Boma – Boston, Massachusetts

First Taste: Safe Landing

When you enter Boma, opening Oct. 10 in the South End, you may wonder whether you’ve been transported to the ICA. Its sputnik chandeliers resemble Josiah McElheny’s cosmic explosions on exhibit at the museum, creating a modern yet comforting atmosphere. It’s also fitting. Although there’s been some speculation around the name, Boma doesn’t mean Boston, Mass. Rather, it’s an African word of Persian origin meaning “safe haven”—the precise feel this new gastrolounge wants to evoke.

“We want to have our own identity,” says Shane Manfred, who co-owns the restaurant with Scott Shaw. Balancing sophistication with lack of pretense, Boma is very different from Pho Republique, which occupied the space for more than a decade. Exposed brick, discovered when Manfred sledged through six inches of Sheetrock, gives the restaurant an antique, metropolitan feel tying together each of the areas—bar, front lounge, dining room and wine cove. The bar now dominates the left side of the 80-seat restaurant, with ample and spacious seating along the counter and at high tops, while the back wall features wood planks that form a utilitarian checkerboard for stashing wine bottles. Topped with a lattice, the wine cove is a dark and intimate space for a cozy dinner.

The menu echoes that intimacy through an emphasis on small plates that are weighted toward seafood and American fare. But executive chef Christopher Bussell, formerly of Terramia and Butterfish, doesn’t skimp on creativity. Grilled swordfish, for instance, comes with crispy head-on shrimp and pan-seared gnocchi, artichokes and a lobster jus. “We’re drawing from different areas of the world for our menu, while passing that all through the prism of the local, organic movement,” says Bussell. American fare, of course, means a melting pot.

Bussell also offers tiny plates, like fontina tots with a gorgonzola dunk and a bruschetta consisting of house-made sourdough topped with heirloom tomatoes and crunchy black-lava salt. In all, his menu sports nearly two dozen smaller items. It’s a testament to the notion of safety, and variety, in numbers.

Boma Restaurant + Bar 1415 Washington St., Boston (617-536-3663)

This article originally appeared in the October 3, 2012, issue of The Improper Bostonian.