It's hard being a David in today's Goliath world.
This is especially true for indie restaurants near the corner of Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue - one of the busiest intersections in the state - an area where behemoth corporate joints roar the loudest.
Muse Bistro & Wine Bar, an independently owned venture that opened in 2011, kind of gets lost in the blur of all those Meridian chain restaurants, but the food at this jewel-box-sized establishment is considerably more nuanced than what gets plated at those other places.
Muse changes its small dinner menu on a weekly basis, reflecting the seasons and the mood of chef Alan Rumsey.
Located in the former Blue Ribbon Artisans spot next to Lucky Fins Seafood Grill, Muse has a large wine list (around 125 labels) that plays well with the simple, Euro-inspired fare. After all, it's a wine bar at heart.
The decor is what I like to call "suburban classical," meaning the dining room is an amalgam of dark brown and light blue hues (a popular color scheme right now), vintage-looking tin ceiling tiles, white tablecloths and lots of import-store art that relates to wine. The environment at Muse most certainly has a special-occasion feel to it.
One Saturday evening, as the neighboring corporate restaurants were busting at the seams with diners, Muse was nearly empty during peak dinner-rush hours.
As we perused the menu in search of appetizers, a classical guitarist by the name of Riccardo Raffaele Bartolome sat in the corner softly twanging the Italian love songs of his childhood.
We finally settled on the pork belly appetizer ($9), a seared slab of pig's underside nestled in a saucy web of tart cherry gastrique, a syrupy reduction that clings well to the succulently braised meat.
I must say, though, the cheese plate ($10) is more utilitarian than exciting. On this night, out came a wedge of Brie (smeared with orange marmalade), smoked Gouda and nutty-tasting Manchego, served with red grapes, blueberries, sliced Macintosh apple, candied walnuts and assorted crackers.
These starters paired nicely with glasses of King Estate Acrobat Pinot Noir ($11), a garnet-colored beauty from Oregon's Willamette Valley, recommended to us by our knowledgeable server.
Chef Rumsey has an obvious aptitude for what food works with wine, as evidenced by the delicious pan-roasted chicken ($22), a golden-brown breast, leg and thigh finished with ribbons of prosciutto, mushrooms and a pan sauce of butter, white wine and sage. The accompanying rice pilaf was bland, though.
Muse's rendition of trout amandine ($26), which came with whipped spuds and braised spinach, stays relatively true to the dish's classic French roots, with two pan-roasted ruby trout fillets (from Hagerman Valley) encrusted with almonds and drizzled with brown butter pan sauce. My only gripe is that the sliced almonds were burnt in spots, leaving a slightly acrid taste in our mouths.
No big deal. We just washed away the bitterness with a crisp and minerally Adelsheim Vineyard Pinot Gris ($10 a glass), also from western Oregon.
I contemplated ordering the espresso chocolate torte, but it probably would've kept me up all night thinking about that strange, light blue wallpaper - depicting a Victorian scene of women and children frolicking in the countryside - which I can't seem to get out of my head.
Muse's lunch menu is set for the most part, with a list of salads, sandwiches and entrées.
The duck confit salad ($10) is a bowl of spinach leaves topped with shreds of glistening duck, fresh raspberries, candied walnuts and a disc of breaded goat cheese, served with red wine vinaigrette. It's a bright and refreshing salad, especially on a warm spring day.
We also enjoyed the steak brochette appetizer ($8). Two charred sirloin skewers (redolent of fresh rosemary) came to us criss-crossed over a pool of vinegary red pepper coulis that reminded me of Heinz 57 steak sauce, only much better. The brochettes also had onion and bell pepper, but the promised pear tomatoes were absent from the line-up.
The sliders ($9) are noteworthy as well. These sandwiches - made with juicy ground beef, caramelized onion, wilted spinach and melted blue cheese, on crusty little rolls - came with a cup of fragrant tomato-basil bisque.
Glasses of Diseno Malbec ($9), a fruit-forward wine (with hints of leather) from Argentina's Mendoza province, worked well with both beef dishes.
Even though Muse doesn't tout an Idaho bent, in terms of sourcing local products, it would be great to see more wines from the Snake River Valley and a local farmstead cheese or two on the cheese plate. (Blue Sage Farm, for example, makes magnificent sheep's milk Manchego in Shoshone.)
All critique aside, the food and wine at Muse is hands-down superior to the other options along this congested stretch of Eagle Road.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org