I can't say I've ever reviewed a restaurant that brought up as many fascinating issues as Boys Toys. For example, the ambiguous name. The first time I saw an ad for the place I thought, “Boy Toys, a gay men's or straight women's strip club?” Of course, I quickly realized that it's “Boys” Toys, with an “s” (if no apostrophe), a place where men (boys) can play with women (toys) for a (presumably very high) price. The nature of the business left me in a tricky position: On the one hand, my mother claims to read these reviews, but on the other, I've visited perhaps a half-dozen San Francisco stripperies over the years. Would Mom be shocked if, for the sake of comparison, I said that Boys Toys isn't as, well, interactive as some places, but that at Boys Toys you don't have to watch where you put your hand? And would Mom feel better or worse if I said I usually had female dates when visiting such establishments, and that — no pun, double entendre, or anything else intended — I (mostly) kept my hands to myself?
In other words, I was deep in the mire even before I arrived at the issue of asses. Normally, my editors don't feel it's appropriate for me to comment on the luscious flanks of a restaurant's entertainment staff. But what if those sweet cheeks are bare, on a stage, working it throughout dinner — if, in fact, they're the featured attraction? Certainly that makes them fair game. Thus, I feel confident mentioning that my friend Barrie and I saw some truly superb young poundcakes at Boys Toys. As for the other top draw, the place appears to be a largely “fakie-free” zone.
The food at Boys Toys raised still more questions. While there's no reason Boys Toys couldn't equal other restaurants that charge $19 to $28 per entree, something tells me your average top-tier chef doesn't want a place named “Boys Toys” on his or her résumé. Such chefs might also avoid establishments with facades sporting a quintet of neon cocktail glasses, all with erect swizzle sticks waving in unison like some kind of chorus line. To top it off, as we took our seats the televisions in the dining room were tuned to ESPN's SportsCenter. In other words, I didn't expect much from a culinary point of view, but I found it hard not to think that, given an unlimited expense account, some guys I know could wander into Boys Toys and never, ever come out.
Our dinner took place in the upstairs Boardroom Restaurant, a dark, low-ceilinged space where deep, cushy booths and white tablecloths met waiters who looked great in their tuxedos (some of whom actually knew what they were doing). There was a stage, of course, and a parade of lithe young dancers, who took turns stripping down to incredibly small G-strings and showing love to the standard brass pole. Given the often aggressive nature of tips-only entertainers, we were a bit surprised when none offered to show us any affection during dinner. Still, it was an entertaining venue, the kind of place where no one batted an eye when the date of the man at the next table excused herself to take her turn onstage.
Another food-related question was this: Would the dishes be excellent enough — or terrible enough — to distract us from the asses? As it turned out, neither; what we tried ranged from fairly good to decidedly amateurish. I began with an example of the former, a well-composed seafood sampler platter that combined succulent ahi tartare over crisp wonton chips with huge, juicy prawns in a “menage a trois” sauce (one shrimp each in pesto, aioli, and cocktail sauces) and a skillet of mussels and Manila clams steamed in white wine. Meanwhile, Barrie chose the five-course tasting menu and started on the other end of the spectrum: Her dry, leathery crab ravioli was served with a chili-balsamic sauce so vinegary that putting it near our mouths was like inhaling mustard gas.
Should we have expected better from a place that lists highly prized wines such as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild under the category “Big Time French Boys”? Probably not. Still, after our cocktails — a very good Maker's Mark Manhattan for me and an equally good (and equally simple) Absolut Mandrin and tonic for Barrie — sat undelivered at the bar for 10 minutes when the place was half-empty, it was hard not to feel some things could improve.
A good place to start would be the salad department. Warmed spinach with applewood bacon, goat cheese, and thyme-raspberry vinaigrette was drenched in yet another searing dose of vinegar, while mixed baby greens came with pine nuts, toy box baby tomatoes, and a rancidly pungent Roquefort vinaigrette. Barrie's third course — seared ahi over crisp cellophane noodles and subtly bitter pea shoots, ringed with wasabi cream and a dark, tangy soy-sesame sauce — proved far more seductive, and as I gazed stageward to a series of long, slow, perfectly executed karate kicks, I wondered if soft-core titillation and fine dining might safely coexist.
Barrie's Angus fillet of beef in a port–foie gras sauce answered the question with a maybe: The beef itself was savory, tender, and cooked to perfection, and a side of truffled potatoes in a tower of onion rings proved adequate, but the sauce tasted remarkably like nothing whatsoever. My entree — a thick, juicy double-cut pork chop — achieved similarly spotty results. I liked the firm, moist pork and the side of potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower, but was entirely perplexed at the unusual graininess of my deep-fried “potato” wheel until I realized it was actually polenta.
The dessert that came with Barrie's tasting menu proved even more confusing — in fact, no one could tell us what it was. Our waiter had no idea. A passing hostess gave it a once-over, shrugged, then went about her business. A perusal of the dessert menu revealed nothing that corresponded even vaguely to our creamy, cylindrical, mousselike cake suffused with an overwhelming taste of licorice. I've had better desserts on airplanes. A scoop of smooth, rich, vanilla gelato with a handful of raspberries on the side took us to a far better place, but a second handful of entirely flavorless blueberries made us wonder if Boys Toys had somehow found a way to lure the taste out of fruit.
On a brighter note, our bill was accompanied by a handful of free passes to the larger club downstairs. After sauntering along a hallway decorated with holographic images of Playboy Playmates and (a strange touch) items such as the Quiet Power Tie Rack and the Ionic Breeze Mini Air Purifier from the Sharper Image, we found ourselves in a bigger, brighter Boys Toys with not one but two stages, a veritable ass-shaking jamboree. Folks — mostly men — drank, chatted, and (presumably) enjoyed their hands-off lap dances as Barrie and I sipped cocktails and took it all in. Finally, a tall blond woman offered us a private dance, but since she wasn't really our type, we declined.
And then came the strip club moment: As a middle-aged, ponytailed fellow slid a few bills into the G-string of one of the women onstage, the look on her face was one of utter boredom. Hell, if I were in a similar position to hers (a disturbing image), it would take more than a few bucks to make me smile, too.