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Diner's Diary

The best 102 Paris restaurants are reviewed in Hungry for Paris. Since the Paris restaurant scene changes constantly, I regularly post new restaurant reviews and information on the city’s best places to eat on this site. I also review selected books with various gastronomic themes and comment on favorite foods, recipes, cookware and appliances. In addition to the reviews and writings here, I'd also invite you to follow me on Twitter @ Aleclobrano. So come to my table hungry and often, and please share your own rants and raves in the Hungry for Paris readers forum.

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Entries in Paris wine bars (8)

Friday
Nov082013

BUVETTE--A Pretty Yankee Pastiche of a French Wine Bar in Pigalle, C+

 
   When I was growing up in Westport, Connecticut there was a wonderful old farmstand on the Post Road (U.S. 1) called Rippe's that sold fresh corn, tomatoes and bunches of twine-bound zinnias grown in the fields out back. During the Fall, an ancient cider press filled big glass jugs with delicious caramel-colored cider made from apples that came from the farm's orchard, along with gourds and pumpkins, and then Rippe's annual season ended for the year after a few weeks of selling locally grown Christmas trees, pine boughs, holly and mistletoe. Rippe's is long gone--a gated condominium community now occupies the former farmland--but several years after it vanished, I was amused to discover that Westport had acquired a new store called Hay Day (now also closed), which was a highly styled but completely ersatz riff on a real farmstand. What the new store told me was that someone had figured out that there was money to be made from the nostalgia people feel for real farmstands, a genus that could no longer be sustained in this wealthy suburb due to exploding land prices. 
 
  This same strange and strained convergence of forces that replaces the authentic with a pastiche of what's gone missing is also at work in Paris right now, and a perfect example is Buvette, a new cafe-restaurant cum wine bar in the alarmingly ever trendier 9th arrondissement where I live. Odd though it may sound, it's the Paris branch of a France inspired restaurant in New York City's West Village by the same name and it has the same owner, American chef Jody Williams. Stranger still is that the reason I was incited to visit what I assumed would be another Bobo corral in South Pigalle is that French friends who'd been to New York recently came back raving about William's original address.
  
   
  So on a rainy night, I met a friend for dinner, and as soon as I came through door, I was impressed by the impeccable mis en scene of this place, which looks as though it had been sourced from the Williams Sonoma, (the upscale U.S. kitchenware purveyor) and West Elm (the urban hipster home-furnishings supplier) catalogs. Apples were piled in pretty pyramids on the bar, which was awash in very handsome glass cake and pastry stands displaying various desserts. There was something rather Hollywood set-decorator about the shiny stamped tin ceiling--handsome though it might be, and the globe lamps, though, and good-looking though the room was, it looked like it might be a Paris set for a Woody Allen film. The crowd of stylishly dressed bobo locals paying as much attention to their iPhones as their dining companions might have come from central casting, too.
  
 
  The format of the menu here is small-plates grazing, something I'm always wary of, since so often after meals like this one, I find myself wanting to make some spaghetti around midnight, but the pretty little menus offered a variety of nice-sounding dishes, and we agreed to just order away and share. The first course that arrived at the table was a nicely made slice of terrine, which was served with good bread and garnishes of whole-grain mustard, cornichons and Kalamata olives. Since I love these olives, I didn't mind the fact that they're not a particularly French garnish for a terrine, and similarly, I loved the streaky bacon wrapped around the well-seasoned terrine, which actually reminded me more of a very well-made meat loaf than something a master charcutier like Gilles Verot might produce.
   
   
  Unfortunately, the Croque Forestière--a Croque, or toasted bechamel and grated cheese topped sandwich, that followed was a big disappointment. It lacked the lush emolience of a really good croque--a fried egg might have helped, but there wasn't one, and the bread was sliced too thick, the Forestière, or wild mushroom, filling had more texture than taste, and it was awkward to eat on a small plate that came with the same olives and cornichons that became the recurring gastronomic punctuation of this meal. 
  
   
  Hachis parmentier, one of my favorite cuisine ménagère dishes, was oddly interpreted here, too. Made to order in a small shallow dish, it had none of the alluring juiciness of a proper long-baked hachis parmentier and instead was just a mound of mashed potato sitting on a bed of underseasoned chopped beef. The walnut oil used to dress a chewy brussels sprout salad had gone off, and a tartine of purple kale ordered out of curiosity came as a woefully unseasoned mounded of chopped vegetable on another piece of thick bread. 
  
