Its hard to imagine ever eating enough of Chef Richard Langstons tomato basil soup.
Its a little bit creamy, a touch acidic, thick like a bisque and absolutely perfect on a cool fall day (or, frankly, any other day).
Ive been enjoying it for well over a decade, since wandering into Richards Bakery in Hyde Park for a quick lunch sometime in the late 1990s.
It was the star of the show at this small bakery and coffee shop, and later took on a prominent support role on the more extensive menu at Richards Across the Street. (Remember the garlicky roast chicken?) Back then, along with this significant chunk of 13th Street dining options, Langstons partnership Rampart had a hand in Goldys Breakfast Bistro and Saffron, a pan-Asian place on the Basque Block for a while.
Today, Langstons focus is on the friendly and intimate Café Vicino (which means neighborhood in Italian), and this signature soup is one of the first items on both the lunch and dinner menus, regardless of the season.
Joining it are some of the most refined and approachable dishes that have ever been on a Langston menu (and I admit to having spent a lot of time in most of these establishments).
Take the prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast, served with crispy polenta and a sauce of raisins and grappa, a strong Italian brandy ($22, dinner only).
With its promised blend of sweet and salty (made all the better when the salty comes from pork), it is all I can do to ever order anything else.
But of course if one must
One could do a whole lot worse than the cheese-filled house-made ravioli with a hearty, meaty Bolognese ($14 dinner, $11 lunch). Or the clams in white wine sauce over linguini ($15 dinner, $13 lunch). It is one of my go-to meals here; light and clean, with pancetta and pepperoncini adding heft and bite.
For lunch, I struggle to break away from the house-smoked chicken salad sandwich, made with figs, golden raisins, walnuts and red onions ($9.50). It is smoky, sweet, savory and crunchy with every bite bites preferably alternating with sips of tomato basil soup. Vegetarians can choose a sandwich featuring Portobello mushrooms. For carnivores, an open-faced number with braised beef, caramelized onions and brie.
Langston changes the menu seasonally, and this summer I loved the poached black cod, which came with white beans, pancetta bacon, clams and corn in a delicate tarragon broth ($22, dinner only).
My unexpected summer favorite, though, was a rock shrimp fettuccini with squash, roasted peppers and basil ($14.75). It had zero bits of pork (which may be why my wife ordered it, not me), but such a bright, fresh feel that it tasted like the shrimp could have been caught right out the back door. What a treat. (I finagled a food swap midway through the meal, so I could finish it.) Lets hope that the seasonal ingredients and chefs whims bring this back next year.
The décor here is white and simple; there is almost no clutter on the walls or the tables. The service is attentive and old-school. Weve had waiters bring us tastes of wines we might enjoy based on the other bottles weve ordered, and write down labels and vintages so we remember what we loved in case we want to hunt it down ourselves.
It feels quaint and sophisticated all at the same time, no easy feat, especially in what is really a strip mall between Downtown and the North End (its across the parking lot from the Boise Co-op, in a space that was the Flipside Cafe several years back and Incredible Edibles before that).
I imagine it would be a great place for a first date, but I know its a wonderful spot for the 500th or 1,000th a quiet getaway just down the street for urban Boiseans (and with that rare Downtown commodity, lots of free parking, for everyone else).
My suggestion? Start with a couple of seared sea scallops ($4.25 each) and enjoy the interplay on the plate. The scallops are seared crisp, smothered in a cilantro cream and set atop a few bites of mashed sweet potato.
Its almost impossible not to have a great time together after that.
Email Gregory Hahn: email@example.com