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Picnic-worthy fare at a premium


Natural light scattered across A'Tavola's whitewashed walls on a recent afternoon. After a few laps around the bustling space, I zeroed in on an empty chair at a communal wooden table framed by a towering shelf of cookbooks. Scanning the deli/coffeeshop/marketplace, I noticed a trend: It was full of women.

There were young ladies scrolling through iPhones, older women drinking wine, working ladies out to lunch and stay-at-home moms lingering with their young daughters. And from a purely stereotypical perspective, the demographic made sense.

A'Tavola caters to women: Its two main deli cases are packed with healthy-looking salads, there's a menu of light sandwiches and soups, a cheese counter with fancy imported wedges, a shelf stocked with chilled white wines and a dessert case sparkling with temptations. And while the food is pretty, the space is prettier--fresh white paint, clean lines and display tables stacked with artisan goods give the former Donnie Mac's location a hip vibe. The concept is reminiscent of New York City's Eataly or the gourmet Dean & Deluca chain.

Over the years, A'Tavola proprietress Lisa Peterson has learned a thing or two about selling prepared foods to the well-to-do. Peterson built her reputation at the Boise Co-op deli, which she ran for years before breaking off to start an upscale catering company and command Cafe Shakespeare at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. With A'Tavola, she continues her tradition of providing picnic-worthy fare at a premium price.

On a recent lunch visit, I ordered a bowl ($4.95) of the rich mushroom bisque, which had the thick structure of pudding but lacked any of the lip-curling pleasure that generally accompanies that kind of caloric heft. On a previous visit, a cup of salmon bisque was equally rich but had a much more nuanced flavor profile.

A simple side salad ($12.99 per pound) with sugar snap peas, pickled radishes and yellow baby carrots was perhaps the most interesting offering in a case brimming with mayonnaise-laden chicken salads, pasta salads, meatballs and thick squares of lasagna.

Sadly, the salad went the opposite direction of the soup--a confetti of dried herbs and fresh sprigs of rosemary clung to crisp, lightly oiled veggies and overwhelmed the simplicity of the ingredients. And at $12.99 per pound, I couldn't help but feel cheated.

A broccoli crunch salad ($9.99 per pound) with cashews and currants lamentably omitted bacon on the description, while a salmon cake with Old Bay aioli ($5.95 each) was enjoyable but ultimately forgettable.

After lunch, I shared a decadent and dainty square of flourless chocolate torte ($1.95) with my lunch date. After savoring a final bite, she made an astute observation: "This place feels like eating co-op food in an Ikea."