Mediterranean-style eateries bolster the Valley dining scene

Special to Treasure MagazineFebruary 22, 2014 

  • Cacicia’s Alfredo Sauce

    Recipe provided by Shane Anderson at Cacicia’s Cucinas. Makes about 6 cups of sauce.

    2 tablespoons salted real butter

    2 heaping teaspoons minced garlic

    4 cups heavy whipping cream

    1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded

    1/2 cup Asiago or Romano cheese, shredded

    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1 large egg

    Nutmeg to taste

    In a saucepan on medium to medium-high heat, cook the garlic in butter until it starts to turn light brown. Add the heavy cream, salt and pepper, and then heat the sauce without boiling it. (Never let the sauce boil!)

    Crack the egg and lightly beat with a whisk while the cream is heating, and set aside. Add mozzarella and whip vigorously until the cheese does not stick to the whisk; repeat process with Asiago cheese. While whisking vigorously, add the egg slowly. (Pouring too quickly and with not enough whisking you will have scrambled eggs in your sauce.) Do this for about for a minute or so.

    Add a heaping amount of nutmeg to the Alfredo for taste. Bring the sauce back up in temperature (just below boiling), and then turn it to low.

    This is a wonderful cream sauce that you can twist and turn for many dishes. For example, add tomatoes and fresh basil and serve it with chicken. Don’t forget the key to a great sauce: do NOT walk away! Every good chef will tell you the key is attention.

  • Don’t forget about these venerable Treasure Valley Italian eateries

    ASIAGO’S

    1002 W. Main St., Boise, (208) 336-5552www.asiagos.com

    Fans of housemade pasta and scratch sauces have relied on Asiago’s, in Downtown Boise’s historic Gem-Noble Building, like an old friend over the years. The stylish restaurant and wine bar assuredly look to Italy for inspiration, as evidenced by dishes like butternut squash gnocchi with arugula-pecan pesto. The wine list has lots of select labels from Italy, as well as vintages from the Northwest and California.

    CUCINA DI PAOLO

    1504 S. Vista Ave., Boise, (208) 345-7150www.cucinadipaolo.com

    Chef Paul Wegner has been quietly turning out good Italian food at Cucina di Paolo on Vista Avenue since 2007. Here, you can stop by and grab a pan of take-and-bake lasagna (he makes around 20 different kinds) or hang out and enjoy something from the small menu, which includes sandwiches, soups and salads. The eggplant parmigiana is a sure bet. Wegner and his business partner-wife, Mary Jean, recently ventured into the mobile-food business, when they debuted their food trailer last year at the Boise Farmers Market and other events around town.

    PAPA JOE’S

    1301 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise, (208) 344-7272www.papajoesboise.com

    Papa Joe’s has been dishing up Sicilian-style pizzas and hot sandwiches for nearly 30 years. You can also get appetizers like golden Parmesan bread and Manila clams steamed with butter, white wine, garlic and red chili flakes. The eatery also has a small wine bar and espresso shop on site called Papa’s Cup of Joe.

    CAFE VICINO

    808 W. Fort St., Boise, (208) 472-1463www.cafevicino.com

    While Cafe Vicino, in Boise’s North End, is not overtly Italian, executive chef Richard Langston definitely has a thing for the Mediterranean. His seasonal menus are also right at home with lots of local foodstuffs and Northwest inspiration. The current menu has everything from inventive flatbreads to larger offerings like gnocchi with beets, Gorgonzola and walnuts. You should also try his pan-seared veal loin chop with port wine demi-glace and roasted grapes.

    GINO’S ITALIAN RISTORANTE

    3015 W. McMillan Road, Meridian (208) 887-7710. Check the restaurantout on Facebook

    Gino’s moved to the Meridian burbs from Downtown Boise in 2009. Here, Gino Vuolo gives diners a taste of southern Italy — his family hails from Naples — with a large menu that includes stone-oven pizzas, antipasto, pasta dishes and entrees such as a delicious braised wild boar shank. The large wine list plays well with the menu.

    LOUIE’S

    2500 E. Fairview Ave., Meridian, (208) 884-5200www.louiespizza.com

    Louie’s has a storied history, for sure, dating back to 1965 when Louie Mallane first opened a restaurant in Ketchum. Louie’s in Meridian is still owned and operated by the Mallane family, who closed their Ketchum and Boise restaurants a few years back. Not in the mood for pizza? Try the cioppino or garlic prawns.

    DAVINCI’S

    190 E. State St., Eagle, (208) 939-2500www.davincis2.com

    DaVinci’s puts out homespun Italian food with New York City flair. It’s a fun, family place in a historic bank building along the main drag. Comfort yourself with a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccini Alfredo. The hot crab and artichoke dip is not a bad way to start the evening.

