Restaurants often throw around buzzwords such as “seasonal” and “local” on their menus to entice diners.
Granted, this time of year surely invokes images of butternut squash gnocchi, apple tarte tatin and other comfort food dishes that are indicative of fall. But do area chefs and restaurateurs really practice what they preach when it comes to seasonal cuisine?
Menus that reflect the change in the season often go hand in hand with the sourcing of local food. It makes sense to use produce and meat products that are at the peak of freshness and within close proximity. In other words, you probably won’t see spring lamb and asparagus (unless it’s pickled) on menus during the autumn months.
Farmers in Idaho — and across the Northwest, for that matter — are bound by four defined growing seasons. Once the leaves start changing color around here, a profusion of late-season nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant and peppers), creamy squashes, apples, pears and hearty greens begin showing up on menus.
Here’s a look at several restaurants that go beyond just using buzzwords for marketing reasons and truly employ a hyper-local belief — as much as possible — within the framework of the changing seasons. And many of these featured chefs have been nominated for James Beard Awards in recent years.
• • •
Richard’s (500 S. Capitol Blvd., 208-472-1463, richardsboise.com) opened earlier this year in the Inn at 500 Capitol, a swanky new boutique hotel in Downtown Boise. Chef and owner Richard Langston, a 2014 semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Northwest category, earned a loyal following over the years at his former restaurants in Boise’s North End, Café Vicino and Richard’s of Hyde Park.
Langston has a penchant for Mediterranean-leaning cuisine that boasts a distinct Northwest bent. Plus, he goes out of his way to build longstanding relationships with local farmers and ranchers.
In early October, Langston will begin supplementing his year-round dinner menu with a few fall-inspired dishes that are sure to please the locavores.
“I’m still working through the tomatoes, but I’m starting to use squash and root veggies and getting some heartier dishes on the menu,” he said.
Diners will soon be able to enjoy pomegranate-glazed duck breast served with chickpea and lentil panelle (Sicilian-style fritters), rosemary-flecked roasted squash and syrupy pomegranate reduction.
Or how does a dry-aged Duroc pork porterhouse steak sound? This 16-ounce cut gets dished up with silky celery root-apple puree, pecan slaw and Brussels sprouts. Langston also has been working on a dish that fuses braised Spanish-style octopus, grilled Kurobuta pork belly, white beans and wilted Peaceful Belly greens, set off by a dab of smoky aioli.
“It’s really a cassoulet. That’s the best way to describe it,” he said.
Richard’s will be adding some fall-inspired drinks to the cocktail menu in the coming days as well.
• • •
Le Coq d’Or at Chateau des Fleurs (176 S. Rosebud Lane, 208-947-2840, chateaueagle.com) is a true farm-to-table concept, considering the on-site fruit orchard and seasonal produce that is grown on the sprawling property near the Boise River in Eagle.
Chef Richard Jimenez recently came on board to run the kitchen at the Chateau. He formerly cooked at Red Feather Lounge and at high-end eateries in Southern California.
Jimenez leans toward ingredient-driven fare that borrows influence from Europe, Latin America and different locales in Asia. He is putting his culinary stamp on the always-evolving menus at Le Coq d’Or, based on what’s currently being harvested in the garden and what he can preserve from the previous seasons. In about two weeks, diners can expect to see a gamut of new offerings on the dynamic dinner menu.
“There are still lots of tomatoes and eggplant coming out of the garden right now,” Jimenez said.
Appetizers will include smoky eggplant spread on grilled baguette with confit tomatoes and micro greens. Or go for the creamy polenta bedecked with a runny egg yoke (slowly cooked in truffle oil), cipollini onion confit, house-pickled asparagus and morel mushrooms (dried from the early-summer forage) topped with Parmesan crumbs and a drizzle of earthy truffle vinaigrette.
Jimenez also has plans to change the house salad to reflect the season. It will soon be a spinach salad with Gouda, pistachios and tart cranberry vinaigrette. And with the weather now starting to cool down, it’s time for hot soups at the Chateau, including a velvety cauliflower, apple and cheese soup, and one made from butternut squash and yams that gets topped with almonds cooked in bacon fat.
As for entrées, don’t be surprised to find delicately poached Alaskan halibut (plated with sage-lentil puree, heirloom tomato chutney, smoked corn aioli and garden-fresh vegetables) and slowly braised beef short ribs in a robust pan sauce thickened with crème fraiche.
• • •
Capitol Cellars (110 S. 5th St., 208-344-9463, capitolcellarsllc.com) has garnered rave reviews since debuting in Boise’s historic Belgravia Building in 2015.
