April 26 2011 11:00 AM

French style and Cohn food arrive in Ocean Beach


As you approach the massive front door of BO-beau, the latest dining locale from the Cohn Restaurant Group, you might notice the rustic shelving lining the wall to your right. Piled in an artfully messy way is a collection of lightweight throws, which thin-blooded San Diego diners can wrap around themselves when dining on the outdoor Ocean Beach patio. That sort of thoughtful touch certainly reinforces Cohn Restaurant Group's website claim that it's “obsessed” with hospitality. Plus, lap blankets are a far less creepy way to demonstrate hospitality than, say, shoulder rubs from your server.

BO-beau occupies the spot where O.B. standby Thee Bungalow lived for decades. The beach community's stalwart was far past its prime; it was in desperate need of a facelift—from an interior redesign to overhaul of the dated and overpriced menu. Yet, I felt a little sad when I learned that the Cohns had bought the place—not because the Cohns don't know how to turn out a decent restaurant, but because a tiny piece of O.B. history was going to be turned into another “property.”

Ah, but those Cohns, they can crank 'em out. Sure, they've managed to take one stupidly named restaurant and turn it into another stupidly named restaurant, but with BO-beau, they've given OBecians a quaint and stylish offering, with great food to boot.

They don't take reservations, and when we arrived at 6:30 p.m. on a weekend, the wait for dinner was 45 minutes for our small party. The kind (and, yes, very hospitable) hostess took my number and offered to call when our table was ready. No worries, we just sashayed our hungry patoots across the street to the popular haunt The 3rd corner for some wine. (I have a feeling the two eateries will have a mutually beneficial relationship.) Thirty comfortably wine-soaked minutes later, we headed back across West Point Loma Boulevard and slipped into a snuggly corner booth.

We got off to a strong start with an appetizer that practically everyone in our section was eating, and for good reason: the crispy brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts have been enjoying a well-deserved renaissance, and BO-beau's version is a can't-miss. If you're still one of those people who hasn't given sprouts another chance, perhaps due to some childhood trauma, stop plugging your nose and dive into the pile of charred and healthy nubbins that arrive at your table on a handsome wood plank. The sprouts are roasted until just tender, with wonderfully crispy and blackened outer leaves. The mound of green comes generously dusted with parmesan cheese and drizzled with a sweet reduction of balsamic vinegar. The Cohns do know how to gild the lily, and the brussels sprouts are no exception; you'll find dime-sized chunks of salty, fried pancetta cleverly hiding like fat little piggies in a vegetable patch.

The Woodstone Oven Flat Breads are exceptional, with unique flavor combinations like shrimp with avocado and almonds. Our table devoured the roasted-beet flat bread, which comes covered in paper-thin beets as sweet as candy, goat cheese and surprising little hot bits of jalapeño.

The steak, a kissably-soft rib-eye, was sizzling, peppery and dripping with herb butter. With plentiful sides of snappy green beans and crispy pommes frites, it's the consummate bistro crowd-pleaser.

I thank the chicken who gave up the tender thigh to be doused in mustard sauce on my plate of chicken fricassee. The tarragon dumplings that share the plate with the bird have a touch of pan-fried caramelization on the outside. They're a luxuriously dense way to sop up the remaining puddle of chicken juice, mustard and your drool.

The “bohemian” (BO) and “beautiful” (beau) Philippe Beltran-designed restaurant is warm and evocative without feeling snooty. Grab a blanketa and some sprouts, and make yourself comfortable.   

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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