The Boise area sure has a lot of Italian-inspired restaurants for a city that’s not known as a bastion of Italian-American culture.

Diners around these parts can find everything from traditional Italian joints to more contemporary regional dining options, most of which are locally owned and operated.

Here’s a snapshot of several establishments — new and old — in the Treasure Valley where you can get a taste of the Mediterranean.

BODOVINO

404 S. 8th St., Boise (BoDo), (208) 336-8466www.bodovino.com

The much-anticipated Bodovino debuted in Downtown Boise’s BoDo entertainment district in early December. And while the high-tech concept of this stylish wine bar has been getting all the buzz, food — happily — is hardly an afterthought here.

Located on the first floor of the Mercantile Building, right above Cafe Ole, the interior design is an attractive amalgam of industrial and rustic accents, with lots of little nooks and crannies, making it a great place to hang out while enjoying your favorite wine — and some tantalizing appetizers.

The simple, Italian-influenced menu plays well with the array of wines. Let’s just say it’s designed to not get in the way of wine itself, meaning no onions (and not much garlic) are used, because they can muddle up the palate. The kitchen is under the direction of chef Jon Cooper, formerly of Grape Escape. Expect to find lots of small plates, sandwiches, entree salads and inventive flatbreads, like the Pig & Fig, a crispy little pie with black mission figs, prosciutto and goat cheese.

Notable tapas plates include the olive tapenade, served with crunchy pita chips, and The Meatball, a large, delicious orb — made with Kobe-style beef, ground lamb and Italian sausage — bathed in aromatic marinara sauce. Cheese geeks will surely like the selection of cheeses here, housed in a glass case out front, featuring around 30 different imported and domestic artisanal cheeses at any given time. Cheeses can be purchased in flights of three.

The wine bar is the first of its kind in the state. The 18 shiny wine-dispenser machines (with eight different wines in each unit, made by WineEmotion) are placed throughout the meticulously renovated space, giving wine enthusiasts access to a rotating selection of 144 labels from around the globe.

These select wines are literally at your fingertips, considering it’s a self-serve system that dispenses one-ounce, three-ounce and five-ounce portions — activated by a card purchased at the front desk. The bottles in the machines last up to 30 days once opened, thanks to a charge of safe and naturally occurring argon gas that prevents the tapped wines from oxidizing. But this place has been so busy that most wines don’t sit around very long. With a prepaid card in hand, you are free to take a self-guided tour of the various stations, which are broken up into Old World, New World and domestic regional categories. Bodovino also sells bottles of wine, if you want to take one home.

Wines from Idaho’s Snake River Valley are well represented at Bodovino, with vintages from Cinder, Huston Vineyards and Split Rail Winery, to name a few, making appearances now and then.

Let’s not forget all those wonderful Italian wines — ranging from the north country of Piedmont to the southern stretches of Sicily — in the Old World section.

There’s also a glowing, green walk-in cooler packed with sparkling wines and handcrafted beers, many of which hail from the Northwest.

CACICIA’S CUCINAS

3630 E. Monarch Sky Lane, Meridian (The Village at Meridian), (208) 888-3440www.cacicias.com

Cacicia’s Cucinas is the brainchild of Shane and Michelle Anderson, who started out last year selling their Sicilian-influenced menu out of a food truck around town.

Following the trend of other local food-truck operators, this young couple recently opened a stationary location — in Fountain Square at The Village at Meridian — as did their neighbors Calle 75 Street Tacos and RiceWorks, who are vendors as well at this new entertainment complex.

Fountain Square, sandwiched between the much larger Kona Grill and Yard House corporate outlets, is a food court, so to speak, yet it’s really more than that. Sure, it’s designed with fast food in mind, but the stylish buildings (and there are two of them, situated across the large fountain from one another) boast modern-looking counters and small exhibition kitchens. Walls of glass doors will roll up during the warmer months.

Shane Anderson, who grew up cooking in Portland and in Park City, Utah, is proud of his Sicilian heritage. He’s the keeper of the time-honored family recipes, which were passed down to him from his grandmother, Sarah Amato, who passed away last year at the age of 98.

These southern Italian recipes are the foundation of the menu, which includes an array of antipasto items, salads, hot sandwiches and tasty pasta dishes — made with as much local food as possible.

For starters, you would be remiss if you didn’t order the deep-fried risotto balls (arancini) and the crispy bruschetta topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, goat cheese, olive oil and lots of garlic.