Chef Dave Shipley’s seasonal menus are pocked with locally produced foodstuffs. In mid-October, he has plans to bolster his mainstay menu with autumn-appropriate dishes such as a warm salad of sautéed Brussels sprouts, apple, bacon, roasted shallots and zesty white balsamic vinaigrette. Appetizers will include Pacific white shrimp (aqua farm-raised in Challis, oddly enough) sautéed with Pernod liqueur and late-season basil.
Shipley leans toward hearty entrées with big flavors once fall kicks into high gear. Those will include a braised Lava Lake Lamb shank (positioned atop a mound of Parmesan-sage polenta) and pan-seared salmon served with creamy risotto riddled with hand-foraged Pacific Northwest mushrooms.
“Lobster mushrooms are in season over in Oregon and Washington. They are looking real nice,” he said.
Capitol Cellars recently introduced a 24-seat patio that wraps around the front of the building, at the corner of 5th and Main streets. It’s a good spot to enjoy an al fresco dinner while the weather remains mild.
• • •
State & Lemp (2870 W. State St., 208-429-6735, stateandlemp.com) in Boise’s North End has taken modernist cuisine to the next level around these parts, so much that chef Kris Komori was nominated twice (2016 and 2017) for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Northwest category.
There’s no other dining experience quite like it in the Treasure Valley, or really anywhere else in Idaho. Diners sit at a large, communal table for about two hours and enjoy five courses of inventive cuisine that employs high levels of locally produced food and hand-foraged goods. The menu changes about every three weeks and follows a particular theme each time — not necessarily based on the season, but more on the whimsy of Komori and his crew.
The menu in place now, which runs through the middle of October, pays homage to the powerful force of forest fires. And in a stroke of culinary genius (that’s truly what’s going on here), it raises awareness about the tinderbox environs that surround us.
“The menu progresses through the different stages of a wildfire,” Komori said.
For example, the first course is called “incipient,” delineating the pre-ignition phase of a forest fire. It’s an ornate presentation of pine needle-perfumed elk tartare set on a canvas of crispy kale leaves and dehydrated elderberries and huckleberries. You get the idea.
The restaurant offers one seating at 7 p.m. on Wednesday-Friday and two seatings (6:30 and 9 p.m.) on Saturday. The featured menu by itself costs $80 per person, or tag on an additional $30 if you want the wine-pairing option.
• • •
Nate Whitley is another Boise chef who has been nominated for a James Beard Award. He runs the diminutive kitchen at the Modern Hotel and Bar (1314 W. Grove St., 208-424-8244, themodernhotel.com) in the Linen District. The Modern has become one of the city’s top dining destinations ever since Whitley got the semifinalist nod for the prestigious award in 2015.
His dynamic menus are in always in tune with the changing seasons and what’s grown around here. He is still in the midst of finalizing his early-fall menu, but in the next few weeks, diners will be able to taste some Basque fare a la Boise.
“I am planning on drying a bunch of red peppers from Dry Creek Valley and using that to make chorizo-style sausage, based on a recipe I got from Dan Ansotegui (former owner of Bar Gernika),” Whitley said.
The menu will also have roasted squash flavored with house-made red curry and fragrant cilantro chutney, and it will continue to feature a hearty entrée of pink-centered brisket with smoked tomatoes, white beans and chanterelle and lobster mushrooms.
“To me, this is a very fall dish as opposed to summer, and those mushrooms should be available to us throughout the fall,” he said.
• • •
Up in McCall, the high-mountain cuisine at Rupert’s at Hotel McCall (1101 N. Third St., 208-634-8108, rupertsathotelmccall.com) has earned high accolades from diners and critics alike in recent years.
This time of year, chef Gary Kucy, who was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013, supplements his year-round menu with seasonal offerings that have comfort in mind.
“I definitely like the squashes, apples and pears that we start seeing during the fall months,” he said.
“We’ll be doing some heartier dishes as winter approaches.”
Kucy is currently putting the finishing touches on his fall menu items, which he will introduce in the middle of October. He has plans to use lamb, duck, quail and local Angus beef (from Butler Grass Fed Beef in Council) in creative ways.
“Starting in October, we’ll be offering a ‘cut of the week’ of the Butler beef, like hanger steaks, flatiron steaks and other specialty cuts,” Kucy said.
It’s important to note that Rupert’s will be closing on Nov. 5 for its fall break and reopening on Thanksgiving Day.
James Patrick Kelly is the Statesman’s restaurant reviewer. Email Kelly: email@example.com