When Idaho Steakhouse went up last summer, it appeared to be a bold perforation in the fortress of corporate America's solid foothold on Eagle Road. But what's in a name may not be all it's cracked up to be. True enough, the eatery is in Idaho. And true enough, steak features prominently on the sparse menu, making the latter half of the restaurant's designation mostly accurate. As an addendum to its name, on the outside of the brand-spanking-new stucco building, a neon subhead proclaims Idaho Steakhouse "a premier dining destination." Unfortunately, the accuracy of that declaration depends entirely upon the removal of seven letters: p-r-e-m-i-e-r.
If the atmosphere inside is a nod to suburban generica, Idaho Steakhouse is right on the money. The space sprawls into several dining areas; some rooms are ideal for providing large groups with privacy while the main dining space is segmented by mobile wooden dividers and fake foliage. Overall, the place feels like a drafty hotel cafe.
In stride with other steakhouses in close proximity, Idaho Steakhouse's menu is appropriately lackluster and predictable, reading like a math problem: a half-dozen pub fare starters, plus three heavy pasta dishes added to the sum of a handful of pollo, a selection of steak cuts and a couple of seafood choices equals a menu.
The formulaic food resembles that remark.
A starter of crab and artichoke dip ($8.95) was given a pinch of help from its garnish of fresh red peppers, but an overall verdict had the starter too fishy, dry and salty to be deemed a success. The accompanying bagel chips were not only a flimsy choice for hefty chunks of artichoke hearts, but are an embarrassing mistake for a chef aiming at "premier." After the waitstaff's full hands obligated we diners to an awkward shuffle of plates, glasses and silverware, we moved on to course two. It was here that our meal unfortunately peaked far too early with a mini loaf of cracked wheat bread. Fresh, soft and offered with whipped butter as well as a house-made raspberry butter, the bread upstaged everything that made a round on our table that evening.
An entree choice from the specials of the day—Cajun salmon ($16.95)—left us with a slab of pale pink farm-raised fish allegedly glazed with a bourbon pecan butter. Apparently, the Cajun was too shy to make an appearance (as were the bourbon and pecan in the butter), and instead, we suffered through a buttery, tasteless filet. At least the kitchen had its timing down well and hadn't overcooked the salmon. In a combination plate of sirloin and shrimp ($18.95), our meat arrived cooked in accordance with the terms set forth by the restaurant's "steak doneness chart" as well as my own idea of a perfect medium, and it was the one item to completely vanish from our plates all evening. The tiny shrimp, however, were completely suffocated in a heavy batter, much like they would have been at a fast-food seafood joint. Scalloped potatoes refused to yield the slightest flavor and, judging by the chewiness of the crumb topping, had been in a refrigerator awaiting a reheat upon order. A more tolerable side was potato pancakes, which relied solely on the mysterious power of salt, butter and cheese to satisfy but were at least a guilty pleasure.
Perhaps the food is an homage to what outsiders perceive is Idaho's simplicity. Maybe steak is what the place does really well, and I missed the mark by venturing all over the menu. Or perhaps, the insipid surrounding landscape of neon corporate led one restaurateur to believe that Idahoans' palates don't know "premier" from "shinola."
—Rachael Daigle disdains dining disappointment.