Dining review: Angell’s Renato searches to find its own identity

The resurrected restaurant’s new menu is a work in progress.

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANSeptember 6, 2013 

  • ANGELL’S BAR AND GRILL RENATO

    Address: 999 Main St., Boise

    Phone: (208) 342-4900

    Hours: Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Angell’s Renato is not open for lunch. Happy hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

    Menu price range: Salads, sides and appetizers $4-$14; entrées $14-$38

    Libation situation: Cocktails galore, regional microbrews and a wine list with lots of California, Northwest and International labels. But not many labels from Idaho’s Snake River Valley.

    Family friendly? No kids menu, but the kitchen can whip up some kid-friendly items upon request.

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes

    Opened: July 2013

I must admit to not being overly excited about the redux of Angell’s Bar and Grill. The name Renato (meaning reborn in Italian) has now been added to the name of this venerated Boise eatery, which was recently resurrected under new ownership after Bob and Mickey Angell said goodbye to the original earlier this year.

Part of me just wanted to see Angell’s go away — into the annals of local steakhouse history — making way for an exciting new concept that could possibly rejuvenate this prime restaurant real estate in Downtown Boise. But there’s something to be said about tradition. A good pepper steak and a bottle of Bordeaux can make for a wonderful night. Dry martinis and Caesar salads have helped to seal many business deals in this spot over the years. There’s no doubt something comforting about the past, bringing people back to a sense of normalcy after a string of turbulent economic years.

Yet the new Angell’s has had a tumultuous start since owner Russell Dawe reinvented the place in July. He first hired Dave Shipley, a former Brick 29 Bistro chef, but he and Shipley parted ways a while later and Shipley took his recipes with him.

This is when chef Benjamin Thorpe, former owner of Cornerstone Bistro in Middleton, stepped in to take on the kitchen responsibilities. He literally hit the floor running without much preparation and insight into the new Angell’s concept. Thorpe was given the creative green light, though, to move forward with his seasonal, contemporary Mediterranean fare, which co-exists with a handful of recognizable Angell’s classics — on a menu that’s split into two distinct parts.

All things considered, Thorpe has managed to assert himself relatively seamlessly into the restaurant’s updated concept, which appears to still be a work in progress.

As for the décor, not much has changed from the extensive remodel that Angell’s underwent a few years ago. The dining room is decidedly understated. Bamboo wallpaper and lots of dark wood trim dictate the design throughout the restaurant. Dawe did give the bar area a slight makeover, most notably by wrapping the bar with sheets of copper and hanging some ornate Ikea lamps. The kitchen was given a major overhaul, the biggest and most unnoticeable change of all.

One evening, my dining partner and I sat in the nearly empty dining room, while most diners opted to hang out on what is arguably the best patio in town.

After some menu deliberation, we started with an order of Pernod shrimp ($13) and bean tapenade ($5), the latter of which was more like hummus than tapenade — not a dense paste of olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. A small bowl of pureed white beans (with too much salt and oregano) was served to us with crusty slices of locally made baguette.

The shrimp, on the other hand, had an excellent flavor, and was perfectly cooked. Out came a line-up of sautéed large shrimp attractively situated on a stripe of mixed greens, topped with a licorice liqueur cream sauce flecked with shallot and fresh tarragon. A glass of bone-dry New Zealand sauvignon blanc ($7/Matua Valley) was a good pick for the tender shellfish.

We also reached consensus on the chevre en croute ($12), a big purse of flaky pastry filled with creamy goat cheese, surrounded by a puddle of sweet-tart black cherry-peppercorn reduction and pieces of chopped figs.

All entrees on the Angell’s side of the menu are served with mixed greens tossed in a ginger-spiked vinaigrette, sprinkled with dried cherries, shaved almonds and dabs of goat cheese.

I felt let down by the filet Oscar ($32), mostly because the lump crabmeat that crowned it was barely discernible, and the bearnaise sauce had broken into an oily moat around the perfectly cooked (medium) beef tenderloin — the best thing about this pricey dish. The steak rested on a bed of whipped potatoes and sautéed yellow squash. (Steak Oscar is typically served with asparagus, but Thorpe understandably won’t use it because it’s not in season.)

I was much happier with the duck carbonara ($17), a jumble of locally made pasta ribbons (thankfully al dente) mingled with shreds of duck confit, salty pancetta and chopped scallion in a rich cream sauce with an egg folded in.

About a week later, my dining partner and I came back and sat in the bar. Right away, we got things going with the wild mushroom bruschetta ($9) and lamb lollipops ($10) — seven little skewers of grilled lamb and pork sausage (seasoned with garlic, lemon and ground celery seed) arranged around a knot of arugula next to a curry-spiced yogurt dipping sauce.

The bruschetta was not really made with wild mushrooms, as the menu indicated. Instead, we were served sautéed baby shiitake mushrooms and criminis (the cultivated kind) atop four thick slices of grilled baguette with shaved Parmesan. It’s a good appetizer, though, especially while sipping a glass of dry French rosé ($6.50/Paul Jaboulet).

We then went Angell’s old-school with a Caesar salad ($7), as an intermezzo to our entrée. Chopped romaine, tossed in a lemony Caesar dressing (with no shortage of anchovy), cascaded from a golden Parmesan crisp, topped with a slice of crostini.

The dry rosé also paired well with the berry-glazed pork tenderloin ($14). Incredibly tender and juicy medallions of grilled pork, drizzled with a dense blackberry sauce redolent of hoisin, came to us layered over a silky polenta cake and lightly sautéed zucchini.

Angell’s Renato is obviously torn between two concepts: trying to please the older, previous Angell’s clientele, while at the same time, going after a hipper crowd who craves more modern fare. Whether this will succeed remains to be seen.

Email James Patrick Kelly at scene@idahostatesman.com

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