Booka breathes new life into Aptos Village
When a new restaurant opens, word quickly spreads on its performance—with food, ambiance, warmth, courtesy and service all taken into account. From my first bite of food at Booka, which opened in the historic Bayview Hotel in Aptos, I detected unusual flavors with a different twist. Everything seems to come together here, and servers look the part dressed all in black with crisp white aprons and white folded napkins in their waistbands. It’s good to see this beautifully decorated restaurant doing well and the parking lot full.
Booka is managed and run by Israeli married couple Eti and Atar Levi, and business partner Sharone Marom, so the food has delicious Levant influences but it also reflects different cultures. The two experienced Israeli chefs who run the kitchen, Yohai Rubin and Shaul Koifman (who also goes by the nickname Booka and after whom the restaurant is named), prepare adventurous cuisine and present the diner with bold and imaginative flavors. The fresh calamari appetizer, for example, is not the breaded and fried-to-a-crisp offering found in most places. It is plancha seared and prepared with tasty tahini, fresh and dry garbanzo beans and served with a mesabaha sauce, which includes chopped chilies, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It’s succulent, tender and delicious.
Other appetizers also offer healthy dishes busting with freshness. Try the Cauliflower “Asado,” complete with tossed almonds and chives, or the Caribbean Ceviche with diced white fish, mango, chili, coriander and lime. Booka has a delightful mélange of Mediterranean and California influences, and the diner is most definitely treated to an interesting culinary experience.
As our server reeled off the day’s specials, olive oil, vinegar and excellent bread were brought to our table. Main dishes include Homemade Mushroom Gnocchi, with shiitake, shimeji and portobello mushrooms, a Booka burger with ground lamb and Black Angus, Black Cod and Italian Polenta with fresh corn and dinosaur kale. An Israeli-Style Schnitzel—a tender breaded natural chicken breast with Yukon mashed potatoes, seasoned mustard and Israeli salad—was my husband’s main dish. “No doggie bag for me,” he says, as he finishes every bite. One of the day’s specials I really enjoyed, a paella dish with all kinds of seafood, was bursting with ultra-fresh calamari, octopus, shrimps, scallops, and served with rice of a golden hue.
I left my husband at our table momentarily to check out the bar, where personable bartenders were shaking cocktails at the speed of light to keep up with orders, one of which was a margarita served with a purple violet. With its upbeat vibe, the bar area is now a go-to place for cocktails or an after-work glass of vino.
A Chocolate Nemesis was waiting for me when I returned, a splendid flourless chocolate cake with salty caramel and homemade vanilla bean ice cream, beautifully presented with delicate purple and crimson flower petals, and smudges of chocolate on the plate. Booka also makes Crack Pie, a nod to New York’s Momofuku restaurants where Chef Rubin worked, and Pavlova, the fabulous Australian dessert named for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, which many restaurants don’t attempt.
Wines by the glass or bottle feature a few local selections such as Storrs, Cinnabar, Birichino and Quinta Cruz – the Galante Cabernet 2010 from Carmel Valley I selected was superb – and about half a dozen beers are served too, including a nonalcoholic.
Two couples on an adjacent table were celebrating two birthdays that day and having a really good time ordering cosmopolitans and delicious-looking martinis. “This is one of the best meals we’ve had in the county,” they told us as birthday cake was brought to them by the restaurant.
Eti Levi, charming, smiling and elegantly dressed, checked on customers constantly throughout the evening and came to our table to see if all was well with our dining experience. It most certainly was.
Booka Restaurant & Bar, 8041 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 685-9500. Open for lunch and dinner daily except Monday.