Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant review: Copper Canyon remains consistent, classic at new location

After a two-year hiatus from downtown Nampa, Copper Canyon is once again serving its style of Northwest-inspired cuisine in the historic Belle District.

Chef and owner Brian Inaba had spent about 12 years in downtown Nampa before moving his popular restaurant to the relative obscurity of the Broadmore Golf Club. But when he was given the opportunity to move back to the Belle, he pounced on it.

Inaba’s most recent incarnation — Copper Canyon at Shadow Hills — is in the former Darby’s at the Market space. It’s right across the street from his previous spot, which is currently being turned into a bar and grill called Dewey’s.

Copper Canyon’s location is about the only thing that has changed over the years. The menu has pretty much stayed the same.

The restaurant’s current spot, though, is much more conducive to fine dining than its previous digs next to the golf links. The expansive space is elegant and easy on the eyes, set off by a royal blue paint job, a grand piano under a large, framed mirror and crisp linen on the tables at night.

The menu, after all these years, reflects Inaba’s experience as a chef throughout the Northwest. His resume includes stints at the Columbia Gorge Hotel and Snoqualmie Falls Lodge (now Salish Lodge), to name a few.

Inaba’s food may seem outdated to some diners, but he is surely banking on his tried-and-true recipes and not taking any risks by retooling the menu — with the exception of some new sandwiches and salads offered in the daytime hours.

During a lunch visit, I couldn’t wait to dig into a bowl of Inaba’s smoked salmon chowder ($6.95). It’s easily one of the best chowders in the valley. Buttery, smoky and hearty, this tasty soup has all those chowder superlatives, thanks to noticeable pieces of smoked salmon, big chunks of potato, celery, red bell pepper and bacon. I wanted another bowl.

Inaba, who is Japanese-American, has an innate aptitude for Asian flavors, like the ones found in the Oriental chicken salad ($9.95). This entrée-sized salad mingles mixed greens with grilled chicken breast, plump snap peas, sliced red onion, portobello mushrooms and toasted almonds, tossed in a soy sauce-tinged peanut dressing with a fiery kick.

The Chinese-inspired five-spice pork ($9.95) also exhibits pan-Asian flair. Fork-tender slices of seared pork tenderloin came situated in a puddle of sticky hoisin-like sauce with a gingery residual. Roasted gold spuds and sautéed vegetables rounded out the plate.

A few days later, during a dinner visit, we were all but forgotten after we received our menus, and the restaurant wasn’t that busy. I had to flag down our server to place an appetizer order. He was friendly and apologetic about the wait.

The Dungeness crab cheesecake ($8.95/half order) is one of Inaba’s most stalwart appetizers. This savory and silky cheesecake, served with crostini, is made with sweet crabmeat, smoked cheddar, cream cheese and roasted red bell pepper. A stripe of tangy scallion coulis brought all the flavors together.

I wish I could offer the same kind words about the crispy calamari appetizer ($7.95/half order), but unfortunately, it was on the rubbery side. A pile of lightly breaded, deep-fried squid rings came with a citrus aioli that did its best to mask the overcooked calamari.

All entrées come with a choice of soup or salad. I found the small Caesar to be particularly good, with its lemony dressing accented with a hint of anchovy.

Inaba knows a thing or two about vegetarian cuisine. The grilled portobello polenta ($11.95) has been consistently good over the years, with its robust, earthy flavors. A mound of smooth polenta got layered with Parmesan-topped sautéed mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, lightly braised spinach and fragrant marinara sauce, although the dish was overly salty.

The braised breast of duck ($20.95) is a sure-fire entrée at Copper Canyon. Tender and juicy medallions of duck breast (properly pink) were fanned out over chewy sun-dried cherries and a pool of port wine reduction. The bird was served with garlicky mashed potatoes and crisp sautéed green beans, broccoli and carrots.

Copper Canyon doesn’t currently have a kids’ menu, but one is in the works. For now, there are a few good choices on the regular menu for the wee ones, such as an Alfredo-like chicken fettuccine ($13.95). This classic dish is made with thick strands of al dente pasta folded into a Parmesan cream sauce with grilled strips of chicken breast, sautéed portobello mushrooms and chopped broccoli — just enough green stuff to keep parents happy.

There’s something to be said for the enduring consistency of the recipes at Copper Canyon. With the exception of a few missteps, Inaba and his crew do an excellent job with these classic dishes.

Reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: