Monday, March 31, 2008

Berryhill & Company 3.6 out of 5

There are times I only visit a restaurant once, and I'm never quite sure if I've gotten the true essence of the place. Other times I go several times and I feel a bit more confident about my rating. And then there are times that I really, really want to be able to give a place a higher number, but I just can't quite justify it even though I've been several times. That's the case with Berryhill & Company.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy this place. But after several visits of pretty good food, I think a lot of what I love is the atmosphere (which definitely counts) and with wanting to like this place. So here's the scoop....

We met long time friends, Steve & Leah for a Friday night dinner at 7pm and the place was packed. S&L thought Berryhill must know me as a blogger because we felt we had the best seat in the house--great corner table just checking everyone out. Alas, we were ignored completely until we snagged an employee at 7:45. We didn't even get water! (Obviously blogging about restaurants does not make me famous by any stretch of the imagination.) Whoops, something had gone wrong, nice apology, a little mix-up with assigned tables and we were assured that service would be great from then on.

We started with the calamari with aioli and pear gorgonzola pizza with pesto and pistachio nuts as appetizers and a nice bottle of Elk Cove pinot noir. The calamari was decent, the aoli was great and the gorganzola pizza was extremely tasty (could have been a bit hotter though.) Loved the pinot noir.

We forgot about being forgotten and all seemed well. The atmosphere of this place really is great. There's live music every night, (we had a so-so piano player.) But it is still really nice to have live music. You feel like you're somewhere hip and happenin'.

After our appetizers, we had soups and salad. Mark had french onion soup (pronounced good), I had the tomato basil soup (just reported about in the newspaper) and yes it was good but then again a little parmesan cheese makes almost anything good. The presentation of Leah's salad was gorgeous and it was a great balsamic vinaigrette, Steve absolutely loved the corn chowder. Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, somehow we were forgotten again. We had to ask for drink refills and dinner was a long time coming. For dinner Leah & I had the salmon on coconut rice, Mark had the roasted tomato ravioli and Steve had the tiger shrimp linguini. In a nutshell, it was all just ok. As I know I've said before, I want a dinner that's better than I can make at home and the salmon was a bit dry, the coconut rice lacked interest. The ravioli and linguini were good, but no one was simply raving.

We split a piece of chocolate cake and tiramisu--yummy! No problems with dessert.

Overall, there seemed to be peaks and valleys. Service good, service not so good. Some food great, some just ok. I love the location, I love the atmosphere (did we mention the la-de-da bathroom?) but if only B & Co. could elevate the valleys to the peaks we would enjoy this place even more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

City Grill (3 out of 5)

It felt so good to be eating with the intent of blogging about it again. Paying close attention to service, food and atmosphere....ordering multiple appetizers to try as many different things as possible in one trip...and enjoying it all with a good friend. Too bad the food wasn't better.

The last time I was in the National Bank Building on the corner of 8th and Idaho, it was Doughty's Bistro. Yes, that's dating me. And it's also showing my total lack of desire to eat at any of the many restaurants that were there in that span of 7 years or more. Although really, sometimes I had the desire but the restaurants were gone so quickly I didn't have the chance.

I like the big, open seating area at City Grill. There's something about the building that feels really good inside. I was greeted quickly and pleasantly and was thrilled to see all the great-sounding menu items.

We started with the calamari with chipotle aoli and the hummus with soft, warm pita bread (that's the actual menu description.) I've been interested in trying calamari at all the restaurants I go to lately. It's kind of fun to see how differently it's prepared at different restaurants and to try to find my favorite. The calamari and sauce were the best things we had on this visit. A little spice, not soggy, and not too peppery, with a flavorful chipotle aoli. The pita bread really was soft and warm. But the hummus was boring. A hint of garlic, but nothing more interesting than you would find out of a plastic container at any local market.

Uh-oh. Boring hummus and the plates were coming much too fast. We hadn't so much as started our appetizers when our lunch arrived. We made the best of it and kind of enjoyed having a table completely filled with plates. But really it was not how you want to relax and enjoy your lunch.

