Ask anyone who has been there, and they’ll likely tell you the same line: Boston Chops is a steakhouse. And it certainly looks the part with its firm leather banquettes, rich wood tones, exposed brick, gallery lighting, and nattily attired waitstaff.
Really, though, Boston Chops is more than that, as outlined by the description on its website: urban steak bistro. You come here for the meat but should stick around for the raw bar or the offal or the potent cocktails that put a modern spin on the classics. (How about some bourbon in your Negroni?)
Open since early March, this is the third venture for executive chef and owner Chris Coombs, following his success with dbar in Dorchester and Deuxave in the Back Bay. Boston Chops might be his most streamlined restaurant yet. A simplicity courses through both the menu and décor. About the only thing more austere than the interior is the presentation of the so-called “top chops,” which present massive slabs of meat smack in the middle of a white plate. No sides, no frites. Just you, your steak, your fork, your knife.
Situated on the corner of Washington and Union Park streets, it’s something of a haunted restaurant space, a former bank that went on to house Banq and Ginger Park, both of which came and went within the past five years. Judging by how packed it was on two recent visits, Boston Chops might have lifted the curse.
Perhaps as an acknowledgement of how heavy a meal here can be, the first course is a complimentary popover, an airy confection that arrives in a metal measuring cup. The raw bar has the usual suspects — oysters (six for $15, a dozen for $29), shrimp cocktail, ceviche — but Coombs’s curatorial eye is most prevalent in a section deemed “rarely celebrated.”
Here’s where his menu stands apart with delicacies such as grilled, herb-marinated heart that doesn’t look like it has seen too much heat. It arrives thinly sliced with the coloring of something ordered rare. The oxtail croquettes are little marvels of dense, soft meat that plays off the crispy exterior and red-pepper mostarda.
In a nod to steakhouse staples, the equatorial iceberg salad is a star among the starters. “Equatorial” refers to the center cut of the lettuce, and it’s a circular mound topped with blue cheese, bacon, walnuts, and quartered tomatoes. Each ingredient shines, and paired with a bite of steak, it’s the perfect combination. The Caesar salad is hopelessly overdressed, but the briny kick of white anchovies on the plate is a nice addition.
For the ravenous eater, go straight to the heading “Top Chops & Steaks,” where the cuts weigh in at 14 ounces and more. It’s hard to argue with a hearty hunk of meat salted and grilled to your specification (and Boston Chops seldom gets the temperature wrong), though it would be nice to have some of the accompaniments the smaller steaks have.
For the more sensible diner, the selection of steak frites will suffice just fine. Accompanied with a fistful of arugula, a house-made sauce (try the chimichurri butter), and crisp fries that are routinely replenished, six 8-ounce cuts are offered in two modes of preparation (grilled and roasted). The filet mignon is petit but packs a lot of flavor, oozing juices all the way from the edges to the center bite. Likewise, the hanger steak strikes the right balance between succulent and chewy.
With all that roasting and grilling going on, it’s surprising that Boston Chops doesn’t fry anything all that well. Even in a mélange of shishito peppers, fried pickles, and lemon aioli, the fried calamari is notably bland, in dire need of some sort of seasoning. (Let’s start with salt and pepper). The breading resembles crumpled paper and doesn’t taste much better. The onion rings are a bit limp, too, saved only by their presentation, arriving in a tall stack on a paper-towel holder.
Should a vegetarian haplessly end up here, there’s wild mushroom cavatelli and not much else, but you could make a meal of the various side dishes (braised kale, roasted mushrooms, spicy broccoli). For the pescetarian, the pan-roasted halibut is right in line with spring: a dainty cut of fish with mushrooms, asparagus, onions, and a tomato sauce redolent of ginger.
Under the direction of exceptional executive pastry chef Olivier Maillard, the desserts are a highlight on a menu that could easily take them for granted. On both visits, the servers rave about the sticky toffee pudding. It’s sponge-like texture is a terrific vessel for the butterscotch sauce and hints of rum. Even better is the pineapple gelée cheesecake, a surprisingly light and fragrant variation on the standby that looks as refined as it tastes.
A note about the service: It’s uniformly excellent, with an amount of staffing that seems rare in most restaurants these days (and hardly sustainable, to be honest). One evening that means a polite young woman checks in regularly with flashes of sardonic wit. “Oh, that’s just a fancy French word for bacon,” she quips when a guest asks what “lardons” means.
On another visit, though, our server — his heart of gold and sweet demeanor aside — turns meddlesome. He drops by every few minutes, not just to inquire about drinks, but to linger long enough to see how every first bite goes over. If we had taken a picture, he no doubt would have been lurking in the background like a photobomber.
Then again, his enthusiasm is part of what makes Boston Chops special. From the portion sizes to the attention to detail to the final tally on your bill, this is not a place for understatement. In line with all good steakhouses — excuse me, urban steak bistros — it’s a robust experience.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.