When Boken opened some four years ago, it was a welcome addition to downtown dining. Justin Cook, owner of the popular westside sushi house Kanpai, brought high quality and thoughtful Japanese dishes to the restaurant, as well as an impressive flight of top shelf drinks, all rolled into approachable and urbane sophistication.
Adjacent to the Mirror Pond Plaza, and with a low-key, but elegant, patio and fire pit, the space was a promising harbinger of good things to come.
Yet, somewhere along the way, Boken strayed from its original intent. Shortly after the Source picked Boken as its Restaurant of the Year in 2013, the venue changed its name to Dojo, a name that the editorial staff here refused to acknowledge within our offices, as we thought it sounded too much like something parroted from Karate Kid III. More than a name change, though, the restaurant also added late-night service, thumping electronica music, a dance floor, and more than a sprinkling of backward hats and plunging necklines.
But, two months ago, the restaurant formerly known as Boken-Dojo closed shop and took some time to reboot. The result is something wonderful: While the changes in décor may be subtle, the new menu and Cobalt's overall mission are major game changers, and a welcome return to the original intent.
Some hot-shit San Francisco bartender, I was told, redesigned the drink list—and that big city influence is evident. The La Vida Jardin—a tequila, ginger beer, and cucumber-based cocktail—is served smartly with a large ice cube and a sprig of mint; it is smoky, yet crisp and sweet, and my new go-to summer drink. The Mekong Daiquiri is another standout; Cruzan rum offset by lime juice and Thai basil.
The menu itself does not necessarily have a centering idea, like Boken had Japanese fare; the only requirement seems to be "good food."
Although elegant and high quality, the food is still approachable and affordable. The most expensive item is $16, the Pacific Northwest mussels mixed with chorizo and served with a Sparrow baguette. Other small plates round out a limited but varied menu. Fried Brussels sprouts ($6), which seem a requirement for any high-end restaurant these days, are almost as light and flakey as potato chips. Even better is the grilled asparagus ($8), tender, but crisp, and topped with a yolk-rich fried egg. And, the chili garlic honey shrimp ($9) is an excellent summer dish that could make Sunset magazine blush; tangerines and pineapple temper the garlic and chili. And, for the most traditional, a burger ($11) is deceptively simple. Cobalt's chefs grind their own meat, three-quarters beef and one-quarter lamb; it is, like the rest of the reboot, quite simply, succulent.
852 NW Brooks St.
4-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 4 pm-1 am Friday-Saturday