We asked our (quite attentive) server for a recommendation and he said his current favorite was Aunt Pat's sandwich. One look at the description and my friend, Diane promptly changed her order to that. A grilled sandwich of chicken, gorgonzola cream, pears and more just sounded too good to pass up. I had the Sonoma salad which came with prawns and crab on a bed of lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette. Diane also had a side salad, which came at the same time as our two appetizers. Such fabulous-sounding menu items! How could they be so bland? But my salad's vinaigrette had too much oil and was just plain dull, although the lump crabmeat was really fresh tasting. The salad was screaming for something more, but the dressing was not it. Diane only finished half her sandwich...perhaps it's because she doesn't love white bread, but also because it too was dull. Her side salad was good with gorgonzola, walnuts, cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette.

With so much food, we passed on wine and dessert so I can't say anything about those possibilities. There was also an oyster bar along one wall that looked like it might be a fun place to hang out on a weekend evening. Based on what we had though, we just weren't inspired to try anything more.

Such a great location and a really great-sounding menu. But I couldn't help thinking that the generic-sounding name somehow fit the generic-tasting food. Spice up the name to "City Grille on 8th" or something, spice up the food without being afraid that you won't appeal to all taste buds everywhere and you've got yourself something we might want to try again... City Grill has the potential to last longer than its forebearers, but it's going to have to add some flavor first.

A Little Vegan Break

A friend of my husband's commented recently that he noticed I hadn't posted any restaurant reviews lately, well actually that I hadn't posted anything at ALL lately. Sigh. Not blogging has been bothering me for a while and it is truly a sad state of affairs when others whom I don't even know start calling attention to it. Add that to my own pitiful state of guilt (it's terrible to start a public project and then let it just hang somewhere in the abyss) and here we are, finally ready to get back to business.

Not that I ever really wanted to leave, mind you. It's just that I thought I'd try this little change in lifestyle and I became a Vegan. I just kept thinking, how boring is it to read restaurant reviews from a Vegan??! I just couldn't bring myself to write a review when I wasn't eating 99% of the menu! I'll save the experiment and it's results for another post, suffice it to say that I am back eating meat and dairy, (although paying much closer attention to the amounts) and I think I'm eating interestingly/varied enough to be able to write about it for some sort of general public. I will say this to anyone considering the Vegan lifestyle for themselves, I wholeheartedly suggest it. I felt great, green, and a bit hip if I do say so myself. But, it's hard and time-consuming. And for someone who loves to cook, it can feel pretty limiting. And really, there just aren't enough restaurants in Boise that serve food that works for a Vegan. (I guess there weren't enough Vegans in town to keep Kulture Klatsch in business.)

In any event, I've been eating all sorts of food at all sorts of restaurants, and I'm ready to tell you all about them. I hope you've stuck it out long enough to come back and read.

Next up....City Grill.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Chandlers Steakhouse (3.9 out of 5)

It's oh so fun to check out a brand new restaurant, especially before you've heard much of anything about it and especially with good friends. So off we went, all high-spirited for a night out with friends Lisa & Chris. We made early reservations so that we could even squeeze in a movie. Reservations at 5:30, movie not far down the street at 7:30.... (alas, the 7:30 movie wasn't to be--not nearly enough time to get through dinner.)

My first impression of Chandlers was adult, edgy and somewhat upscale. I think that's because of the cool blue lights surrounding the rows and rows of vodka bottles when you first come in the door. Many of the tables are deep booths, which is cozy but not necessarily as "edgy" of a look as the vodka bottles lend. Since our reservations were so early, we had no trouble getting immediate friendly service.

We started with drinks and a couple of appetizers. Chris had the mohito (good, not too sweet), Mark had a beer from many on-tap options and Lisa and I decided on wine--but which one? Our server wasn't sure either (pleasant server, but new) so she sent over Eric the wine captain to talk to us about Malbecs. Eric was knowledgable and fun to talk to about wine. We ended up with a great Malbec (Kaiken, $24) thanks to him. Chandlers appetizer list was ok, almost everything was seafood except for the grilled artichoke. We chose lobster cakes with avocado mousse and grilled artichoke with garlic aioli. Both were tasty. The lobster cakes were particularly good, the artichoke was ok, there was a bit of a burned flavor that I could have done without.

The dinner choices included many steak options (obviously) served ala carte, four "Idaho menus" that include side dishes and dessert, and a couple of seafood and pasta items. Chris opted for steak (the special of the evening was a cowboy steak 14oz prime rib, Mark went for the chicken on the Idaho menu and Lisa and I both chose the halibut...ah, what a choice it was! If I were only rating the halibut, it would get an absolute 5. It was outstanding--just the right amount of dill and garlic and perfectly cooked. Between the halibut and the Malbec, Lisa and I just kept making goofy eyes at each other across the table. Chris ordered a potato with his steak--he needn't have bothered with any other food for the night. It was truly the biggest potato any of us had ever seen in our lives, a bit overkill if you ask me. Mark's free-range chicken was decent but nothing to blog about (ha.) And it appears it was the chicken that spoiled our movie plans.

Granted we took our time with appetizers and drinks, but not overly so. We ordered our dinner at 6:25 and around 6:40 we thought it prudent to tell our server that we were trying to make a 7:30 movie. She said the chicken would take a while, did we want to order something else. What?? Many obvious jokes about catching and plucking the poor bird followed, but we couldn't quite understand how ordering something else after 15 minutes would help and none of us even considered seemed like such a strange thing to say. So we waited. And we waited. And we sent the guys to the theater to exchange our pre-purchased tickets. Finally, about an hour and 15 minutes after we ordered our dinner, it arrived. Yes, the halibut was outstanding, but what the heck was going on in the kitchen? We never even heard back from the server about trying to get us our dinner before our was truly odd. Luckily we had plenty to drink, great company and plenty to talk about besides plucking chickens.

Staying later than we planned allowed us to enjoy the jazz pianist & singer who came around 7:30pm. That was a great touch and very enjoyable. It also allowed us to order dessert and enjoy the one that came with Mark's dinner. Lisa & Chris had a fruit cobbler (rhubarb and blueberry) ala mode, and Mark & I split a grand marnier chocolate mousse. The fruit in the cobbler was a bit crunchy (ugh) and the small amount of ice cream melted on top didn't do much for the cobbler. The mousse was good, nothing fantastic. By this time we'd decided to try a late movie and were getting anxious once again that we wouldn't make it. It took a while to get the check, so even at 9:00pm we were rushing.

Overall, Chandlers will be a nice touch for Hotel 43 and another good alternative for the downtown dining scene. Perhaps the servers will be a bit more practiced and the kitchen will speed up a bit. Until then, go, enjoy and don't have anything planned for later. Oh, and plan to spend your money. We spent $215 for the 4 of us (including tip.) Who needs a movie?

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Chocolate Bar (5 out of 5)

Are you in the mood for some really good chocolate? (Are there really people out there who aren't?) If you haven't been to The Chocolate Bar on 9th street, then you're missing out. There are actually several chocolate shops around, even one in BODO not far from where The Chocolate Bar is. They don't compare.

The first time I had chocolate from here, a friend brought me a box as a thank you. There were chocolates I had never dreamed of before, including a ginger chocolate and a chocolate with sea salt sprinkled on top--phenomenal and nothing I had expected to really like. Since then I've been back many times tasting everything from their many delicious little truffles to their lavender bark (made with real lavender) to their orange slices in dark chocolate to, well, everything in between.

The shop is heavenly. It smells fantastic, as only a true make-it-yourself-on-the-premises chocolate shop will. It's a pretty small place, but you walk into to another world and I dare you to want only one thing. Everything is fresh and beautiful and the service is personal and pleasant. Frequently there are pieces of chocolate out to taste, or you can request a little bit of something if you're trying to decide on a purchase.

