Month: June 2004

The Cellars 

Sometimes you wonder how restaurants stay open. Granted, it was a Wednesday evening and we arrived about 6:30 p.m., slightly late for the regimented elderly eaters and slightly early for the late-night fine dining wine crowd. Perhaps we were between rushes? A fairly large open room greeted us, completely empty. A waitress and a chef seemed to be the only employees, plenty to handle our crowd of two. During the course of our evening we were the only customers except for a lone eater at the outside tables. Despite the lack of customers, we were determined to have a wonderful meal, and we did.

The Cellars is attached to City Market, an open walkway leads one to the gourmet grocery store adding to the anticipation of exotic flavors and wonderful aromas. Local artists adorn the walls and the tablecloths and silverware set the stage for a gourmet meal. The wine list—as long as the dining menu—was a wonderful assortment of wines including an interesting assortment of regional vintages, all available by the bottle or glass.

We started with the peppered calamari, which was tasty with its delicious dipping sauce unlike any we’ve had in Boise. We would have preferred the calamari to be crispier but it was good nonetheless. The appetizer menu contained many more delicious sounding dishes including satays, which we plan to taste on another visit. The dinner menu contained five entrees: olive chicken, salmon, pork chops, halibut and peppercorn ribeye, all prepared with vegetables and beautiful seasonings decorating the plates.

While my dinner companion selected the salmon, I decided on an option at the bottom of the menu. Diners can select a cut of steak from the gourmet butcher counter next door at City Market and for a $12.95 cooking fee, the restaurant will cook it to your satisfaction. I selected an aged ribeye from the counter (paid for in the grocery store). The store has a selection of steak cuts aged on-site for 21 days, a process that breaks down the cells of the meat making for a tender, more flavorful steak.

I was not disappointed with my decision. The entrées were served promptly with exquisite service, and to our desired temperature. Mashed potatoes graced my plate while a sweet potato/mashed potato mix was served with the salmon. These were huge piles perfect for us spud lovers. Too full for desert, we passed on the sweets. A stroll through the grocery store to aid digestion was just what the doctor ordered. Although we weren’t hungry (not a bad thing in a grocery store), we started thinking about the next flavorful thing we could ingest. Perhaps they might still be serving deserts in the restaurant?

—Bingo Barnes has a ticklish palate.

Eulogies

I don’t remember this many eulogies for Nixon when he died. While Ronald Reagan was a great leader I am already a little oversaturated with reviewing his life, his legacy, his accomplishments, and his friends and family talking about it all. Although I never voted for the guy it wasn’t because I didn’t like him. I wasn’t old enough to vote until Daddy Bush ran for president. We never discussed politics at home but I always assumed we were a Republican household growing up. The guy certainly had charisma. Hey Ron, thanks for your hard work and getting rid of the “evil empire.” Frankly, I was way more scared about burning up in a global nuclear holocaust than worrying about a terrorist or two that might blow up a train. At least the commies didn’t do anything to force my own government to take away my civil liberties.

Even after death he still knows how to work the crowd. We can look forward to the Republican National Convention being one big love fest for the Gipper. Jelly beans will make a comeback. They’re already talking about replacing Hamilton on the ten dollar bill with Reagan. He overshadowed everyone and will for the next six months. Can you even remember who Reagan ran against in 1984?

When you know someone is going to win and running against them is just an exercise in futility, why waste the money? Why go to the trouble? The Idaho Democratic Party missed the deadline to file a candidate to oppose incumbent Senator Mike Crapo. It is the first time that the Democratic Party in Idaho has failed to put up an opposition candidate. They may be right.

Some think it is futile to fight against the Republicans in this state. Andy Hedden-Nicely told me the other day that all Democrats should quit the Democratic Party and join the Republicans. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It makes sense. After all, a Democrat in Idaho is like a Republican in California. By joining the Republican Party the Democrats could stop worrying about the poor, the hungry, regressive taxes, crappy education and all the little minority issues. No more fighting for women’s rights or gay marriage. Think of the weight that could be taken off their shoulders. They’d get to attend all those closed door caucus meetings, determine which forest to open up for logging, figure out how to look out for themselves when it comes to taxes and education. Think of the money we’d save. Free anti-depressants for everyone. We could all be happy again.