 
  While my friend was off in the men's room, the handsome well-dressed older French professional woman who was dining alone next to us volunteered her verdict on Buvette. "It's very pretty, mais un peu Disney, and even though the young staff are sweet, they need a real cook in the kitchen," she said. The off-center strangeness of eating what Americans think of as French country food in Paris was somewhat blunted by the very good chocolate mousse with which we finished our meal, but I left with over fifty fewer euros in my wallet--the wines by the glass are expensive here--and had to fight off off the temptation to whip up some spaghetti carbonara when I got home. Ultimately, the hugely popularity of this address has more to do with its admirable success as an exercise in style--it really is very pretty--and the demand for places with non-stop serving hours than it does with a successful gastronomic signature.   
  
28 rue Henri Monnier, 9th, Tel. 01-44-63-41-71. Métro: Saint Georges or Pigalle. Open non-stop from 10am to midnight, Tuesday through Sunday, Closed Monday. Average 35 Euros.
Wednesday
May162012

A LA MARGUERITE--The Price Isn't Right in Paris These Days, B-/C+

A Table a la Marguerite

   Last week through this website I received an email from a nice lady in Toronto who'd recently been in Paris and who'd had a very disappointing experience at one of the city's most famous bistros, Chez Georges. Following a response from me, she wrote again, and her message was not only a polite plea in favor of continued exigency and honesty in writing about food in Paris, but an entreaty to remember and respect socio-economic diversity. Here's what she said:

   "What this restaurant, their owners, chef and staff may not appreciate is how rare an opportunity it can be for one to travel to Paris, and to be able to reserve a table at what is reputedly one of the best bistros: one works long hours and saves one’s money for such a trip. The evening of the special dinner is meant to be a memorable occasion with delicious food.  They do need to take care to be reminded that their customers may not be privileged and/or rich, but workers/professionals like themselves who come with respect to appreciate French cuisine of ‘excellence’ , to a place of ‘high standards’.  It was so disappointing."

   Musing on this message, I realized that this was a real cri de coeur, and it really struck home with me, because I still remember sleepless nights in a lumpy New York City sofa bed in a tiny studio apartment in Greenwich Village following the crown molding around the room over and over again and wondering how on earth I'd ever find my way back to Europe on a very modest Assistant Editor's salary. 

  So what she was saying is that much of the Anglophone world's food and travel press has drifted off course in the direction of catering to the 1%, or the world's wealthy, instead of the 99%, which is, of course, where I live. This media tack has been for mostly commercial reasons, of course, and its unintended result is to have fertilized demand for the increasingly rich, diverse, well-produced and ecclectic offer of gastronomic information available on-line. One way or another, I am as deeply committed to good value as I am to good food, and in any event, the two often go together like hand in glove.

  The truth of what my Canadian correspondent was driving at had already been much on my mind during the last few months of Paris reporting, too, because this year restaurant prices have just plain gone through the roof. The Beef Club, Les Jalles, and now the just opened A la Marguerite are all practicing prices that make my head spin, and which also evidence a serious disregard for rapport qualite prix, or value for the money. To wit, A la Marguerite, which is the sister of the very good Les Fines Gueules, is a place where it's really easy to spend 65 Euros/$84 a head on a casual meal.  And if proprietor Arnaud Bradol's sourcing is outstanding, the quality of the cooking just doesn't warrant such vertiginous prices. For much less money, I could eat better at the nearby La Regalade Saint Honore, and kicking it upstairs a bit more, I could go to Yam'Tcha or Spring, also in the neighborhood. 

  I didn't know this when I arrived, though, and was musing over the really interesting question of why some restaurants of more or less equal quality thrive while others don't survive--this space was previously occupied by L'Atelier Berger, an earnest restaurant that I went to two or three times after it was opened by a Franco-Norwegian chef a longtime ago but never found compellingly good enough to return to, when I climbed the staircase to the first-floor dining room to meet a friend, Nola Fairhope, who's an old Paris hand like me. We sipped at white Cheverny that wasn't worth 6 Euros for a short pour and studied the chalkboard menu. 

  "Good grief, these prices are rather stiff for a bistro in Les Halles, aren't they?" said Nola. "Hate to be a wet blanket, but I think all of you who write about food have become a bit too cavalier about how expensive many of the city's new restaurants are. You know I can get a very good meal at Lilane, my little local go to behind the Place Monge, for a lot less than we're going to end up spending here."  

   By the time the friendly young waiter came to take our order, I'd already decided I'd pick up the tab for our wine. I'd liked to have invited Nola to dinner for that matter, but unfortunately--contrary to what many people assume, most food writers have only the most paltry of budgets, if they have any at all. So our first courses arrived, white asparagus with a meaty vinaigrette for Nola and seared tuna with an avocado condiment for me. Four spears of asparagus seemed a stingy serving for 12 Euros--a whole botte (bunch) of white asparagus from Greece was on sale for 2 Euros this weeks at Lafayette Gourmet, but they were perfectly cooked and complimented by their sauce. Served cold, my tuna was a bit dull--more my fault for ordering it though than the kitchen's in this case. Still, I was puzzled by the way that this restaurant had almost none of the edgy and delicious mojo of Les Fines Gueules. Obviously, something had been lost in translation here, and it seemed to me that the desire to coin more or less the same formula as that served up at the original restaurant but with a higher price tag was something that wasn't going to fly. Or at least not for me anyway.

 

  To be sure, my main course--an exquisitely cooked rack of butcher Hugo Desnoyer's lamb on a bed of white beans with piquillo peppers and garlic--was so good that it almost warranted its 29 Euro price tag, but Nola's fish was overcooked and the courgette 'spaghetti,' a fun idea for a home cook perhaps, but a bore in a restaurant for having become such a cliche, was a letdown, especially at 26 Euros. Neither of us much liked the 28 bottle of Papaton, an organic Coteaux de Loir wine that we'd ordered as much by price as anything else, since it remained as rigid and square shouldered a half hour after it had been opened as it was when I took a first slightly fizzy sip.

  Since Nola never eats dessert, and I was so well-fed from my fine rack of lamb, we demured on a sweet and called the meal to a close. "There wasn't much emotion in that cooking," she said as I walked her to her bus, and after it had carried her off into the night, I found myself even more perplexed by the rather charmless offspring of a restaurant that I'd always liked so much than I'd been a few minutes earlier until I finally realized what A la Marguerite was really all about. All of the enthusiasm of really good locavore sourcing and the excitement about organic and biodynamic wine that had made Les Fines Gueules such a hit has been turned into a marketing ploy for a restaurant that's gunning for high-spending hipsters--a jazz club will be opening in the cave here sometime soon, and with Les Halles on a obvious upswing due to the renovation of the ghastly cement wart of a shopping mall that replaced the main food market of the city of Paris in the seventies, it's inevitable that shrewd restauranteurs are already packing into a neighborhood that will surely enjoy a serious redux once the dust has cleared. 

  One way or another, I have to doff my hat to Bruno Doucet and the remarkably good food he continues to serve at the very reasonably priced La Regalade Saint Honore, just a hop, skip and a jump from A la Marguerite. It's my go-to address in their neighborhood.

Restaurant A la Marguerite, 49 rue Berger, 1st, Tel. 01-40-28-00-00. Metro: Les Halles; Louvre-Rivoli; Pont Neuf. Open daily. Lunch menu 29 Euros, average a la carte 65 Euros.   

Sunday
Jan292012

VERJUS WINE BAR--Perfect Pours, Great Small Plates, B+

Buttermilk fried chicken 
  Even though I like winter and would find it disorienting  to live somewhere without real seasons, the mid-way point of this leafless gray season in Europe does bring on a certain restlessness. It may be light deprivation--although this winter's been relatively sunny and mild for Paris, or a surfeit of roasted root vegetables, or my hatred of wearing socks, or a combination of all three, but I could use a change of scene, and without buying an airplane ticket or hopping a train, I found one last week when I stopped by the new Verjus wine bar in the Palais Royal. On a wet night, this place was warm, cozy and friendly, and also packed with an outgoing international crowd who were sipping Laura Adrian's excellent wines and snacking on the really delicious small-plates of Braden Perkins, the two comprising the couple who own and run this place. 
 
  It was reassuring to see it doing so well, too, because with a couple of exceptions, notably in Le Fooding, it's been rather disappointing to follow the dribble of tepid, pat-on-the-head polite reviews that this terrific restaurant and wine bar opened in December by Americans Perkins and Adrian has received in the French press. I've eaten there several times now, and Perkins's cooking, which was very good the first time I went, just gets better and better, as is generally the case with any solidly good new restaurant, or to wit, it takes time for any chef to settle into a new kitchen and find his or her rhythm.
 
  So what might explain the Gallic reaction to Verjus? I can't say for sure, but it may be a reflection of the great undeclared battle for Google rankings that's quietly being duked out between the robust and intensely reactive Anglophone gastro-blog community in Paris and the rather more lumbering mainstream French food press. There are at least a good dozen excellent well-read English-language blogs covering the Paris gastronomic scene, and they often get there--there being a new restaurant, shop or bar, first, with the result that the reviews which pop up from the churn from Google's search engine are in English not French, and in some quarters, this may rankle to the extent of provoking muted enthusiasm for places that have had major shout-outs from Paris's English-language cyber press.
 
  Be that as it may, I think this critical competition is salutory, because it ultimately leads to better and more varied information for people who care about great eating in Paris, and also that Verjus is a wonderful and important addition to the gastro-scape of Paris. The small-plates menu in the wine bar (open only in the evening from 6pm-11pm) is a great way to discover Braden Perkins's cooking without committing to one of the pricier tasting menus upstairs or remembering to book far enough ahead in advance to snag a table, too, and this grazing format perfect for a night out with friends, too. 
  
  Perkins's small-plates menu is a wonderful series of temptations you can heedlessly abandon yourself to, too:
  
SAVORY
Celeriac dumplings w/ dan-dan sauce, chives & toasted peanuts 7€
Charred broccoli w/ korean rice cake, anchovy, lemon & parm 6€
Pan roasted clams w/ chorizo, lime, chervil & garlic crouton 7€
Buttermilk fried chicken w/ napa cabbage slaw & micro greens 8€
Crispy basque pork belly w/ pickled red chilies & spicy kewpie mayo 8€
Joe’s shoestring fries w/ togarashi & catsup 4€
CHEESE
A selection of cheeses from maison Hisada w/ house accompaniments 14€
SWEET
Silverton’s butterscotch buddino w/ whipped cream 5€
House s’mores w/ Valrhona chocolate 5€
  
Shoestring fries
  
   Settled in with excellent glasses of white Crozes-Hermitage, my friend Corinne kicked off with the roasted broccoli, which was excellent, and I went with the celeriac-stuffed dumplings, an incredibly clever and delicious idea--potstickers filled with slices of cooked celery root perhaps splashed with black vinegar and served with a creamy sesame-peanut-chilie sauce. Unfortunately there weren't any clams the night we came by--this neo-Lusitanian preparation sounded alluring, but the shoestring fries were excellent, and the buttermilk-battered fried chicken with some Asian inflected cabbage slaw and a little corsage of sprouts was superb. In fact, this chicken was so good that it's a good thing this wine bar isn't open at noon, or it would doubtless lure me away from my keyboard at least once a week. We loved the perfectly aged cheeses, and the butterscotch buddino en homage a Nancy Silverton, too, and I once again came away from this address with not only an eager desire to return but an ever-deepening admiration for Perkins's intricate culinary wit.
  
Verjus Wine Bar, 47 rue Montpensier, 1st, No phone, Metro: Palais-Royal-Musee-du-Louvre, Pyramide or Bourse, Open Monday-Friday 6pm-11pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Average 20 Euros.
Thursday
Dec012011

RACINES 2--A Dumbed Down Duplicata, C

  Maybe the most interesting thing about Racines 2, the new branch of the bistrots a vins in the Passage des Panoramas that was instrumental in launching the neo-bistrots a vins (neo-bavins) format is the clientele. Stopping in for dinner with my favorite fellow Connecticut Nutmeg man in Paris the other night, the abundance of leopard-print on ladies of a certain age led me to conclude that Madame Figaro must have recently annointed this trend, there were expensive eye-glasses galore, a distracting amount of pricey cosmetic surgery and that tell-tale sign of the 16th arrondissement, which is car keys--to big 4 x 4 environmental monsters--tossed on the table.
  
