I passed this sign on the door of a Boise gyro shop yesterday and it made me laugh. When was the last time that French fries, long a staple of the American fast food diet, merited an exclamation point? 1948? And I’m in Idaho, for gosh sakes — the potato capital of the world, where you would expect every eatery to feature spuds galore. And it’s a gyro shop, to boot; gyros and fries have been linked since time immemorial.
So the Gyro Shack is just now adding fries to the menu? There’s a back story there somewhere.
Boise is surrounded by mountains. Some are seen in the far distance; others are right next door. One of the nearby outcroppings is a huge, flat-topped butte called Table Rock that is a popular destination for hikers and tourists.
Table Rock is well worth a visit. It gives you a grand view of the Boise valley — that’s the city in the photo above, far below — and it reminds you that Boise gets its name from “bois,” the French word for tree. There are trees along the river, and trees have been planted all over town, but otherwise Boise is surrounded by desert conditions. Look in one direction from Table Rock and you see green; look in another and it’s dusty brown as far as the eye can see.
One other thing about Table Rock — there are no fences or guard rails. If you’re up there on a blustery day, as we were, you don’t want to get too close to the edge or you might just get blown off . . . and it’s a long way down. We maintained a prudent and respectful distance from the edge.
Sometimes, after a long day of work on the road, I’ll get to a restaurant, review its lengthy menu, and just not feel like making tough decisions about what to order. In such circumstances, it’s nice to have a waiter who will make knowledgeable recommendations about the options, without mouthing platitudes about whatever happens to be the daily special.
So it was last night at Fork Restaurant in Boise, Idaho, an excellent bistro that advertises itself as being “loyal to local.” Our waiter was experienced and glad to offer candid suggestions after asking a few basic questions like whether I wanted red or white wine or meat, fish, or vegetable. I accepted his recommendations across the board and ended up with a very fine Syrah from the northwest and succulent, melt in your mouth beef short ribs — which you can’t really see in the photo above because they are covered in crunchy Idaho “potato hay.”
His recommendations were so good that when we were considering dessert we decided to blindly rely on his choice. He came through like a champ, bringing us a ridiculously moist butter cake topped with local ice cream and a coulis made from an assortment of berries. It was a sensational end to a very fine meal.
Being a waiter is not easy, especially if you want to do it right. Our experience at the Fork Restaurant last night showed how a really good waiter can complement a really fine meal.
My hotel room window looks out onto Capitol Boulevard, with the Idaho state capitol and its colossal dome in the background.
Boise is bustling. It’s one of the fastest growing places in the country, and people here report that many of the recent arrivals hail from California. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, and one of Boise’s suburbs is set to become the second-largest city in Idaho in its own right.
There always seems to be traffic on Capitol Boulevard, too.
If you go to a steakhouse, there really are only three viable dessert options. Number 1 is the New York-style cheesecake, of course. And tied for second are a fruit cobbler and key lime pie — which must be made with a graham cracker crumb crust.
Tonight, at a very good steakhouse in Boise called Chandlers, I polished off an exceptional “cowboy cut” ribeye and some creamed spinach. I decided to top off my very traditional steakhouse meal with key lime pie. Sure, it was served in a round dish, and the graham cracker crust was chocolate, and there was no ultra-thin slice of lime, twisted and carefully placed on the whipped cream, but I was willing to overlook these departures from slavish adherence to the norm. And it tasted great, by the way.
I prefer the grand old hotels, with their special features and fixtures, but it’s nice to get a glimpse at the new hotel trends every once in a while, too. Last night I stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn in downtown Boise that the friendly woman who checked me in said had been open for all of two weeks.
The first thing I noticed when I got to my room was the smell. With all of the shiny new, just-out-of-the-delivery-box metal, plastic, fabric, and carpeting, the room had that familiar scent that made me feel like I was going to spend the night in a new Mustang on the local Ford dealer’s showroom floor.
There were some other signs of new hotel approaches, too. The room was a kind of mini-suite, with refrigerator and microwave (complete with a packet of microwave popcorn), and the Keurig coffee maker is definitely a welcome step in the right direction. The bathroom features an enormous, blindingly white walk-in shower that is guaranteed to blast the newly roused traveler into immediate wide-awake mode. And the room has two other features that go on the negative side of the ledger — heaps of those clunky, oversized “accent” pillows on the sofa that keep you from sitting down unless you throw them on the floor, and light fixtures that you have to carefully study to determine whether they are powered by a knob, a hanging cord, a wall switch, or a step-on device on the floor. Oh, for the days when every light could be turned on by a knob beneath the lampshade!
It’s a nice room and a nice hotel, but new or old, a hotel is always a hotel. I noticed that this one also has the loud, patterned carpeting that you seem to find only in hotel hallways and bowling alleys. Some things never change.
Tonight I began my overnight cross-country trip that will take me from Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake City, then to Boston, and finally to NYC. Any experienced traveler will react to this wishful itinerary with the thought: “Yeah, good luck with that!” But sometimes you just have to try.
Boise was cloudless the whole time I was there, even when I boarded the plane, above — which I’ve got to say isn’t bad. When I landed in Salt Lake City a few hours later I was horrified to see a few clouds in the sky, but the mountains that ring the airport, shown below, made up for it.
Now it’s time to fuel up on some great airport food, try to stay awake until my next flight boards, and then survive the red-eye.
Yeah . . . good luck with that!