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Dining Out

Aiming to be a cut above a hotel restaurant

BOKX BOKX 109's lobster cauldron (left) is a bowl heaped with monkfish, clams, mussels, and lobster. Every table gets a bowl of cotton candy (right rear) for dessert, and there's also Nuevo York (cheesecake). (Photos by Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / September 10, 2008
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At the bar at BOKX 109, a broad-chested man is draped in four blondes. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels offer a view of the outdoor pool, where cocktails are being sipped in tented cabanas and blue-lipped kids are being swaddled in towels by tired parents. Back inside, groups of suited men are eating steaks together, affably greeting everyone who passes. A covey of pretty young women arrives. "Have you ever seen so much beauty in this town before?" - I'm paraphrasing very politely - one man asks a complete stranger, confident their shared chromosomal structure will unite them in libidinal glee.

Someone just dropped a piece of Miami on Newton, and the cultures seem surprisingly compatible.

BOKX 109 is the creation of Lou Carrier, a Cape Cod native and pal to rockers such as Dee Snider and Sammy Hagar, whom he befriended working at Hard Rock hotels in Vegas and beyond. Now he's back in his home state, bringing along executive (ekxecutive?) chef Evan Percoco, whose previous gigs include cooking at the Orlando Hard Rock and serving as personal chef for a Saudi Arabian prince. As for the actual hard rock, the soundtrack is more of a Muzak-techno hybrid.

The restaurant is located in the Hotel Indigo, a boutique hotel in a building that used to be a Holiday Inn. "I think I bought my first Roger Clemens rookie card here," one diner says. But this is no longer the kind of hotel that hosts card shows; it's a hotel that doesn't want its restaurant to seem like a hotel restaurant. When that's the aim, it often leads to one thing: steakhouse nouveau. (See: KO Prime, Mooo....)

Indeed, the menu combines a short list of steaks - no hormones or antibiotics used - with slightly unconventional appetizers and sides, plus plenty of seafood. Each meal begins with a bowl of warmed, dyed-red pistachios. BOKX 109 is plush, with crimson accents here and there, and a sparkling open kitchen. The "109" in its name is the number used by the North American Meat Processors Association to refer to prime rib; all of the cuts on the menu are identified by their numbers as well as their names. The "BOKX" part refers to boxed meat, cuts from animals that have been broken down for shipping. If the old-school meat references plus the arbitrary crazy spelling conjure up the image of a butcher on acid playing air guitar with a leg of lamb, well, I'm thinking that might have been the sort of thing they were going for.

Something psychotropic must have been involved when the chicken-fried Kobe steak was conceived. The meat is apparently sourced with pride - the menu says it comes from Snake River Farms - but it's then battered and fried to a dark, greasy brown. Why put Kobe beef to this purpose? You can barely taste it, and we barely touch ours.

But it's a gimmick; the cooking here is more solid than you might expect from a place that calls appetizers "hot snakx." (Nikki Sixx might approve, but surely foie gras, Point Judith calamari, and fries crisped in duck fat deserve a little more dignity.) Which is good, because in true steakhouse fashion, eating here can be expensive. The average entree is about $35; sides are $8 and sauces $3, the high-end equivalent of McDonald's charging for ketchup. The wine list skews toward the higher end, with a few bottles in the $30s. Dinner can cost more than a room at the old Holiday Inn would have. Parking, however, is free.

The porterhouse tops out the menu in price and size: It's an $80, 40-ounce monster that the plate can hardly contain. It arrives mysteriously buried in a pile of prefab-tasting onions strings, or maybe they're shallots. It's hard to tell when they taste like soup mix. Why hide such a showy piece of meat? Still, it's juicy and expertly cooked. So are the scallops in a sophisticated dish that features the shellfish with watercress, fennel, and champagne-caviar butter. When a finicky eater orders his flat iron well-done, the waiter shudders, but miraculously even this steak is good, cooked to the tricky stage where there is just a hint of bloodless pink. A pork chop is slightly dry at the edges but juicy within. (The waiter asks how we'd like it cooked: "Medium-rare? Rare?" Though diners have become accustomed to rosier, and thus tastier, pork, rare is a stretch.)

A side of creamed spinach is excellent, light on the cream. Mashed potatoes come in three varieties - horseradish, roasted garlic, and bacon-blue cheese - and would have been very good if they hadn't arrived cooled and slightly crusted over. The duck fat fries are also tri-flavored (truffled, herbed, and dusted with smoked paprika); on one visit, they are excellent and crisp, on another soggy and lackluster. Macaroni and cheese is a mild version, with slices of hot dogs interspersed among the creamy elbows: a gimmick that works.

Pork 'n' beans is a great idea - Boston baked beans with pork belly - but the beans are still crunchy; crab cakes are bland and a bit fishy. The dressing on a wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese, made with Bibb rather than the traditional iceberg, interferes with the other flavors: It's far too heavy on thyme.

But calamari are very good, mixed with some truly hot peppers and, in a whimsical touch, haricots verts. The "BOKX of shells" for two is a nice assortment served on ice in what looks like a planter: oysters, shrimp cocktail, and lobster in the shell, plus a few more spoonfuls of uninteresting crab. The "lobster cauldron" is a bowl heaped with monkfish, clams, mussels, and lobster served in a tongue-tingling broth (but not in an actual cauldron). The only thing missing is a piece of bread to mop up the last drops.

For dessert, a combo of classic cheesecake and a dulce de leche-flavored version is excellent, both creamy and light. But the best dessert is a freebie: a heaping bowl of cotton candy. Score another one for the gimmicks. Every table gets a bowl - that is, except for ours on one visit, when staffers had trouble tearing themselves away from a pair of unaccompanied young women sequestered in a nook. Groupies!

At BOKX 109, the food can be uneven. So can the service, though it's friendly. But the restaurant brings a little flash to the heretofore flashless junction of the Pike and 95. If it can find its way to consistency, it will be more than just a flash in the pan.

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@globe.com.

BOKX 109

Hotel Indigo, 399 Grove St., Newton. 617-454-3399. www.bokx109.com.

All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $9-$44. Entrees $27-$80. Sides $8. Dessert $12-$15.

Hours Sun-Thurs 5 -10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-11 p.m.

Noise level Music is loud, even on slow nights.

MAY WE SUGGEST

Fries, BOKX of shells, flat iron steak, scallops, lobster cauldron, Nueva York (cheesecake).

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