2017 wasn’t exactly a booming year for new restaurants in the Boise area. But diners were introduced to several noteworthy concepts, and two stalwart dining establishments reinvented themselves this year as well. It was certainly a good year for those who like Asian cuisine, with a spate of ethnic restaurants popping up across the Treasure Valley.
Here’s a glance at some standouts reviewed during the year.
The year started out on a good culinary note in January with the opening of Richard’s (500 S. Capitol Blvd., 208-472-1463, richardsboise.com). That’s when chef and owner Richard Langston moved his Mediterranean-inspired restaurant from Boise’s North End into the Inn at 500 Capitol, a new boutique hotel at the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Myrtle Street. Langston went from serving dinner only under the Café Vicino banner to dishing up breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. After all, it’s now in a hotel, so the place has to stay open throughout the day to take care of all those guests. Enjoy starters such as prosciutto-wrapped, Gorgonzola-stuffed figs ($6.50), tuna crudo with Calabrian chili sauce ($12) and grilled shrimp on risotto cakes with basil cream sauce ($13). Make sure to save room for the house-made pasta, gnocchi and other seasonal specialties.
Red Bench Pizza (1204 S. Vista Ave., 208-344-6600, redbenchpizza.com) debuted at the beginning of the year in the Bench Depot neighborhood in a spot that’s been a revolving door of pizzerias over the years. The neighborhood pizza joint and watering hole, owned by Kacey Montgomery and Shannon Lincoln of Juniper fame, opened its doors as Pizzeria Sazio. But the restaurant was forced by the threat of litigation to change its name later in the year. Evidently there was already a place that trademarked the name Sazio in the Miami area. No big deal, though. Start things off with Italian meatballs ($9), deep-fried risotto balls ($9) and antipasto ($12). The thin-crusted, Neapolitan-style pizzas boast fun names and get made with high-quality ingredients. For instance, the Diana Ross ($17) is a riff on a supreme pizza (get it?) with pepperoni, sausage, cipollini onions, bell pepper, mushrooms and olives. Vegetarians should try the Magic Kingdom ($16), a blistered pie topped with roasted mushrooms, goat cheese, arugula and stinky-good truffle oil. Diners can also score pasta dishes and salads.
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Though Chandlers (981 W. Grove St., 208-383-4300, chandlersboise.com) is hardly a new concept, the eponymous fine-dining restaurant and martini bar on the ground floor of Hotel 43 received an extensive remodel to start the year. Owner Rex Chandler added a 164-square-foot expansion to the lounge area, in addition to overhauling the kitchen so executive chef Luis Flores and his crew have more room to put out high-end steaks and fresh-as-can-be seafood. Sit in the swanky dining room and share a bottle of wine from the restaurant’s award-winning wine list while enjoying steaks cut from grass-fed beef, Midwest corn-fed beef, Northwest-raised American-style Kobe beef and even real-deal Japanese Wagyu. Good deals can be had in the lounge during Social Hour, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Go for the legendary Mini Tower of Tuna ($8) and prime beef meatballs served with truffled pomme frites ($7).
March saw the coming of Vincenzo Trattoria (6970 W. State St., 208-853-6292, vincenzotrattoria.com), which opened in the Northgate Shopping Center in a space previously occupied by Jades Chopstick. Chef Vincenzo Nicoletta, who hails from the Amalfi Coast region of Southern Italy, operated a successful Italian eatery in Santa Monica, Calif., for 20 years before moving to Boise to give folks a taste of his authentic Southern Italian cuisine. For starters, the menu boasts traditional hot and cold antipasti items. Seafood lovers will surely like the calamaretti alla Luciana ($12.95; sautéed squid in garlicky tomato sauce) and scampi Mediterranei ($14.95), a plate of large shrimp sautéed in a lemony butter-wine sauce with lots of garlic. The restaurant also serves freshly made pasta dishes such as lasagna verde ($18.95) and spaghetti alla carbonara ($17.95) with crispy bits of pancetta, Parmesan, parsley and a raw egg—the latter of which gets folded into the hot pasta at the last minute. Besides antipasti and hearty pasta dishes, a rotating-deck pizza oven puts out Naples-style folded pizzas and ping pong paddle-shaped racchetta pies.
