I love food, I really do. Maybe it seems gluttonous to write that I think about food nearly non-stop.
When it comes to dining, however, there are layers involved.
In order to fully enjoy any dining I'm doing, the necessary elements need to be in place. Not just sights, sounds, or the aroma. For me, it goes much deeper than that.
#1. I need to feel at ease with my fellow diners.
Foodies Deb McGrath, Sarah Nash and I were accidental friends. I wanted a foodie handle on Twitter that was relatively clever and descriptive. I chose @EatingIdaho, then later discovered that was Deb's Twittername. I tweeted to her to apologize for the accidental imitation, and told her I was changing mine out. On a whim, I tweeted that since we were both food lovers, we should perhaps have lunch and write our own reviews. @IdahoFoodie Sarah Nash spotted this correspondence and amiably asked if she could join us. The Culinary Club was born. What I thought would be a one-time lunch thing has now turned into regular food reviews and friendship, going strong now for about a year. Not only am I at my total ease with these interesting and at times comedic two, I look forward to our gatherings for weeks, and ponder on the food and conversation for weeks afterward.
#2. Any history involved will kick it up several notches.
Sarah is our group's historian and trivia maven, and is the owner of Nash Historical Research. From our first meeting, she told us of Red Feather's oatmeal souffle (which we're planning to try during an upcoming brunch), and of their unique cellar. Having frequented Eighth Street often in the past, returning to the village-y area is always a treat for me. Knowing that the building we were dining in was around 100 years old got the senses on high history the alert. I adore the smell of old wood and the detailed craftsmanship of yesteryear.
#3. I have to put my brain into 'relax' mode.
I'm slightly OCD. I'm German. I have three kids and a type A husband. My 'chill' button is often nowhere to be found, so for me this is a very conscious effort, this relaxation thing. I have to force my shoulders to come back down off my ears (ask my chiropractor, he'll tell you). Deep breaths and some inner self-talk help. Once I'm there, I'm good, but backsliding is always a danger. The full effect happens by the time I'm seated at the table with the other two Foodies. One more deep breath, and I'm ready for a couple of hours of food and fantastic-ness.
Kitty-corner and down the street from Fork, the Club's first meeting place (I think we all like Eighth Street, but who doesn't?) sits the Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather. Those who'd entered the busy Red Feather behind me all had the same anticipatory looks, as if they knew they were in for a special treat and knew they deserved it and were going to get it, too.
After being seated, I realized that another factor this time was going to be that Sarah loved the Red Feather. My own enjoyment is doubled when a friend is in their element. When she told us unabashedly that this was 'her place', a happy grin crept onto my visage and stayed there for the rest of the evening. There's a light that comes on in people when they love their location.
Being in the two-story loft overlooking the happy diners below (both inside and out on the patio), combined with soft, dimmed lights provided a contented energy. Looking upward at exposed antique wooden beams got me musing about the yesteryears. I tried to describe what I felt to the Foodies.
"An old building has a different energy. Like when someone's been shouting or music's been playing and then all suddenly stops...it's that echo or faint ring that you can still hear. You can almost feel the memories."
Which of course led to an entire discussion about ghosts, spirits, and history. There couldn't have been a better setting.
History was the theme of the night, as I shared with my Foodie friends that I'd just learned my grandfather had owned a Bavarian Deli in New York in the 1950s, and that he'd been a cheese-maker. I've always loved cheese, but knowing it was in my blood increased my curiosity of the curd. While Deb ordered the Halloumi appetizer tray (I pretended to know what that was, for fear of appearing naive), I ordered a sampler cheese tray also. If we were going to talk about my German grandfather in this historic, old-vibe-y building, it would have been wrong not to.
A smokey, strong white cheddar lit up taste buds like the fourth of July, and in a good way. I couldn't get enough, watching the tray like a hawk yet lacking the boldness to say, "Does anyone else want the rest?" I politely waited a few seconds, then selfishly put my fork into the remaining slice to rest it safely upon my plate. "Mine."
The last three times the CClub has dined together, I've surprised myself by getting the fish. Tonight, good as that looked, I would force myself to get something different. That wasn't hard. Even though I've- strangely enough- ordered fish consistently, my first true love is beef. I even have an 'I Love Beef' t-shirt that I've worn around the house, courtesy of the Idaho Beef Council. My least favorite meat is chicken, due to the fact that my husband could eat a chicken breast each and every day of his life. We've owned entire freezer-fulls of them. I used to be okay with it, but I think I've reached my lifetime quota early. I'll seldom order the chicken, but my heart leaps at the sight of good beef on the menu. Homestead Natural beef, in fact.
My order was practically smiling up at me from its plate, like an old friend. Iron, protein, packed with flavor, and the ideal texture. Soulmates. I shared a portion of my medium rare steak with the other two, who generously shared portions of their dishes. This is tradition. We get to try three or more dishes each time, a definite plus. While Deb's Idaho sturgeon and Sarah's herb-roasted pork were delicious. I personally felt I'd gotten the best pick, but that could've just been my beef-love talking.
Downtown Boise restaurants have recently converted me over to two things, one of them (shockingly) being wilted kale. Smoky, buttery, and with a deep, rich flavor (do they marinate it?) I'm hooked. Another unexpected was the golden triangle that patiently waited for me to finish everything else on my plate before addressing it. Polenta, where have you been all my life? I'd tried you before, but not when you were perfectly crunchy, seasoned and full of inner joy. If I'd been relaxed at 80%, polenta sent me to the 100%. It made me envision being in my most comfortable flannel jammies on the couch with a roaring fire before me. Polenta was like coming home. I believe I might need an 'I Love Polenta' tee to go with my beef one.
The Red Feather was filled with customers, but with the way walls and booths were situated, we had no trouble hearing or conversing. The walking flow in both entering and exiting the building were not technical, even on a busy Friday night. How the Red Feather pulled this off, I have no idea, but I believe there was some detailed thought involved with their layout.
Overall I was impressed, and would return. I'm anxious to try the long-discussed oatmeal souffle and to see how the building's deep vibes affect me during daylight hours.
*For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.
And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!