Dining review: The Mode offers food and cocktails with more than a twist

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANMarch 21, 2014 

  • THE MODE LOUNGE

    Address: 800 W. Idaho St., Boise

    Phone: (208) 342-6633

    Online: themodelounge.com

    Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily

    Menu price range: small plates and dessert items $6-$20 (served from 4-10 p.m.). Bar jars ($6) of tapenade, hummus and deviled ham are offered from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

    Libation situation: Besides lots of classic and contemporary craft cocktails, The Mode Lounge offers cans of local microbrews, bottles of imported beers and a small but select list of red, white and sparkling wines.

    Kid friendly? It's a cocktail lounge.

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes

    Opened: January 2014

Pie Hole pizzeria owner Russ Crawforth recently ventured into the world of craft cocktails and swanky bar food, debuting a new gastrolounge in the historic Mode Building.

The Mode Lounge, located at the corner of 8th and Idaho streets next to his popular late-night pizza joint, draws inspiration from the 1960s. It was the decade when the cocktail culture in America exploded with nuanced drinks such as Galliano-layered Harvey Wallbangers and verdant Grasshoppers.

Bartenders here surely have a dog-eared copy of Mr. Boston's cocktail guide behind the bar, but what really makes this place shine are the 21st century cocktails streaked with housemade syrups and colorful culinary tinctures.

Crawforth's meticulous remodel of the former Grape Escape spot tells the story of the Mode Building itself, where the upscale Mode Department Store had a long run from 1895 to 1991.

He found an original sign in a storage area and had it refurbished by Rocket Neon, and it's proudly hanging on the outside of the building again. There are several old photos of the building lining the hallway next to the semi-circular bar, bedecked with retro-looking stools.

The mid-20th century interior design boasts bold strokes of gunmetal blue and dark brown, with a large booth unit separating a stylish salon room from the main bar area. Both spaces were designed with chillaxing in mind, thanks to a multitude of cool leather and vinyl chairs.

A sparkly art deco chandelier (made by Chandi Lighting in Boise) and ornate tin ceiling panels speak to the Mode Building's earlier past.

Now let's talk food. The selection of small plates works in accordance with the micro-kitchen, a garde manger area behind the bar that doesn't have a hot line, helping to explain why the one-page menu has only chilled and raw items.

But the food, which is mostly successful, seems to get the same level of attention from chef Darryl Godard as the expensive, hybrid cocktails concocted by bartender and general manager Brian Livesay and his staff.

One evening, my dining partner and I got lost in a big booth but were not forgotten by our friendly tattooed server, who soon brought us some cocktails. I envied my tablemate's G-N-T ($9), a crazy-aromatic drink made with Aviation gin, soda water, quinine syrup (made from South American tree bark) and a spritz of lemongrass mist.

Not so successful was the Bramblepatch ($11), a modern take on a whiskey sour (made with Evan Williams bourbon, Spanish blackthorn liqueur, lemon syrup and drunken blueberries) that lacked balance due to an unpleasant acrid bite.

We enjoyed the fresh tasting yet pricey Pacific oysters on the half shell from Washington's Puget Sound (four bivalves for $14), delicately shucked and served on ice with a ramekin of zesty mignonette sauce (chopped red onion and cucumber, hit with red wine vinegar and a wee bit of chili sauce).

The steak tartare ($15) stayed true to its classic French roots. A puck of chopped, raw beef tenderloin (simply mixed with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper) came crowned with a freckled quail egg, cracked at the top with its yolk showing. Outstretched lines of chopped red onion, Dijon mustard, chopped parsley and capers jetted out from the beef like sunbeams.

Our server offered to mix the tartare for us, but we opted to do it ourselves. That's half the fun, incorporating all the ingredients together and spreading it on crisp toast points. Unfortunately, we received stale crostini.

We were reminded of summer by the prosciutto-wrapped poached prawns ($14 for four), a sweet and salty interplay rising from a bowl of chilled honeydew melon and cucumber soup, garnished with spiky Korean chili threads. Dots of basil oil and red pepper flakes added to the spiciness.

The idea of housemade chocolate truffles ($6 for three) at a cocktail lounge appealed to us. These cinnamon-dusted dark chocolate domes (toothsome and creamy) were ornately presented on a plate with an antler-like shard of caramelized sugar and a bold-stroke raspberry sauce.

I came back a few nights later with some friends. Right away, we got things going with a round of drinks.

It's hard to have just one Horse's Neck ($9), a refreshing libation made with rye whiskey, fermented ginger ale and housemade bitters that's served in a chimney glass with a long curl of orange peel.

We were soon digging into a Trio of Spreads ($16), three little jars containing briny kalamata olive tapenade, creamy roasted red pepper-pine nut hummus and Dijon-spiked deviled ham with noticeable pieces of chopped gherkins.

The jars were situated around a mound of beaten-up arugula, splashed with roasted tomato vinaigrette, next to neat stacks of crisp crostini.

The Mode Lox ($14) also comes in a jar, in the form of cream-infused smoked wild salmon mousse (garnished with a sprig of dill and a dollop of tiny salmon roe) sided with garlicky balsamic red onion-caper relish, serrated crackers and a head of roasted garlic. The mousse was a little too salty for me, but the sting subsided once it met the other components on the plate.

We went raw with some sashimi-like yellowtail crudo ($15), a platter of fresh tasting, thinly sliced fish (similar to tuna) composed like a Jackson Pollock painting with pickled jalapeno slices, mint chiffonade, marinated blood orange segments, micro beet greens and zigzags of olive oil.

Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman.com

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