If you don't want a lot of chocolate yourself (?) then at least stop in and get a gift for a friend. It's a great place to get a little surprise for someone whose day needs brightening. My friend Lee buys boxes frequently and I am always pleased to be one of the lucky ones on the receiving end--how fun to open the box to the never ending surprises inside! They'll wrap up a pretty box with purple tissue and a bow and it makes it all seem worth the price (which isn't cheap in case you were wondering.) It doesn't matter, the price is worth it. Go. Treat yourself and enjoy!

P.S. This is so far, my only perfect rating for any foodie place in Boise. I suppose it's no coincidence that it's a chocolate shop.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Koi (4 out of 5?)

My friend, Diane and I branched out! We walked past our regular Grape Escape lunch haunt and headed to Koi for Sushi, just a couple of doors down on 8th street. To be frank, all this restaurant blogging is taking a toll on my weight, I had to think of something light for lunch. I'll diverge for a moment and say that just because a restaurant has "fresh" in it's name, don't expect it to be light or healthy (you know who you are, Baja.) So in search of something truly light, we decided to opt for sushi.

There's a calming waterfall wall in the dining area, I like a good water feature. It made things smell a bit damp though, which you might like or hate. It reminded me of the Paris hotel in Las Vegas where they take their illusions seriously and do a great job of mimicking a constant light spring shower dampness, same smell.

You know what? We had a great lunch. There are a mountain of items to choose from, so if you're not familiar with sushi, take your time or ask for help. Our server was reasonably helpful, although he did presume that we had some working knowledge of sushi. I may as well mention here that he did another strange thing. When I signed for my check, I inadvertently put the pen back into my purse, it was NOT intentional. He picked up the check and then came back to the table, looked me in the eye suspiciously and said, "do you have my pen?" This was weird. I was so surprised and quickly checked in my purse and handed over the pen. He didn't make a light joke about it or anything--it was a cheap bic ballpoint for goodness sake. That's when it's good to have a friend with you who can agree, yep, that was weird.

Koi has a number of specials going on, lunch specials, happy hours and even separate menus touting extra specials. To start, we had edamame in the shell for an appetizer. They were, well, edamame in the shell. Warm, sprinkled with sea salt and a nice light start. I don't know if you can blow edamame, but the presentation was nice and an extra bowl for spent shells was the right touch. It was a cold day (which seems almost impossible as I write this on a near record high for June 1), so Diane had the Jasmine tea which was tasty--lots of options for warm teas here.

Next we had miso soup. Here's where I started to really warm up to Koi. It was fabulous. I should have asked, so I don't know what their "secret" ingredient was, but somehow this was the best miso soup I've had. Make sure you have a cup to start.

Diane got a scallop entree which was beautifully presented. There were 4 large scallops each served on a small mound of mashed potatoes and swirled with a balsamic vinegar sauce around the plate. Diane said the mashed potatoes were a great option for those who are otherwise "chopstick challenged" and the scallops were fantastic. I had a couple of rolls--still sticking with my lighter fare--a spider roll and an L.A. roll (a small step up from the extremely basic California roll.) They were both delicious, fresh, tasty and pretty.

I've eaten at Koi on other occasions, but it would be fair for me to come back and retry a few things on their menu so that I could say more about the different sushi options. But if I keep putting it off, I won't get even this information out and that would be a shame, not to mention the fact that the whole experience would soon slip from my memory. (Is this due to giving birth or getting older?)

You'll notice a question mark in my rating of Koi though and it comes down to this. Do real Japanese restaurants serve mashed potatoes? Do real Japanese restaurants include mayonnaise in their sushi? Does it matter? To many out there, it will and Koi's Americanized Japanese would be offensive and annoying. To those who get to eat sushi and Japanese food all too rarely, it tasted great, it was beautiful and it made us happy--all good reasons for saying enjoy it and forget it. If you're looking for a pleasant night out with delicious, beautiful food, then definitely give Koi a try. But if you're looking for an authentic Japanese experience, this may not be the place.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Bungalow - 3.5 out of 5

Finally, another date night! This time with friends Steve and Jennifer Cox, I was so excited to be checking out Bungalow--the new incarnation of Richard’s in Hyde Park. We got reservations for the patio at 7:00pm on a perfect, warm spring evening.
I was planning on at least a score of 4 out of 5, maybe even better! Alas, it didn’t work out that way.

