With all the shiny new restaurants in Boise, it’s easy to forget about the older places around town that go about their business — in some cases, without much notice.
Emilio’s at The Grove Hotel kind of gets lost in the Downtown blur, especially with the construction going on at City Center Plaza.
Sure, the eatery serves its purpose as a hotel restaurant — offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, plus room service — but longtime executive chef Christopher Hain recently invigorated the lunch and dinner programs with a menu overhaul of contemporary offerings infused with worldly touches.
The elegant yet casual dining room, with its warm bronze hues and comfy booths, hasn’t changed much over the years. Diners can watch the cooks move about in the exposed kitchen, which showcased a gas-fired pizza oven long before other places in town jumped on the bandwagon.
One evening, as restaurants along the 8th Street corridor were bursting at the seams with holiday diners, servers outnumbered diners at Emilio’s. Our young waiter called it a “hidden gem,” gesturing with his hand around the empty dining room.
We settled into a deep booth and turned our attention to the starter portion of the menu.
Poutine is a somewhat ubiquitous appetizer these days, but it’s often goopy. Not at Emilio’s. Here, Hain’s poutine ($12) has Idaho inroads, with a pile of crispy, hand-cut fries (skinny but not shoestring thin) topped with toothsome pieces of apple-wood-smoked Hagerman Valley trout, dill-flecked white cheddar curds, chopped scallion and a light drizzle of velvety asiago fondue.
Grilled shishito peppers ($10) also make an appearance on the new menu. These blistered, finger-shaped green peppers (common in Japan) boast a padron pepper-like sweetness with a little heat on the backbeat, set atop a bright-orange romesco sauce redolent of almonds, roasted red bell pepper and garlic. A light dusting of smoked Himalayan pink sea salt binds the smoky, earthy flavors.
Entrées also have global appeal yet stay true to the Northwest.
While the filet mignon ($36) was fork-tender and spot-on medium-rare, as requested, I found the sweetness of the brandied mushroom ragout to be unharmonious with the savory flavors on the plate, namely the beef, al dente asparagus and griddle-seared fingerling potato hash. The steak came crowned with balsamic-steeped cipollini onions, further leaning the dish in a sweeter direction.
An affordable glass of Sawtooth Skyline Red ($6), a local blended table wine with big fruit and smooth tannins, offered much-needed balance to the filet mignon and its discordant accompaniments.
It’s obvious why the ancho chicken ($24) made the cut from the previous menu. Chicken, at least at restaurants, doesn’t get much better than this. An ancho chili flour-rubbed, pan-seared chicken breast (airline cut with part of the wing still attached) came to us juicy and tender under a drape of aromatic pan sauce pocked with morsels of spicy chorizo and green and yellow bell pepper. A small pile of wispy asparagus separated the saucy chicken from a Jenga-positioned stack of crispy polenta fries.
During a lunchtime visit, the place was bustling with diners (mostly Utah State Aggies’ fans here for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) yet service remained brisk and efficient.
Expect to find a lineup of inventive sandwiches, entrée salads, fish and chips and a customary burger on the lunch menu.
The same appetizers at night are offered during the day, so I started things off with some stuffed jalapenos ($11), a plate of piquant mascarpone-filled hot peppers wound tightly with crisp bacon and served with tangy peach chutney.
Emilio’s always serves chunky, bacon-studded clam chowder ($5/cup) and an alternating soup of the day ($5/cup), a creamy yet overly salty Marsala-mushroom soup during my visit.
Those who like hybrid grilled cheese sandwiches will surely enjoy the interplay of sweet and spicy on the capicola grilled cheese ($12). Toasted slices of black rye bread (with the crust removed, just like Mom used to do it) encase shaved spicy Italian ham and gooey Manchego. The sandwich, cut into triangles and positioned over a zigzag of bright apricot jam, came with a side of hand-cut fries served in a tin cup.
On a healthier note, I found roughage in a spinach salad ($14) topped with a properly grilled wild salmon fillet. The underlying spinach leaves — mingled with toasted cashews, plump blueberries, curls of Manchego and pickled red onion — were lightly coated with a zippy preserved lemon vinaigrette.
Emilio’s may not be the hippest eatery in town, but the food remains relevant in Boise’s always-changing dining scene.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 245 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise (at The Grove Hotel)
Phone: (208) 333-8002
Hours: Breakfast: 6 to 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon Sunday; Lunch: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; Dinner: 5 to 9 p.m. (last seating) daily.
Dinner menu price range: appetizers and salads $8-$15; entrées $24-$39
Libation situation: Full-service bar that pumps out classic and craft cocktails, wines from around the globe (with much attention given to American labels) and draft and bottled beers.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes