24 March 2010

I Heart Boise: campus edition

Who knew? I visited Boise last week and had a great time! Charming downtown, great historical architecture, nice balance of an urban feel with mountains nearby and small-town social interactions—I found myself sorry to leave. I was only in town for three days, and I spent one and a half of them teaching and performing, which means I missed out on the shows in town and the hikes out of town. So let’s talk about the food.

I was a guest at Boise State University, situated near downtown but with its own developed community all around. If you happen to find yourself in this area, you can certainly get your fill of convenient ethnic food or slouchy, college-style comfort. Elmer’s (1385 S. Capitol Blvd.), a Western chain, looks just like a Village Inn or Perkins from the outside, and the 24-hour breakfast menu doesn’t hurt the comparison. One unique feature, however, is their special insert menu featuring seafood from northern Idaho and the Pacific Northwest (hard to remember, but these guys are neighbors with Oregon). Cod and crab comprised the majority of this menu, and with fresh cod tacos, eggs Benedict over crab cakes, and lump crab BLT salad, it was certainly enough to erase my memory of heavy, greasy breakfast skillets at the Village. The mild, bottomless coffee cup was nothing special, but surprisingly, the food actually was.

There is also a little complex with the Papa’s moniker near Elmer’s and across the street from the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts: Papa’s pizza and sandwiches, the majority of the building, yields to Papa’s Cup of Joe in the corner. I did not partake of the sandwich shop/ pizza parlor, though they certainly seemed to do a brisk business around noon, but Cup of Joe served a mean cup of strong brew, all within the hipster, faux-messy setting one expects near a university. There was even a record player cranking out some vintage Dinosaur Jr. near the counter. The log cabin d├ęcor made it a little harder to be funky, but with angsty music and coffee that can walk by itself, you can find your inner 90s child easily enough if you squint a little.

Finally, for a quick, healthy meal, I really liked Thai Nalyn (2203 University), also within walking distance of Morrison Center. It’s one of those cleaned-up boxes of a building with vague modernist touches (well, more chrome than necessary, anyway) that makes me skeptical of food quality, but it was one of the most satisfying meals I had in Boise. My fellow diners and I had a red curry noodle dish with fried tofu, cashew chicken (nothing like the bland stuff my parents ordered from Chinese take-out in the 80s), and pad prik kau with pork, and all came with a diverse bounty of fresh, just-cooked vegetables. The sauces were all very flavorful and different in taste, and things ran pretty hot: on a scale of 1—5, we ordered a 3, a 4, and a 5. The 3 was a robust medium, and 4 and 5 required a fair amount of water on the side. I say this with appreciation, by the way, but just to warn you, they do like the cayenne. It was weird that you had to purchase white rice separately (a $1 plate served about two) when the entrees ranged from $9.95 to $12.95, but we certainly got our fill and leftovers, too.