Expecting sombreros, Mexican music and cacti decorations, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the La Boca kosher Latin American restaurant in the German Colony: no kitsch here.
Chef and owner Guy Kimchi has kept the decor minimal, leaving the Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican and Cuban influences only in the food.
One floor up, overlooking bustling Emek Refaim St., one enters a pleasant and elegant room. With the night still young, we had the choice of seating in the main restaurant or on the large, enclosed terrace overlooking the street. In search of peace and quiet, we chose the main room, where a large tropical fish aquarium faced our table, which, together with the soft background music, immediately suceeded in relaxing us. Our skilled waitress was a great help in explaining the various dishes listed on the menus.
Going native, Cuban spicy mohitos were the cocktail of the day. Cool and refreshingly served with fresh mint and plenty of ice, we enjoyed them as we nibbled on the home-baked foccacio, which comes with two kinds of bean salads, guacamole, salsa, peppers, sweet potatoes and chimichurri.
Owner-manager Guy Kimche studied at the Hadassah school of hotel management in Jerusalem and then traveled around South America perfecting his craft and studying the local cuisines. He stresses that the kitchen is not Mexican alone: In Argentina he learned about meat, the sabiche is from Peru, and so on around the continent. Local delicacies from every Latin American country are represented, after having been adapted to the Israeli palate. Upon his return to Israel, Kimche worked at various restaurants - including the renowned Raphael in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem's Canela - before opening La Boca a year ago.
We started our meal with the La Boca tortilla, which unfortunately was not to our liking, as the cilantro seasoning overpowered all other tastes. Seeing that we weren't eating, our attentive waitress came over to ask why. The dish was immediately removed and replaced with an almost cilantro-free tortilla which was dramatically tastier.
(Cilantro was introduced to Mexico and Peru by the Spanish conquistadors and is used in just about everything from salsas to burritos. While cilantro is rumored to have aphrodisiac qualities, it is considered an aid to the digestive system and stimulates the appetite, I am not a fan. Being in the don't-like-cilantro camp, we requested that it be omitted or the quantity lessened for the rest of the meal. No problem - seems this is a common request.)
The tuna cerviche on tortilla, on the other hand, was a delicacy, both visually and tastewise - highly recommended.
Mullard (breast of duck), the special of the day and one of my favourite meats, was one order as a main course, the other being beef fillet on puree.
The mullard was served with a passion fruit sauce, the meat was soft, tender and the interesting pairing of the fruit complimented the strong flavour of the meat. My opinion is that this dish should be a staple on the menu and not just a temporary special. The beef was equally tasty, nicely seasoned and served rare - as requested.
Not being overly familiar with Latin American cuisine except for tacos, tortillas and burritos, the colorful dishes served to other diners captured our imagination, and we made a mental note to be more adventurous on our next visit.
Running out of time and having to dash to the theater, we left the desserts for next time, but not before checking out the open outdoor bar overlooking Emek Refaim. If you are not hungry and just fancy a cold beer or a cocktail, this is a nice place to chill out on a balmy Jerusalem night. In fact, La Boca caters to just about everyone, regardless of age or taste. From just drinks or a snack to a full meal, either in casual or elegant surroundings, the food and service remain excellent.
Prices are moderate. La Boca offers a business lunch from 11:30 to 5 p.m. daily from NIS 49 to NIS 69. La Boca; 46 Emek Refaim St., one floor up; Jerusalem's German Colony, (02) 563-5577. Kashrut Rabbanut Yerushalayim. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Friday 11:30 a.m. to one hour before Shabbat.