  In any event, this dining room and Costes brothers type crowd come off as a sort of flying-saucer landing in the hip little 'hood that was put on the Paris food map by Daniel Rose at Spring and Adeline Grattard at Yam'Tcha. Their compass points, however, are a deep love of good food, a democratic amiability and a passion for old stone, since both chefs painstakingly renovated and exposed the ancient walls that surround them. At Racines 2, in contrast, there's a touch of old stone here and there but the main visual action is the Philippe Starck decor, some of it clever, like the mud-encrusted wicker bee-hive chandeliers but most of it deja vu for anyone who's been to Bon, the original Starck designed restaurant in the 16th arrondissement, or the Royal Monceau Paris Raffles Hotel. One way or another, this restaurant feels very out of place in the rue de l'Arbre Sec, which is one of my favorite little streets in the heart of Paris. Even more alarming than the decor or the crowd, however, was the menu.
 
  For starters, it was short and difficult, because not only was it rather unappealing, it was also very expensive, with a risotto garnished with scallops, cockles and 'truffles'--I asked whether they were white or black and where they came from, which is the obvious prerequisite to deciding if this dish was worth 36 Euros, and to his credit, the nice young waiter went off to find out, told me they were from Burgundy, and I passsed on this dish, and a cote de boeuf both veering towards 40 Euros, a lot of money for a bistrots a vins. So Mr. Nutmeg started with a pastry wrapped package of boudin noir on a bed of salad, and I opted for the 'salade craquante,' which wasn't, of pedigreed vegetables from Annie Bertin.
  
   I have great respect for Madame Bertin, who grows organic vegetables on a farm in Brittany, and also for Joel Thiebault, the Yvelines legumes meister, for that matter, but seeing Madame Bertin's name on this menu made it apparent to me that the codes of locavore eating are being co-opted into Louis Vuitton style luxury brand names for conspicuous consumption. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if it indicates an ever broader public awareness of where our food comes from and also means that the demand for organically raised produce will grow, but in this setting it came off as more of pretext to charge high prices. 
 
  And speaking of luxury brand names, the bread here is from Poujaran, which isn't named on the menu, but suffices by being very good. The wine list, in a student's notebook, was a curious little document, too. To their credit, there were lots of pleasant easy-drinking wines in the 20-25 Euro price range, including the very good red Corbieres we glugged down (they also carry a white Corbieres, which is a terrific wine) and also an assortment of foreign wines, a welcome development in a city where they're still too rare, but prices took off like a hot-air balloon from the low end of the scale, with a run of pretty ordinary Beaujolais wines clocking in at around 50 Euros, which is much too expensive for what they offer.
 
  Both Mr. Nutmeg and I ordered the Basque pork belly with vegetables as a main course, and when it arrived at the table, it was a pretty unappealing looking hunk of fatty under-cooked meat without the gorgeous crunchy skin that Bruno Doucet pulls off with the same, or rather, a better version of the same product, around the corner. So we sent it back, and it was rapidly returned gray instead of pink. The side of organic vegetables was pretty much the same as what I'd had as a first course, and the meat was stringy, lacking in flavor and still not cooked correctly, so we both ended up leaving most of it behind.
  
   Since we're both cheese boys, we split some cheese to accompany the rest of our wine, and it came as a messy bunch of slices of Morbier and Cantal that had been ill-treated, i.e., the cheese had sweated too much from having been in and out of the fridge, and so had lost its appropriate textures. Since the restaurant was very busy, I wondered if the waiter would remember to bring us more bread, but he did, and in fact, the service here is noticeably cordial and efficient, a further sign that the heinous mode for haughteur in modish restaurants in Paris launched and perfected by the Costes brothers is finally going out on the tide.
 
   Overall, there was something about this place that remind me of Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess in Versailles. To wit, the idiom of the neo-bistrots a vins had been hijacked for the purposes of aping something simpler and sincerer, or such real neo-bistrots a vins as the wonderful Verre Volee, Vivant, La Cave de l'Insolite or Au Passage
 
  And perhaps the oddest thing about this pastiche is that the original Racines was both so good and so directional in birthing the neo-bistrots a vins trend. Suffice it to say that if I want to spend 70 Euros on a meal, I can think of a lot of much better places to do so than Racines 2, and if you're curious about the Starck decor, you can take in from the street.
   
