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Yummy Spring Cuisine

The subtle romance of Idaho’s spring is a great secret waiting to unfurl over winter.

By: Mark Stanley
Photography By: Mark Stanley

Here in the Treasure Valley, flashes of green in the Eagle foothills typically announce the coming of spring weeks earlier than in snowbound destinations like McCall or Sun Valley.

Indeed, while ice is still collecting in Idaho’s alpine country, tulips and willow trees are likely budding in your backyard. The fresh breath of spring means jackets and gloves eventually find their way to the back of your closet again. Comfortable dress in seasonal colors takes their place.

Another welcome springtime change are the seasonal menus at local restaurants.

Diners emerge from hibernation to greet adventures of the palate. They find dishes infused with fresh local ingredients, or perhaps sourced from further locales now in season. Restaurateurs do their part to emphasize lighter fare, offering colorful presentations and new flavors.

Here, we’ve profiled five local eateries eager to showcase spring seasonal menus. From American pub fare to Thai fusion, sushi, and steak, we hope the following dishes will spark your own exploration of spring eating.

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AHI SUSHI BAR

Inside Eagle’s Ahi Sushi Bar, sprawling stonework and modern art glass light fixtures set an upscale tone for a casual, bright experience.

Ahi cultivates a reputation for the valley’s freshest sashimi, working to offer more diverse seasonal cuts of gourmet raw fish than many others. Owner Tawni Makua says sushi lovers can look for upward of eight specialty dishes on the spring and summer menu at any one time.

That includes the pungent sea urchin, buttery red snapper, the full-bodied pumpkin marlin, seasonal swordfish, larger varieties of oysters, and the delicate, yet salty, moonfish.

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“We’re not your average sushi bar that gets an order every week,” Makua says, mentioning an overnight shipping process from Honolulu. “We strive to have the freshest sushi in Boise.”

Looking for the perfect springtime roll that’s beginner friendly too?

Try Ahi’s soft-shell-crab-infused Spider Roll. The ample creations includes fresh daikon radish sprouts, bright orange carrot-like mountain gobo shreds, sliced avocado and tempura shrimp.
The sweet combination of textures is both crunchy and colorful, and it’s packed with protein and greens too.

The $11.99 price point should tempt your table to spring for another fresh offering, like the lemon-peel garnished Ahi Poke Martini or savory salmon Triumph Roll with cilantro and cucumber.

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Ahi’s Triumph Roll includes fresh salmon, crab, cucumber, tempura shrimp, avocado, cilantro and ponzu sauce. It’s topped with tobiko or fresh fish eggs, $14.99.

The Ahi Poke Martini includes a selection of ahi poke (cubed raw tuna), served in a martini glass and tossed with translucent seaweed salad, sesame oil, and masago. It’s garnished with lemon peel, $13.99.

RICE CONTEMPORARY ASIAN FOOD

A relative-newcomer to the Eagle restaurant scene, Rice Contemporary Asian Cuisine is already making its reputation as a vibrant standby located close to the heart of downtown.

How do you describe Rice? Think east meets west, but not entirely fusion. Think great bartending and beautiful decor, but not overwhelming. Think moderately priced and healthy.

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Located in a shopping center next to the Eagle Albertsons, Rice may be understated on the outside, but its menu delivers in a strong and surprising way.

From Thai-inspired steaks to tandoori chicken, restaurateur Toffee Dullaphan often combines traditional Asian spices with locally-sourced ingredients. She also includes gluten-free and vegan dishes on her menu, and offers healthy grain substitutions like quinoa and brown rice.

“People have different eating patterns and eat different varieties of food now,” Dullaphan says matter-of-factly. “People are healthier now.”

Interested in a light menu item perfect for the spring season? Try Rice’s succulent walnut snow shrimp salad with melon for $14.99.

Here, freshly-scooped cantaloupe spheres compliment the sweet taste of panko-encrusted snow shrimp, contrasting with a tangy honey vinaigrette dressing and the zing of candied walnuts. Resting on a bed of

fresh greens, this elegant offering is a welcome variation on the theme, when compared to less creative seafood shrimp salads found elsewhere.

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Rice’s hot and cold filet mignon is served over crisp iceberg salad, and includes explosive teriyaki steak flavors with a cool texture. The dish is stir-fried in a special teriyaki garlic sauce with quinoa, bell peppers, and champignon mushrooms. $15.99.