Speaking of paddles, Paddles Up Poké (237 N. 9th St., 208-412-5581, paddlesuppoke.com) debuted earlier this year in Downtown Boise. The quick-service eatery specializes in Hawaiian-inspired poké bowls made with raw fish that can be customized to order, in addition to nori-wrapped burritos. The restaurant, owned by Daniel Landucci, has become a hit with folks looking for something healthy and fast to eat. Go for a Bogus Basin Bowl ($12.99/large), a couple scoops of steamed sticky rice topped with chunks of spicy ahi tuna, chopped salmon, crabmeat, masago fish roe, seaweed salad, fried onion, cucumber, avocado, chopped scallion and sesame seeds — finished with squiggles of peppery aioli, dark eel sauce and sweet and tangy piranha sauce. Another noteworthy pick is the Freak Alley Fire burrito ($10.99). This spicy number comes in the form of a large sheet of crisp nori (dried seaweed) that gets wrapped tightly around ahi tuna, crab, masago, rice, avocado, sliced jalapeno, shredded carrot and cilantro, lubed with wasabi cream sauce. Hungry yet?
People who like to slurp ramen noodles had big smiles on their faces when Ramen Sho (150 N. 8th St., 208-209-7075, ramensho.com) hit the dining scene back in May. The restaurant is situated on the mezzanine-level of the Capitol Terrace building, in the former Shige Japanese Steakhouse spot. It focuses on bowls of Nipponese-style ramen, which has become popular in America in recent years. The wheat noodles here get ladled with a slow-cooked broth made from chicken, pork bones and about 20 other fragrant ingredients. Try the tonkotsu ramen ($10.99), a bowl of chewy-good noodles topped with tender pork belly, wood mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallion, wilted spinach, pickled ginger and a lightly boiled half egg that quickly releases its yolk into the succulent broth. Besides ramen, the restaurant also offers Japanese appetizers such as gyoza dumplings ($5.99) and karaage fried chicken ($4.99)
Monsoon Asian Grill (16003 N. Idaho Center Blvd., 208-606-9298, monsoonasiangrill.com) recently opened in Nampa near the Ford Idaho Center. Owners Nick Duncan and Billy Pothikamjorn, owner of Mai Thai in Boise, have come up with a fast-casual concept that features customizable rice and noodle bowls inspired by the vibrant flavors of the Indochinese peninsula. Take the chill off on a cold winter’s day with a bowl of dark and fragrant fried rice topped with wok-seared Vietnamese-style pork and sweet cucumber relish ($7.85). Or go in a Thai direction with a bowl of yellow curry chicken atop stir-fried rice noodles ($7.85), garnished with a house-made chili sauce that’s guaranteed to clear the stuffiest of noses. Vegetarians should order the signature Siam Bowl ($8.55), a hodgepodge of Thai brown rice, cubes of organic tofu (marinated with lime and spices), yellow squash, wok-seared chives and bean sprouts and teriyaki-like pad see ew sauce.
The year got tastefully bookended with the debut of Camel’s Crossing (1304 W. Alturas St., 208-385-0250, camelscrossing.com) in Hyde Park. This tucked-away restaurant and bar is probably the most exciting dining concept to open in Boise in recent times. Owners Scott and Caitlin McCoy, who recently moved here from Portland, have brought to fruition a hip spot with stylish ‘70s accents. Hide out in a button-tufted booth and enjoy the nuanced modern cuisine and labels from a well-curated wine list. Two up-and-coming chefs, Christian Phernetton and Brian Ferris, team up to create always-evolving seasonal menus that are sourced heavily with locally produced food. Currently diners can get small plates and entrées with contemporary French flair. Sink your teeth into a PB&J ($9), a whimsical take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, only it’s made on toasted brioche bread with duck liver pâté and tangy strawberry-balsamic jam. Warm your belly on a frosty night with The Whole Beast Cassoulet ($27). Casseroles don’t get much better or heartier than this interpretation of a French classic. White beans, rutabaga, herbs, garlic and lamb three ways — toothsome pieces of shoulder, North African-spiced sausage and smoky lamb belly bacon — get slow cooked for hours and finished with buttered breadcrumbs and chicory greens.