Monday, July 4, 2011

Boise, Idaho

Oh, how I do miss the city of trees, a place where I called home for the better part of the last decade. It isn't necessarily a destination city, per se but Boise has a lot more to offer than you may think. Boise's a smallish city that is really coming into it's own culturally. As the state capitol, it has the size enough and enough economic diversity to support a growing art scene (my favorite of which is Ward Hooper) and musicians such as Curtis Stigers and Built to Spill have given a lot of credibility to an emerging music scene (check out Finn Riggins or Fauxbois as a couple of my favorites). Also the family of the late J.R. Simplot are constructing what's being called the J.U.M.P. project, which is essentially a 4 city block, $70 million dollar community center on steroids, which will be sure to jump start the city's cultural growth. All in all, it's a fun, artsy city and an exciting time to live or visit there.


Boise has one of the largest Basque populations of any city outside the Basque home region in northern Spain/southern France. They immigrated to this area as shepherds, tending their flocks in the foothills to the north, then returning down to the Treasure Valley during the winter months. Consequently there are many buildings around Boise which once served as Basque boarding houses, in particular in the neighborhood of Basque Block, which is a cultural district celebrating Boise's connection with the Basque people.

If it's adventure you seek, Idaho has some of the best rivers for whitewater rafting anywhere in the United States. A short drive up to Cascade to float the Payette River or take the longer drive to Stanley to float the Salmon River. For fans of paddle sports the middle fork of the Salmon River is not to be missed! Also, the city of Boise just opened a kayak park on the Boise River, along it's greenbelt, near the soon to be developed Esther Symplot Park. A great place to get practiced up before any big river trips.
And for those looking for a more leisurely day in the water try floating the Boise River. From Ann Morrison Park you can rent a raft, or inner tube, and the bus will take you to Barber Park where you will float back down to Ann Morrison. The total trip takes about 3 hours and is a fantastic way to cool down on a hot, Southern Idaho day. (Be careful about renting the inner tubes though. No matter how hot it is outside, the water in the Boise River is flowing from a hydroelectric dam and consequently can be rather cold as that the dam pulls water from the bottom of the reservoir)

During the winter, the outdoor fun continues. The city of Boise has co-opted the nearby ski mountain of Bogus Basin offering skiers a more affordable way of hitting the slopes. Bogus will be upgrading it's chairlift this year, to improve it's services. But if you want to visit some of most beautiful ski resorts in the world, it's a short drive east to Sun Valley for some of the best skiing in the country, or drive just north to Brundage Mountain in McCall.

If you should find yourself in Boise during the fall, you'll have to take the opportunity to go see a football game on Boise State University's infamous blue turf (affectionately known as the "Smuf Turf"). The tailgate party alone is worth heading down for even if you can't make it into the game (tickets can be hard to come by for big games. Fortunately the stadium is scheduled to be expanded after the 2012 season). The manner in which the city has embraced their football team, has turned the tailgates into a cultural event unto itself. The locals are welcoming and the chorizos are to die for!


I have a long list of my favorite places to eat in Boise, but I'll have to narrow it down to just a few for the sake of time. For breakfast, there's no place like Goldy's, it's got a great atmosphere, great location (right in the middle of downtown) and is one of the best breakfasts you'll find anywhere. I don't know that Chef Roland's on Boise Avenue is the best barbecue that I've ever had (it is very good though) but Chef Roland himself IS the most entertaining chef that I've ever come across, whether he's singing, dancing, or talking to himself, or just cooking you some mean gumbo. For a good lunch, head downtown to 8th Street, you'll find a wonderful row of restaurants with any kind of food you might desire. While you're there, try Superb Sushi: best sushi in town; bank on it. For dinner I like Angell's or The Reef, but if you would like to try some ethnic food that you won't find many places, head over to Leku Ona on the Basque Block for some unforgettable Basque cooking!

Home Cooking
This is a Basque dish which I adapted for a local fish. 
Guernica Style Steelhead
3 lbs Steelhead fillet
1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley (chopped)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees
Lay fillets, skin side down, on a lightly oiled baking pan. Sprinkle them lightly with salt, then bake them for about 10 minutes or until the fish is opaque, then transfer to a platter.
In a small skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 3-4 minutes until the garlic is golden brown, raise temperature to medium/high and add pepper flakes and vinegar (take care, the vinegar may cause the contents of the pan to flash). Cook, stirring, about 10 seconds, until sauce is blended. Spoon over fish, and garnish with parsley.


Alice in Chains at The Knitting Factory

As far as good music venues go, you'll find most of the better acts playing at The Knitting Factory which has been selected by Billboard Magazine as one of the 25 hottest clubs in North America, but The Neurolux will get some decent acts as well in a smaller, bar type atmosphere. For local bands though, my favorite venue is The Visual Arts Collective which is an art gallery, featuring local artists, that also has a stage for a variety of performances, especially members of the Boise music scene (they get a lot good mid-week shows because of bands traveling from Salt Lake to Portland or Seattle). During the summer months the Downtown Boise Association presents Alive After Five, a free concert series held downtown at The Grove Plaza, every Wednesday. (for those of my friends still living in Boise, might I recommend Hey Marseilles who will be playing Alive After Five on July 27th. I've seen them twice, and they are a good listen)

The Mother Hips at Alive After 5


Sadly, I've just learned that Chef Roland had recently passed away, and his restaurant has now closed. I thought that I would use this moment to tell one of my favorite Chef Roland stories. I walked down for a lunch at Chef Roland's one day, it was late, the lunch rush had come and gone, and Chef Roland had given his staff a break, leaving him to run the restaurant alone. Myself and one other couple arrived at the same time. Chef Roland helped their table first, taking their order, then walking to the kitchen window, putting the order up and yelled to nobody "Order here!" He then picked up some dishes left on a different table and set them in the kitchen window and again yelled "Dishes here!" and walked over to take my order. After jotting down what I wanted he yelled, again to nobody, "Order here!" then he walked back into the kitchen to cook the orders. While back there the other couple and myself began laughing as he sang an a capella version of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" while he cooked. Soon three plates were tossed down at the kitchen window, and Chef Roland yelled out into the dining area, "Order Up!" then walked out of the kitchen, picked up the plate and said, "I got it. . . I got it. . . " then walked over to my table and uncerimoniously dropped the plate in front of me and said, "if you want dessert, all I gots is Key Lime pie, but that's all you need, because it's pie made by Chef Roland." Then he turned abruptly, looked at the other table and said, "yeah, yeah, I got yours too, just hold on". What a wonderful character, what a joy of a person, and what a fabulous cook. Adieu Chef Roland, you will be missed.


  1. That story was great, it tells so much.

  2. Don't forget Chef Roland's corn. I never had any, but from what I saw it had to be the best corn ever made. Chef Roland will definitely be missed.

    Summer has finally come to Boise and the weather is great. Get back when you can, Jimmy.

  3. City Peanut Shop is a great option for a different snack option.