Another seasonal favorite is the Indian chicken tandoori. This tandoori is marinated in yogurt for a day and served on Indian naan bread with a unique, sweet-and-tangy homemade mild mango salsa. $12.99.

Bartender Major Ludwig (that’s his real name) serves up a lemongrass martini and blackberry lavender infused gin. Many of his drinks are artistic creations, not simple clones.

WILLOW CREEK GRILL

Whether it’s a relaxing lunch, indulging in a locally-brewed beer, or enjoying a satisfying dinner with friends, Eagle’s Willow Creek Grill is a staple restaurant that offers many delights with the coming of spring.

Scott Weiss is a managing partner in the twin restaurants that make up Willow Creek. He says casual diners should expect creativity and consistency in his brand. They should also expect a cheerful, almost art-deco feel to the Hill Street location in Eagle.

Here, you can slip away into the restaurant’s intimate new sushi bar. Decorated with raw, twisting wood, the secluded nook is almost a restaurant-within-a-restaurant. The impressive glass sushi case and colorful sake bottles, selection of wine, and draft beer handles punctuate the feeling.

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“You eat sushi with your eyes as well as your mouth,” Weiss says, gesturing to the smooth grades of ahi, albacore, and Hamachi tuna in the case.

Outside the restaurant, seasonal guests will find Willow Creek’s patio a constant draw as the season grows warmer. Surrounded by a stream and water features, this unique space is perfect for enjoying a cold beer, appetizer, or lunch.

Hungry for beef? Try the Black and Blue Ribeye Salad, topped with a 6-ounce ribeye steak and crumbles of delightful blue cheese at $11.99.

Lighter fare here includes Salmon Run Salad, topped with Atlantic salmon on mixed greens garnished with cilantro and lime for $10.49. (Not pictured)

Intrepid sushi eaters can pick from Willow Creek Grill’s menu of custom, house-made rolls and sashimi. Popular items include the signature spicy tuna roll, known as the Japanese Burrito, and the ample Poke Tower, which is essentially a miniature castle of melt-in-your-mouth raw tuna topped with pineapple, surrounded by a smoky moat of ponzu sauce.

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The “Japanese Burrito” includes Hamachi tuna, cream cheese, cilantro, avocado, lime, jalapeño, and sriracha.

The Poke Tower includes a trifecta of ahi, Hamachi, and albacore tuna in a towering presentation complete with tapiko eggs, pineapple, avocado, daikon sprouts, cucumbers, kabayaki soy poke sauce, and sesame seed garnish.

BARDENAY RESTAURANT AND DISTILLERY

Restaurateurs don’t often mess with success. That’s been the longtime attitude at Eagle’s innovative Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery, with its signature gin, vodka, and rum. Combine that with powerful architecture and a popular menu; it’s no wonder Bardenay is a favorite.

In fact, according to general manager Stacey Grey, the restaurant’s successful menu hasn’t changed for several years now due to wide appeal. Despite this, Bardenay is taking a calculated risk by changing that menu for the spring of 2014.

“It’s time for a change,” Gray says. “Our guests love some of these special menu items, so we’re taking them and adding them to the regular menu.”

Gray says the addition of nine new entrees was spurred by the hiring of a new executive chef. His delicious creations include a number of Thai skewers, or satays, including the grilled Halloumi-Style cheese satay and spicy chili shrimp satay garnished with green onions. These innovative dishes are mostly between $10 and $15.

New offerings include fusion pork tacos, Cajun salmon croquettes, oven-roasted corned-beef Reuben with kimchi, vegetarian quinoa burger with baby kale, Mojo Kurbuta Pork Sandwich with cumin and bean puree, along with the delectable yellowfin tuna club topped with peppered bacon and hints of wasabi.

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Are you curious now? Have you had enough writing and talk about food? Go forth and eat, you springtime revelers! Eat and enjoy the beauty of seasonal change in Idaho.As if that wasn’t enough, Bardenay is also offering lighter steak sauces, a unique appetizer called “lollipop pork shanks” with sweet overtones of juicy meat, and adding a nice New York strip steak to the mix.

Grilled Halloumi Style cheese: Ballard farms golden Greek with cherry tomato jam.
$9.95.

Spicy Chili and Citrus Marinated Shrimp: Shrimp with honey, cilantro, lime, and chili dipping sauce. $9.50.

Sashimi Salad: Sashimi grade tuna served over a bed of mixed field greens with sesame-soy vinaigrette, wasabi, and crisp wonton triangles. $13.50.