Racines 2, 39 rue de l’Arbre Sec, 1st, Tel. 01-42-60-77-34. Metro Louvre-Rivoli or Pont Neuf. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Average 50 Euros.
Tuesday
Nov222011

LA CAVE DE L'INSOLITE--A Swell Little Bistro in the 11th, B

 
  In Paris, the new-wave bistrot a vins, or casual wine-oriented bistro with a short changes-often menu and a carefully selected list of wines that are usually organic or naturel—made without sulphites, is filling the hole in the local food chain left by the slow-rolling but ongoing demise of the traditional bistro. How are these places different from trad bistros? Well, the food is lighter, produce-centric, seasonal, inventive and often comes in a small-plate format. A real effort is also made to write menus that flatter the wine list and vice-a-versa.

  In Paris, the new-wave bistrot a vins, or casual wine-oriented bistro with a short changes-often menu and a carefully selected list of wines that are usually organic or naturel—made without sulphites, is filling the hole in the local food chain left by the slow-rolling but ongoing demise of the traditional bistro. How are these places different from trad bistros? Well, the food is lighter, produce-centric, seasonal, inventive and often comes in a small-plate format. A real effort is also made to write menus that flatter the wine list and vice-a-versa.
  
 
   This trend is so important and constantly gaining in momentum that barely a week or two goes by without the opening of another neo-bavins (my accronym for neo bistrots a vins). Neo-bavins Au Passage, reviewed on this site, was one of the big hits of the summer in Paris, too, and now the fresh-out-the-gate La Cave de l’Insolite is the address that has fans and followers of this welcome trend talking.
  
 
  Stopping by for dinner mid-week on a night when we were tired shading to cranky, Bruno and I immediately appreciated the friendly welcome of one of the two brothers who runs this place and a delicious glass of Touraine Fie Gris as an aperitif. The chalkboard menu was brief but appealing, and after we’d ordered we got up and went over to the open-shelf wines to select something for dinner. A long-standing fan of Cotes du Rhone, I’ve recently grown tired of them and have been liking lighter French reds like Irancy and Arbois red recently, so we plucked a bottle of Arbois Pupillin de Chez Bonnard from the shelf and returned to the table to wolf down good bread and wonder at the provenance of several large tables of young Russians in this off-the-beaten-track new spot. I was also curious to see what the chef from Belfast would get up to.
  
 
  Things got off to a half-full, half-empty start. Bruno’s home-made salt-marinated salmon with an arugula salad and a dab of excellent mayonnaise with tiny cubes of red peppers and all kinds of fresh herbs was outstanding and generously served. My veloute of leeks and parsnips came to the table as a very thick micro-waved puree and lacked panache. Not only was it an ugly pea-green color but it needed help—maybe a dribble pumpkin-seed oil, a few grains of coriander and a big pinch of sea salt.
  
  
  Next, it was a bit dull of us, but this meal was about being hungry, not writing a restaurant review, so both of ordered the veal steak with beets and potatoes. It was great meat cooked rare and served with perfectly cooked sliced beets of several colors and quartered oven-roasted baby potatoes, and two hungry men loved it, especially with the Arbois Pupillin, which had been decanted into a squat carafe. We recovered our usual exploratory tandem with dessert, with Bruno wolfing down a terrific rice pudding with sour-apple compote and me racing through a homey, old-fashioned crumble made with quince, a much under-rated fruit, confit (poached in sugar syrup). 
 
  “Aside from the food, which I really liked, what was wonderful about that place was that we had so much space at the table, there was the great atmosphere that’s generated by people eating well, and the service was really friendly,” said Bruno in the car on the way home. “If it were in our neighborhood, I’d go often,” I replied, a comment that drew a snort and the sweet snipe, “You say that all the time.”  I suspect that this place is going to heat up fast, especially because the prices are so fair, so if you’re curious about the neo-bavins trend in Paris, hit this one soon.
  
La Cave de l’Insolite, 30 rue de la Folie Mericourt, 11th, Tel. 01-53-36-08-33. Metro: Saint-Amboise. Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner. Sunday lunch only. Lunch menu 14 Euros. Average 30 Euros.