The Hyde Park wine bar Camel's Crossing
has a busy aesthetic—if you've been there, I'm sure you haven't forgotten the bright orange wallpaper—but walking in on May 20, it was impossible to miss a bold, black-and-white splashed canvas newly hung on the back wall. Crafted with India ink by local artist Camilla Dahlin
, the abstract artwork was the centerpiece of that night's Art-Inspired Dinner, a collaboration between Dahlin, Camel's Crossing chef Brian Ferris and local dessert maven Figgy Bakes
that brought Dahlin's art to life through four courses of expertly sculpted food.
"They're really good on keeping the portions small—they don't overfeed you," one Camel's Crossing wine dinner regular at my table, Susan McGraw, told me before the arrival of the first course: a Ceasar "salad" so heavily altered from its original form that even the menu used quotation marks. Shaped a bit like one of the space ships from Star Wars
, it featured a single giant brioche crouton stuffed with cheese that was both topped and flanked by wedges of anchovy-draped gem lettuce. While the process of eating it was puzzling—it was difficult to cut through the firm triangles of lettuce without crushing the light, buttery crouton underneath—the "salad" tasted like the real thing.
The rest of the $120-per-person dinner, paired course-by-course with wine, ascended from there.
It was clear even before the first course was dropped that the dinner had brought in a mix of guests, despite its intimidating price tag. Susan McGraw and her husband, Rick, had come with another couple, Tracy and David Morris. All four of them had been to three or more upscale wine dinners hosted by Camel's Crossing, and from their end of the table phrases like "$150,000-per-person world tour" and "private jet" and "I've sold him four or five companies" were bandied about with near-alarming regularity.
"We seek out stuff like this," said Tracy, who told me she worked in healthcare. "We've eaten all over the world and some of the best dishes we've had are here in Boise, and here [at Camel's Crossing] especially."
That comment came over my favorite dish of the night: a forest of tender grilled octopus tentacles served on a bed of toasted almond romesco and vegetables (including asparagus, corn, summer squash, Castelvetrano olives and edible flowers) and garnished with preserved lemon. The lemon added a sour kick that paired perfectly with the nutty sauce and grill smoke, and the dish itself was coupled with a 2014 Carricante that was robust without being too sweet, its fruity notes immediately melting off the palate.
The course that followed was another standout, a fennel-rubbed pork tenderloin bracketed by deep-fried polenta balls that were reminiscent of Basque croquetas. Like the night's inspiration, it was truly abstract art, drizzled with Madeira elderberry gastrique and dotted with mushrooms bright pink flower petals.
"It's really good, it's light. I think it could probably get really greasy but it isn't," my neighboring diner, Ardis Hewitt, a graphic designer and recent Hyde Park transplant who'd bought a ticket to the dinner after strolling past the wine bar, told me as she loaded her fork with pork and smoked trumpet mushrooms. "And the meat here is really incredible."
The dessert by Katy Vestal, the creative force behind Figgy Bakes, was more minimalist, but just as much a feast for the eyes. Paired with a swallow of Malmsey Madeira in a port glass, the ring of espresso frangipane cake and dollop of white chocolate mousse were a perfect sendoff. Vestal told the assembled group of 19 diners that the flowers decorating the corner of the plate had come from a friend's garden, just a few blocks away in Hyde Park.
As soon as the final bites disappeared, Dahlin dropped off small wrapped art pieces for each guest, plays on the large black-and-white canvas that had been up for silent auction throughout the night (the $500 it brought in was donated to the Women's and Children's Alliance), and Vestal offered boxes of pastries to take home. Full almost to the point of discomfort, we all stared down at our boxes with equal parts fondness and trepidation. The temptation to eat their contents the second we reached home hung unspoken in the air.
"I would do more wine dinners if I didn't get fat and we didn't have to work the next day," Tracy had said earlier, sighing heavily. At that moment, the whole table agreed.