When filmmakers put together diner scenes in the movies, they go for a certain din. An ideal, low-level background noise does two things: The voices make you think everyone in the scene is having an interesting conversation, and the fork-on-plate, pouring and chewing sounds impart a strong sense that everyone is really enjoying their food.
The din at Life's Kitchen's can be just as dramatic as the best Hollywood restaurant scenes--Pulp Fiction, Ratatouille ... even Seinfeld. This "mission-driven" restaurant/catering company with its limited hours and back entrance draws an in-the-know crowd. Located across Capitol Boulevard from Boise State in the back of the City of Boise's Housing and Community Development offices, Life's Kitchen is a foodservice training program for at-risk 16- to 20-year-olds--the students do the food prep, customers order from a brief menu at the counter and volunteers serve the food.
The students and their trainers achieve an ever-changing menu that I'd call sophisticated comfort food. The braised Kurobuta shank ($7.75) is quite possibly the most tender meat I've sampled, ever. It comes cut in small chunks, flecked with celery and carrot and plated with equal mounds of lightly sauteed garlic kale and steamed polenta. Kurobuta, or Berkshire pork, comes from a black-colored British pig made trendy in recent years in Japan. The pigs are raised by a group of small pork farmers in the Midwest and processed locally by Snake River Farms.
The pork is both sweet and garlicky and when combined with a little ball of polenta and a sheaf of greens, reflects some kind of nouveau sub-Saharan African cuisine.
I started the meal with a cup of spring pea soup ($2.25), a pureed, lightly creamy soup garnished with dried mint. Aside from the color--which reminded me of the eyes of an Irish gal I once unsuccessfully courted--the soup went down like silken butter without any of the lingering pea soup smell that often accompanies an overcooked legume.
As I polished off the last of my Kurobuta, a slice of light golden apple pie ($2.50)--the last slice of the day--arrived at the table. While I prefer my apple pie chunky and crispy, both the filling and crust of the Life's Kitchen pie were so smooth and light and bursting with cinnamon that it tasted downright healthy.
Even the fresh burger ($7.50), topped with bacon and a fried egg, tastes healthy and wholesome at Life's Kitchen. The prices, too, are wholesome, though other restaurateurs in town may complain that Life's Kitchen gets by on its cheap labor.
Of course, those same restaurant owners may hire Life's Kitchen graduates after they complete the 16-week course.
--Nathaniel Hoffman likes chunky and crunchy but will take smooth on Fridays.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Life's Kitchen.