Restaurant News

A holiday wish list from the Statesman’s restaurant critic

No Treasure Valley restaurant specializes in dim sum, bite-size Cantonese-style noshes.
No Treasure Valley restaurant specializes in dim sum, bite-size Cantonese-style noshes. The New York Times

I don’t know whether I can take another “upscale” pub, taqueria or pizza joint. There. I said it. We already have enough of those concepts in the City of Trees.

Considering I dine out for a living, I must admit to getting a little bored with carbon-copy menus. Hey, look, it’s a plate of spicy chicken wings. Egad, not another pizza plastered with goat cheese and caramelized onions. You get the idea. I’m sure you’ve been there.

Don’t get me wrong, Boise and its environs have a dynamic restaurant scene that boasts a multitude of dining choices. Everything from farm-to-table places to a spectrum of ethnic eateries thrive here. But it’s obviously missing some concepts that are found in other Northwest cities such as Seattle and Portland. Of course, this is entirely based on my opinion. But, after all, I get paid to have one of those.

Here’s my holiday wish list for restaurants and other food concepts I would like to see in the Boise area.

All I want for Christmas is a bona fide dim sum restaurant. I’m talking about the kind of place with steamy windows and squeaky carts hauling around big bamboo steamer baskets filled with freshly made dumplings and other Cantonese-style noshes. People file into traditional dim sum houses up and down the West Coast for quick, affordable meals. And, of course, New York City’s Chinatown is known for its plethora of dim sum eateries.

Granted, Yen Ching in Downtown Boise does serve dim sum, yet everything gets ordered off the menu and not rolled around on carts for diners to point out what they want. The visual experience of seeing the dumplings and such is more fun than just choosing it from a page.

Nonetheless, the venerable Chinese restaurant at 305 N. 9th St. supplements its menu with around 15 dim sum offerings ($3.50-$8.50), including barbecued pork buns, shrimp har gow dumplings, turnip cakes, pork and shrimp siu mai, and even crispy chicken feet with black bean sauce.

Now that Wok King on Broadway Avenue is just a memory, Yen Ching is as good as it gets when it comes to dim sum in these parts.

I would also like to see a real-deal kosher deli where the workers act surly toward customers. “C’mon, I don’t have all day!” There’s no time for indecision when ordering at a busy kosher deli. I’m willing to put up with a little verbal abuse to get a good pastrami on rye and a briny garlic pickle. Delis like this typically exist in New York City and in other major cities along the Eastern Seaboard. Jewish delis are also popular in populous West Coast cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. So why not Boise?

All is not lost. On a Roll Deli does a commendable job with the house-cured meats (pastrami, corned beef, etc.) that it uses to build its New York City-imagined sandwiches. The eatery opened a few years ago at 257 E. State St. along Eagle’s main drag. It definitely doesn’t have that Manhattan deli ambience — a long, well-stocked deli case with big jars of pickles on top — but it makes excellent sandwiches. The employees are too damn nice, though.

I recommend trying one of the deli’s signature sandwiches. A good pick is the 5th Avenue ($9.99), a hot pastrami sandwich built on light rye with Swiss and a smear of mustard, served with a kosher pickle.

Speaking of house-cured meats, Downtown Boise could sure use a salumeria, a storefront that makes and sells dry-cured cold cuts of the Italian persuasion — mostly produced from pork. Olympia Provisions in Portland and Salumi in Seattle come to mind.

Salumi, founded by Armandino Batali (superstar chef Mario Batali’s dad), produces a multitude of marbled salami, like Tuscan finocchiona, spicy sopressata and anise pepperoni. The storefront in Seattle’s Pioneer Square district also makes salt-cured hams, including culatello (a style of pig prosciutto), copa and delicious lamb prosciutto. The salumeria also produces guanciale and pancetta (think bacon).

Please put some lamb prosciutto and sopressata in my stocking. Seattle is an all-day drive and there’s hardly any distribution of Salumi products in the Boise area. I would love to see someone open a salumeria in the City of Trees. I double-dog dare you. It’s safe to say it would be a resounding hit.

In a city known for its traditional Basque fare, there’s surprisingly no contemporary Basque cuisine to speak of in these parts. Sure, everyone enjoys a plate of crunchy croquettes and beef tongue slowly braised in peppery tomato sauce — served at Bar Gernika, Leku Ona and Epi’s in Meridian — but modern-day Basque cuisine is sorely missing from the dining scene here.

The Harvest Vine in Seattle has been a popular dining fixture since it debuted on Madison Street in the late ’90s. The tapas-focused restaurant was co-founded by chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, who passed the torch to chef Joey Serquinia about a decade ago.

Serquinia’s take on contemporary Basque cuisine is tinged with French influence. His menus are always evolving and set to the season. This time of year it’s all about seared foie gras with quince puree and arrope (syrupy grape reduction), pan-roasted trout with piperade, and grilled venison with oyster mushrooms and licorice root sauce. Yum.

I could also go for a plate of Spanish octopus with red potatoes, smoked pimenton and Arbequina olive oil about right now.

Chef Nate Whitley at the Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise’s Linen District occasionally runs contemporary Basque-inspired offerings on his always-changing menu. I can totally see a Basque-French fusion concept making it big in Boise — maybe in one of the city’s new hotels.

Anyone who has ever eaten Indonesian barbecue can attest to its smoky deliciousness, thanks to the melding of Chinese, Malaysian and Middle Eastern flavors. How does grilled octopus brushed with gingery barbecue sauce sound? Oh what I would do for some ayam bakar, an Indonesian-style grilled chicken dish that boasts crispy skin redolent of garlic, cumin and turmeric.

No concept quite like this exists around here, that’s for sure. But in Mountain Home, of all places, diners can try a taste of Singapore at Shiok Restaurant, which opened in 2012 at 13654 S.W. Venable St. near the front gate of the Air Force base.

Skip the standard Chinese offerings on the menu and go for the Malaysian-inspired beef curry hotpot ($13.95), honey-sweet roast pork ($8.95), salted fish and chicken fried rice ($11.95) and bee hoon ($11.95), a stir-fried tangle of Singapore-style rice noodles with barbecued pork, shrimp, egg and bean sprouts.

Well that’s about it, at least for now. I have been really good this year, so I hope Santa is listening.

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