurant world, dining is less about the consistent, reliable experience, more about the adventure.Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.