Some of the sandwiches here are named after family members, like a toothsome meatball sandwich called The Brad and The Rubino, a smashed pork meatball sandwich served on ciabatta with spinach, sauteed peppers, provolone and marinara sauce.

Many of the dishes are made with fresh-made pasta (from Ferranti in Boise), and they include fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, and capellini tossed with caramelized garlic, parsley, olive oil and Asiago cheese. Cacicia’s Cucinas also offers around 20 different flavors of artisanal Italian sodas to wash everything down.

The Andersons have no plans to stop operating their food truck, which can still be found at various spots around the Treasure Valley — run by their sous chef, Jake Bowman.

ALAVITA

807 W. Idaho St., Boise, (208) 780-1100www.alavitaboise.com

Alavita has taken Downtown Boise by storm since it opened a little more than a year ago in the historic Boise City National Bank Building — at 8th and Idaho streets — just around the corner from its sister restaurant, Fork. The menu at this hip, contemporary Italian eatery gleans ideas from various regions in Italy — played out with an added Northwest twist.

Make no mistake, the housemade pastas and scratch sauces, like butternut squash ravioli and garganelli (similar to penne) mingled with Barolo-braised beef short ribs, are what really give this place its flavor.

But the large menu also has a multitude of small plates, salads, soups and entrees. The broiled halibut with gremolata and chicken saltimbocca are also good picks.

Executive chef Wiley Earl uses lots of local ingredients, like goat cheese from Rollingstone Chevre in Parma, on the nuanced seasonal menus.

A’TAVOLA

1515 W. Grove St., Boise (Linen District)(208) 336-3641, www.atavolaboise.com

A’Tavola has turned out to be an excellent fit for the Linen District. This Italian-inspired market/deli/bakery/espresso bar, owned and operated by longtime Boise caterer Lisa Peterson, took over the Donnie Mac’s Trailer Park Cuisine spot in 2011.

The beautiful space is bright and open, like a little metropolitan market that you might find, let’s say, in Rome. It has a plethora of ornately displayed specialty food items and glass cases filled with freshly baked goodies, seasonal salads, artisanal cheeses and charcuturie choices, such as prosciutto and salami.

Stop by for lunch and try a freshly made sandwich (built with crusty bread from Gaston’s Bakery) or a cup of delicious tomato-orange soup.

In the morning, try the praline French toast and a latte made with Dawson-Taylor espresso.

LUCIANO’S

11 N. Orchard St., Boise, (208) 577-6415www.lucianosboise.com

Luciano’s, which opened on Orchard Street in the latter part of 2012, is the kind of Italian joint that Billy Joel would sing about. Named after Lucky Luciano, a big-time mobster in New York City during the early 20th century, this family-friendly restaurant draws inspiration from the neighborhood Italian joints of New York City and Chicago.

Just inside the front door you will find a small wine bar, right around the corner from the dining room, where the tables are dressed with maroon tablecloths and crisp white butcher paper. The large menu has no shortage of traditional dishes, not to mention a few newer renditions of some classics. Expect to find appetizers like smoked salmon carpaccio, sausage-stuffed mushrooms and an antipasto plate with cured Italian meats, olives, peppers and fresh mozzarella.

The pasta portion of the menu has everything from spaghetti carbonara to clam linguine to wild mushroom risotto. Luciano’s also dishes up various specialty pizzas. Don’t forget to save room for a slice of sweet and rummy tiramisu.

UNCLE GIUSEPPE’S

6826 Glenwood St., Garden City(208) 853-1594. Check them out on Facebook

For those who crave New York City-style Italian sandwiches, Uncle Giuseppe’s — a small deli and market tucked away in a strip mall near the corner of State and Glenwood streets in Garden City — is definitely the place to go.

Here, you will be greeted with a Long Island accent and a glass case packed with Italian cured meats, like sopressata, salami, capocollo, prosciutto, to name a few. Owners Jimmy and Stephen Beltucci, a father-and-son team who used to operate a small Italian market and deli on Long Island, turn out a variety of crusty, meat-filled sandwiches. Treat yourself to a pastrami sandwich on rye (made with pastrami brought in from Carnegie Deli in New York City) or go Italian all the way with a sub sandwich called Forget About It, layers of salami, prosciutto, provolone, roasted peppers and fresh basil.

Uncle Giuseppe’s also makes excellent lobster bisque and Manhattan-style clam chowder (you know, the red stuff). Plus, the deli recently started offering free delivery.

James Patrick Kelly, a restaurant critic at the Idaho Statesman, is the author of the travel guidebooks “Moon Idaho” and “Spotlight Boise.” He also teaches journalism at Boise State University.

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