The east side of Snake River Valley wine country is a great place to grow fruit, especially in the sultry Hagerman and Glenns Ferry areas.
Crossings Winery, formerly known as Carmela Vineyards, has been growing vinifera grapes and making estate wines in Glenns Ferry since 1988.
The winery, which also has a nine-hole golf course, an RV park and a full-service restaurant, is situated on a south-facing bench above the Snake River, next to Three Island Crossing State Park.
Now you know where the winery gets its new name.
Chef Hilda Reyes’ lunch and dinner menus at Tannins, the winery’s restaurant, speak to local sensibilities — both in the sourcing of food products and the importance of taking care of local diners, who mostly want big steaks, standard seafood dishes and no-frills appetizers.
In other words, what works in Glenns Ferry probably wouldn’t cut it in, let’s say, Walla Walla or Sonoma.
No, you won’t find any foie gras or cheeseboards pocked with local farmstead cheeses. But Reyes’ menu does have its gems, and she really shines at the winery’s frequent winemaker dinners, where she uses everything from Hagerman Valley sturgeon caviar to cow’s milk cheeses from Ballard Family Dairy on the multicourse menus.
She even harvests fresh produce from the winery’s garden and uses it in some of the dishes at the restaurant.
One night, we were sat at a window table overlooking the verdant state park in the distance. The dining room décor tries a little too hard to look Mediterranean — with its little fountain and faux grape vines cascading down the wall — and the space also displays the works of local artists in homespun gallery fashion.
The menu is safe, to say the least, with appetizers such as hot wings, steamer clams and stuffed mushrooms.
Considering it was National French Fry Day, it seemed apropos to order a plate of hand-cut Idaho fries ($4), which were perfectly manageable in size (not too big like steak fries or those hard-to-handle shoestrings), crispy and dusted with paprika-spiked seasoning salt. A good and garlicky aioli was there for the dipping.
Mushrooms Carmela ($9) pay homage to the winery’s former name, but the large button caps (filled with a creamy mixture of snow crab, bacon and a splash of Chardonnay) could have spent more time in the sauté pan. They were raw and crunchy through and through. Plus, I say nix the heavy drape of melted cheddar on top and just use a little parmesan.
As for the wine, besides estate-grown grapes, winemaker Neil Glancey also sources other fruit from nearby vineyards to round out his line up of wines, a list that includes Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and a Lemberger called Bleu Noir, to name a few.
The lightly oaked 2012 Chardonnay ($6.50/glass), fruit-forward with a crisp finish, paired well with the wine barrel plank-roasted wild salmon ($21). A thick fillet of bright orange sockeye (flaky and tender) picked up subtle oaky flavors from the piece of wine barrel stave it was cooked on. Buttery wild rice, sautéed summer squash and a dill-heavy sour cream sauce rounded out the plate.
A glass of 2012 Syrah ($9), with its bold cherry and blackberry notes, cut right through the fat that rimmed the three grilled Lava Lake Lamb chops ($19). These French-cut chops (nailed at medium-rare) were juicy and boasted an aromatic marinade (house-made red wine vinegar, garlic and rosemary) that worked in concert with the smoky, grilled flavors without overwhelming the essence of the grass-fed lamb. The chops came with sautéed veggies and mashed spuds, making it a real meat-and-potatoes experience.
Everyone at the table also enjoyed the pesto pasta ($14), al dente penne tubes tossed in a super-rich pesto cream sauce with broccoli and plump sautéed prawns (add $2) with their tails sticking up.
The next day, I stopped by for lunch before heading out of town. The daytime menu is a scaled-down version of the night offerings, only with more salads and sandwiches, served with hand-cut fries.
The chicken cordon bleu sandwich ($10) turned out to be a winner. A buttery, toasted croissant sandwiched a stratum of grilled chicken breast, gooey Swiss and shaved ham, with a garnish of fresh garden lettuce and sliced tomato.
Another good pick was the Three Island Burger ($8.50), a hand-formed patty of local beef (pink in the center) plopped on a toasted bun with slices of red onion, lettuce, dill pickle and tomato.
An order of Idaho steak fingers ($12) — not to be confused with the ubiquitous breaded finger steaks — lets the beef speak for itself. It’s basically a pile of tender, grilled flank steak strips (marinated Snake River Farms Kobe-style beef) served with crisp fries and horseradish-kicked cocktail sauce.
The food at Tannins is good and honestly local, but Reyes will probably have to step up her game to get Boise diners to make the trip on a regular basis.