Brian McGill has had much success with Willowcreek Grill and Raw Sushi since he opened the side-by-side eateries in the same strip mall on Vista Avenue in 2005.
So why not smash the two concepts together into one spot in Downtown Boise?
That’s exactly what McGill did this spring when he debuted a second location in the former space of The Dish on 10th Street.
McGill was a business partner with Jered Couch, chef and former co-owner of The Dish. After the two decided to call it quits in 2016, McGill pondered what to do with the high-visibility space, which has been known for whimsical cuisine over the years. Remember The Milky Way?
Boiseans love their gourmet burgers and sushi, so consolidating these two foods onto one menu made sense. And it doesn’t hurt to have lots of local craft beer flowing from the taps.
McGill has given the bright space in the art-deco Empire Building a stylish makeover. He stripped away many of the quirky touchstones that made the ambience at The Dish so funky. Nonetheless, the interior is comfortable and welcoming — a mix of rustic and industrial accents with a long wood banquette that runs down the center of the dining room where a row of booths used to be.
He also opened up the kitchen area so diners can see the cooks twisting sushi rolls and grilling burgers.
There’s also an outdoor sushi bar. McGill basically removed a solid section of the front windows and installed a roll-up window, making room for a portable sushi bar (nighttime only) that faces out toward the patio.
The menu is well-rounded and hardly short on whimsy or creativity. Fans of Nipponese cuisine can order fun fusion rolls, maki rolls, sashimi and other sushi offerings. Granted, it’s a scaled-down selection compared to the Vista Avenue location. This is more of a space consideration than anything else, due to the fact that everything comes off one kitchen line at the Downtown location.
Besides nachos, hot wings and steamers, diners can also score Asian-tinged appetizers and other small bites with global flair.
Start things off with the calamari appetizer ($8), a tangle of tender squid rings and tentacles — nice and crunchy on the outside thanks to a tenuous breading — dusted with toasted black sesame seeds and chopped scallion. A ramekin of scratch-made wasabi mayonnaise (dipping sauce) brings it into the Japanese realm.
Southwest pork belly cups ($12) almost seem Asian by design, even though the inspiration comes more from Santa Fe than Saigon. Bibb lettuce cups get filled with slabs of seared pork belly (a tad dry in the center), pickled jalapeno, marinated red onion and flecks of cilantro, topped with a sweet and spicy glaze.
In terms of sushi, the Rattlesnake ($16) is one of the restaurant’s signature fusion rolls. It’s a busy roll, to say the least, with tempura shrimp, spicy ahi tuna and cream cheese encased by seasoned sushi rice and a sheet of crispy nori on the inside, covered with an ornate swirl of warm eel slices, avocado, scallion, sesame seeds and syrupy, dark eel sauce (kabayaki). Oh, and it’s finished with squiggles of peppery mayonnaise and Sriracha.
Kids can get a Sebastian roll ($5.50), a California roll-like creation with sweet rock crab meat, avocado, tender sushi rice and sesame seeds, rolled tightly with nori and cut into rounds, served with slices of pale, pickled ginger and a small mound of nose-clearing wasabi.
The asparagus veggie roll ($8) is a noteworthy pick for the seafood squeamish and vegetarians. Papery nori gets wrapped tightly around chopped, blanched asparagus, sticky rice, daikon radish, shredded carrot, sesame seeds, scallion and cream cheese — creating colorful little pinwheels.
The other hemisphere of the menu includes salads, sandwiches, big burgers and a few entrées.
Another good pick for vegetarians (or anyone, for that matter) is the roasted beet salad ($10), a heap of fresh field greens tossed in tangy balsamic vinaigrette with toothsome crimson beets, little dabs of feta cheese, julienne red onion and spicy candied pecans and cashews for a proper crunch.
The burger and brew crowd will surely enjoy the Black and Blue burger ($11). This upscale burger — plopped on a shiny Gaston’s Bakery bun — is good and gooey thanks to the melted blue cheese and grilled onions that come draped over a blackened half-pound beef patty, with a fresh garnish of lettuce and slice of tomato to cool things down. But I’m not a big fan of the seasoned, processed fries (twigs, if you will) that get served here.
The lamb grinder ($11) smacks of Basque country. A puffy French-style roll gets split, butter-seared and stuffed with tender slices of marinated, roasted lamb, fresh spinach leaves, grilled onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. A smear of rosemary-flecked mayonnaise offers an herbaceous essence. The sandwich, in our case, came with a cup of velvety beer-and-cheese soup pocked with tiny bits of carrot.
It’s obvious that McGill knows how to offer a polished culinary experience, and service is brisk and friendly at the new dual-concept restaurant.
Statesman restaurant reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: email@example.com.
Willowcreek Grill and Raw Sushi
Address: 205 N. 10th St., Boise
Phone: (208) 343-1331
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers and salads $6-$13; sushi and sashimi items $6-$22; burgers, sandwiches and entrées $8-$28.
Libation situation: A dozen or so craft brews on tap (changing list with plenty of Idaho beers), bottles and cans of domestic and imported beers, sake and a wine list that bounces around the globe, making stops in Argentina, Washington and Idaho’s Snake River Valley.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: April 2017