Ruperts at Hotel McCall has made quite a name for itself in recent years.
The current success of this restaurant has a lot to do with the hard work and creativity put forth by Executive Chef Gary Kucy, a mellow guy with a rather impressive resume.
The Carey family owns and operates Hotel McCall and Jug Mountain Ranch in nearby Lake Fork. Co-owner and general manager David Carey spends his time making sure everything is copasetic at both properties. Hes a friendly fellow who often can be found hanging out in Ruperts dining room, laughing with guests and talking about his latest wine finds.
Its obvious Carey has given his chef a confident nod to strut his stuff, as evidenced by the nuanced cuisine that comes out of the kitchen at this dinner-only restaurant.
Ruperts opened in 2007, after the century-old hotel underwent major renovation, and its been gaining momentum like a runaway snowball ever since. A true measure of success came last year when Kucy was named as a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard Award in the Best Chef Northwest category.
Kucy wasnt the original chef at Ruperts, though. He came to Jug Mountain Ranch in 2008 and then eventually moved over to Ruperts, after his executive chef position at Tamarack Resort ended when the resort went into foreclosure.
Kucy moved to Idaho from Jackson, Wyo., where he was a chef at Snake River Grill (no relation to the one in Hagerman). Earlier in his career, he was a sous chef at Mark Millers legendary Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, N.M. He cut his culinary teeth at the historic Arizona Biltmore Resort in his hometown of Phoenix.
With a culinary background like that, no wonder the Carey family wanted this guy to run their kitchen. It surely looks like Kucy has found a home at Ruperts. The packed dining room, night after night, speaks to the restaurants newfound popularity.
Kucys food assuredly draws influences from his days in the Southwest, but he effectively uses flavor profiles from all around the globe on his Northwest-inflected seasonal menus.
Finding local foodstuffs, besides huckleberries and morel mushrooms, can sometimes be a challenge for chefs in McCall. But Kucy goes out of his way to source as many local products as possible even in the dead of winter.
One snowy evening, we were seated near a window in the dining room, a classic-looking space with attractive hardwood floors and lots of views facing Payette Lake. (Not that it made much difference at night, but we enjoyed the frozen, white expanse that glowed in the distance.)
Right after we placed our appetizer order, the dining room started to fill up with people looking for a good apres meal. Service remained swift and friendly, even in the throes of a dinner rush.
We couldnt go wrong with the artichoke-Asiago risotto fritters ($7.50). These crunchy, little orbs boasted a silky interior of fragrant rice, marinated artichoke hearts and gooey aged cheese. The fritters were especially delicious once dragged through the dabs of tangy tomato jam.
Also impressive were the Parmesan-herb fries ($6.50) and grilled venison meatballs ($9.50), made with ground venison from nearby Black Pine Deer Farm, the latter of which were succulent and perfumed with hints of rosemary, cinnamon and garlic. The juniper-pickled red cabbage and honey whole-grain mustard unified all the flavors.
The crispy fries, dusted with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley and thyme, were served with a smoky housemade fry sauce. How Idaho is that?
I ordered a glass of Cinder Tempranillo ($8/Snake River Valley red wine pumped from a small keg), an ideal pairing for these appetizers, thanks to its condensed raisin and ripe plum flavors.
All entrées come with a choice of soup or salad. We chose mixed greens with blue cheese crumbles and sliced apple, tossed in zesty cranberry vinaigrette.
The Idaho trout ($26.50) was simple and delectable. Kucy let the grilled fish a skin-on side of Hagerman Valley ruby trout, moist and flaky take center stage, lightly saucing it with an aromatic apricot reduction. The sides of nutty rice pilaf and al dente broccolini didnt steal the focus away from the impeccably cooked trout.
The pan-roasted duck ($25.50) was a success as well, due to its sheer balance of flavors and textures. A seared and sliced duck breast (perfectly pink in the center) came to us leaned on a mound of velvety butternut squash risotto and sautéed spinach topped with a vibrant pear-huckleberry compote and crispy parsnip ribbons.
Total comfort was also achieved with the bistro steak ($24.50), a juicy, grilled flatiron cut smothered with dark and delicious red wine-brown mushroom sauce. The steak, cooked to a medium temperature, was served with a thick square of baked macaroni and cheese (with an essence of smoked cheddar) and broccolini.
We couldnt resist our waiters detailed description of the warm toffee cake ($7). This British-inspired dessert definitely lived up to the hype. Imagine a piece of pudding-like date cake, steamed and drizzled with a sticky toffee sauce, served with vanilla ice cream. Not a bad way to end the evening.
Ive eaten Kucys food many times over the last decade, and seldom do I find much to complain about. The same goes for this experience.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org
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