SixOneSix

Special to The Idaho StatesmanApril 21, 2006 

— What kind of restaurant decor do you get when influences are drawn from "The Jetsons," "Happy Days" and "Victory Garden" on PBS?

The answer is SixOneSix — chef Jered Couch's latest venture that opened in December near downtown Eagle.

This zany 21st century diner, named after the last three digits in Eagle's zip code, boasts organic sensibilities and contemporary accents. Couch has designed an interior that speaks to the postmodern belief that drastically dissimilar concepts can work together without clashing.

His dining room is all about big, comfortable booths that are reminiscent of old car bench seats (think '50s-era Mercedes). Faux hedges of peppergrass cut the room into sections, like a Piet Mondrian painting.

Check out the crimson-bathed lounge area (totally from the new millennium), which has Euro-looking banquettes and a swanky red velvet sofa.

The inventive menu of continental comfort food (New American, if you will) is an exercise in quirky, too.

Couch and his kitchen crew (including French Culinary Institute graduate Justin Soelberg) have resurrected some plates from The Dish, Couch's former global-fusion restaurant at Lake Harbor. You'll be reminded of the past by the portobello fries, baked ziti macaroni and cheese, and a black-and-blue buffalo rib-eye smothered with blue cheese and pickled red onions.

Other than those standbys, Couch's menu is a more mature effort (he turns 30 soon), with contemporary interpretations of classic Latin and European dishes such as seafood paella, duck schnitzel and garlicky escargot.

Expect to see some Pan-Asian dishes on the pages, as well.

One night, after showing up for our 6 p.m. reservation, we were recognized by sommelier David Pettinger, whom I'm sure informed the kitchen immediately.

But it seems that Couch puts out all the plates as if they're going to restaurant critics.

Spring is the best time of year to eat oysters, mostly because the meat is sweet and firm, thanks to the chilly waters in the Pacific Northwest.

SixOneSix currently is serving its Puget Sound bivalves freshly shucked on the half-shell ($8 for five), covered with ponzu and mouth-popping wasabi-infused tobiko.

A bottle of 2004 Gary Farrell Sauvignon Blanc ($42), a citrusy and dry white wine from Sonoma, also was a hit with the tender strips of calamari ($10) sautéed with tomato, scallion, garlic and rosemary, a pungent herb used sparingly on this clean-tasting squid.

All wine gets poured into beautifully balanced Riedel crystal wine glasses.

We then shifted gears by choosing a tangle of spicy vermicelli noodles ($11) topped with pepper-encrusted ahi (seared rare) and a scoop of cool cucumber-dill sorbet. This refreshing appetizer was a delicious experiment in flavor and texture.

After cleansing our palates with an intermezzo of freshly-spun blood orange sorbet, we ordered a bottle of 2004 Belle Glos Pinot Noir ($39), a Santa Maria Valley appellation with an essence of blackberry, to go with the forthcoming grilled salmon ($21) and bowls of super-smooth garlicky gazpacho ($5).

Couch gave the royal Thai treatment to a fillet of wild king salmon (cooked perfectly between medium-rare and medium), crowned with a crisp cucumber-red onion salad and soy-roasted peanuts, on a throne of fluffy jasmine rice.

The wine also mingled well with a whimsical dark chocolate cake ($13), a tilted, mad hatter-like creation made by pastry chef Greg Marsh.

The following week, we slipped in unannounced for dinner.

Since it's spring, a soup ($7) made from freshly unearthed beets seemed appropriate, as did crunchy and cold hearts of romaine ($9) tossed in chipotle-key lime Caesar dressing and draped with smoked tomato salsa and two (slightly dry) grilled tiger prawns. Tiny croutons and anchovy-stuffed green olives dotted the chilled plate.

The velvety puree of red beets and roasted fennel (with hints of honey and chicken stock) came striped with slices of saffron-infused pear.

After an intermezzo of passion fruit sorbet, we were ready for ultra-tender veal cheeks ($21) drenched in dense demi-glace — on a base of earthy celeriac puree — and capped with crunchy fried sweet onions.

We also were enticed by the thought of fresh Alaskan halibut ($23), a lightly poached oceanic-white fillet situated atop braised fennel confit, next to intersecting lines of bright strawberry-rhubarb sauce and yam puree.

With plates like these, Couch has had no problem filling the reservation book.

Service is professional and attentive, without being bothersome, and the interior design is so hip it hurts at this new Eagle address.

James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@earthlink.net.

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