Our table was ready immediately (nice) and I even got to chat a bit with owner, Erik McLaughlin about the new name. From everything I’ve read, Erik believes in a true neighborhood place and naming his restaurant is no exception. He told me that “Bungalow” echoes the special north-end homes and décor, not to mention that the name seemed fun. I agree, but why do I have such a hard time remembering it?

We started the night with a bottle of Maysara Pinot Noir. Jennifer wanted her wine with dinner and our server gladly obliged, better yet, she actually remembered! The wine list is extensive and broken out as at 8th Street Wine Company into styles of wine (“supple and sexy” for example) and not just by red and white. This is quite helpful and lets you go right for the taste you enjoy as well as allowing just about anyone to pair the right drink with dinner. Our server was friendly and pleasant, but it did take quite some time before we initially met her. As we remarked later, our glasses were always filled, nothing was forgotten or ignored, but please don’t be in a hurry here. Luckily, we weren’t and it was just fine with me to sit and enjoy a 3 hour meal.

Our server recommended the calamari and the risotto for appetizers, so that’s what we tried. She steered us away from the pommes frites (French fries), saying they weren’t that special. The calamari truly was excellent, perfectly fried and exquisite seasonings. The garden risotto was ok, but for a recommended appetizer I would have preferred a little more interest. It’s hard to do a great risotto and it wasn’t happening here. The risotto was also an unfortunate choice because several of the dinners are served with the same risotto—it’s just plain boring to have an appetizer reappear on your plate for dinner.

Recommendations for dinner included the halibut and their hamburger—which did sound great. But no one at our table was interested in beef that night. Mark got the bow-tie pasta with chicken, I got the halibut, Steve & Jennifer both ordered salmon. (What’s that about becoming more and more alike after many years of marriage?)

The halibut was served with a risotto cake, leeks and tomatoes. The risotto cake was great—very creamy inside and deep fried and crispy outside. The halibut was a thick piece of firm beautiful fish, but it didn’t bowl me over. I could have cooked it at home, and I really want something better than what I can cook at home when I go out for dinner. The leeks were bland and the tomatoes looked like stewed tomatoes from a can—I’m sure they weren’t, but the presentation was not good.

Steve and Jennifer’s salmon was served with a mustard-y sauce on top of a bed of the now familiar garden risotto. The salmon was excellent—very tender, cooked to perfection, and a nice size piece at that. The drizzle of mustard sauce was the perfect accompaniment. Mark enjoyed his pasta with shredded dark-meat chicken. It had a tarragon-flavored sauce that seemed like it might be a bit too heavy on the tarragon, but Mark said he really liked it.

We shared a tart tartin (kind of an apple pie a la mode without the crust.) Everyone enjoyed it with melting cinnamon ice cream on top. We also enjoyed the “chocolate overload” although we almost didn’t get it. They were out of it at first and busily baking more, so we ordered the only other chocolate dessert—unfortunately that last one burned, but by then the chocolate overload was complete and we got what we wanted in the first place—along with apologies from the owner and our server. Not really a big deal and well handled. The chocolate overload was truly overload. It came with raspberries and crème anglaise—decadent. We oohed and ahhed, and it really was chocolate-y, but sigh, I’ve had better.

I like nothing more than to sit out on that patio on 13th street on a beautiful evening with good friends. Well ok, I might have liked it more if the food had been a little better. I’ll definitely be back checking out the menu again. After all, they’ve just opened with this menu and there are probably some kinks to work out. The menu is definitely more laid-back and less expensive than Richard’s was. But at this point, I don’t think that’s a good thing.