Piazza Di Vino 

When I was backpacking through Europe in college, like all red-blooded American youth, I enjoyed the outdoor cafes of France and Italy. It was a welcome respite to stop, drop the load off your back, enjoy some wine and a quick bite to eat. The small places were usually best, not too many tables for the waiter to get lost amongst, nor the kitchen to get overburdened. Piazza de Vino is like that. In a cozy place on 9th Street, with art all over the walls and a comfortable, intimate atmosphere. We met friends there the other night for a stop on our evening’s journey, neither the beginning nor the end but a welcome waypoint.

At first glance, you notice local artists’ works adorning the walls, a small wine bar, and some café-sized tables. Half expecting the need for a French or Italian translator, the prompt service from a polite waiter made all the difference in the world.

Beginning with a bottle of wine from a diverse but not overbearing menu and big wine glasses, we sorted through the food menu with the same qualities. Because we enjoy appetizer menus on our evening tours de Boise, it seemed the menu was customized for our favored method of mastication. We began with a scampi shrimp pizza, flavorful though it could have been hotter and perhaps a little crisper and bolder with more basil. I found the homemade crust tasty, but agreed with my appetizer acquaintances about the crispness. A spinach salad, (a big enough meal for two shared by five), loaded with bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bacon seemed to disappear before our eyes.

One of my restaurant assumptions is that when an establishment has a separate wine menu, they are experienced with how wine should be served. Bottles ordered should be shown to the person who ordered it, then tasted by the same individual. Once confirmed with a nod that would find its place in a fine art auction, the waiter circles the table to pour everyone else’s glass starting with the ladies and finishing with the person who originally ordered the bottle. With every new bottle a fresh glass should be used. I look for these things and while I don’t complain about faux pas made during the course of consuming a bottle of vino, I make a mental note of it. (You think I’m going somewhere with this don’t you?) I am happy to say I came away with absolutely no mental notes regarding Piazzo di Vino’s wine service. It was tops.

A second bottle of wine accompanied the appenzeller fondue, melted cheese in a bread bowl with apples, pears, toasted baguette slices and soft bread–great to munch on while discussing politics and religion, two subjects usually avoided in polite conversation. Our crowd lives dangerously. Emptied plates were cleared quickly and it was easy to leave when we decided to. It’s not always easy to leave a place when the mood takes you. Our group moved on down the alley to another haunt, another stop on our journey for the night.

–Bingo Barnes begged his parents for a pet blowfish.

Kamping (Kid+Camping)

As a kid our family used to go camping quite a bit. Between tent camping and the old camper with bunk beds we saw most of Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. There were four of us, my parents, my brother and me. There are pictures of me as a baby getting a bath in the camper sink and my father still tells the story of the 20-inch trout he caught that I threw back in the river because it was dying on shore where he left it for a later meal.

I want to give my own spawn these same memories. I want to create my own horror stories that I retell over and over, hopefully to my own grandspawn someday. On Memorial Day weekend, while my publisher was away on a mental health sabbatical, I decided to load up the spawn, the cousin-spawn, a dog and a truckload of supplies and head up the Boise River. I tried to make reservations at a campground a week ago but what was I thinking? Memorial Day weekend? How naive was I?

We drove up Highway 21, taking a right which led us past Arrowrock Reservoir, and took our chances on finding a spot by the Boise River. There were surprisingly few campers in the campgrounds and a few spots were actually available. Unofficial camp spots along the river were only 25 percent occupied and we settled in one just below the Loftus hot springs.

I had learned a few tricks about camping with kids from my own father. One, bribes to do camp chores work. Two, keep the spawn hungry and the bribes work better. Three, stories about bears and bigfoot keep them from wandering too far from camp. Four, bring extra clothes for the spawn, especially when camped near water. Five, as best you can, keep track of any camp tools the demons escape with. Six, it’s better to help the spawn go number two in a hole in the woods than suffer the consequences of telling them to go for it. Seven, fire burns. Eight, a separate sleeping area (tent) for the spawn is a necessity. Nine, dirt and sand will get everywhere so get over it. Ten, you can’t eat too many marshmallows. Eleven, do not change your dog’s diet by feeding them leftovers. You’ve still got the return journey home. Twelve, you have to remind the spawn to move out of the campfire smoke plume. Thirteen, escape camp on a short walk at some time without telling them where you are going. This reminds them that they need you to get home. Fourteen, never feed them anything you won’t mind cleaning up after regurgitation in the car. Gummy bears: no. Bread: OK. And finally, bring lots of paper towels.