My mother spent hours cutting mounds of parsley to make her tabouli salad. She was so excited when we purchased a Cuisinart because it promised to save her time. In my mother's estimation, however, the food processor cut the parsley in too fine a fashion, altering the salad's taste. She only used the machine once. Modernist icon Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was referring to architectural design when he famously said that "God is in the details," but the same could be said for food and drink. At Bardenay in Eagle, their respect for subtlety is what makes this bar and restaurant exceptional.
Bardenay is situated along the Boise River, achieving a surprising amount of insulation from the apocalyptic collision of State and Eagle roads. The Bauhaus movement (with apologies to suburbia) is well represented here. Clean lines, open spaces and abundant glass define the interior. Large decks looking out onto the water wrap the exterior and are readily accessible by multiple airy exits. A long, straight bar frames a collection of liquor that has no equal in Boise. Unobtrusive televisions are perched high at the corners. You can be Buck or Will Rogers here--take your pick--this is the modern West at its welcoming best.
I arrived on a busy Tuesday night alone, having been stood up by both my neck-snapping banker friend and my overworked medical resident friend. I took a seat at the bar and started dinner off with the Panzanella Bruschetta salad--a variety of lettuce interspersed with cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese and chunks of the namesake's bread. The feta had a delightfully chalky texture and favorable degree of desiccation. The kalamata olives were firm and salty. The champagne vinaigrette dressing was light but present, successfully playing a supporting role. This was easily one on the best salads I've had locally.
Since I was seated at the bar, I surveyed the drink list, and since I was born in Kentucky, I went straight to the bourbon section. Bardenay has the largest selection of Kentucky bourbon (a redundancy by the way--all bourbon by definition must be from Kentucky) I have ever seen. They even carry gold top or VIP Maker's Mark, a less common offering I used to indulge in at the distillery itself during their yearly Derby parties. Carrying that and other single barrel bourbons has nothing to do with sales, and everything to do with pride and a desire to excel at the margins.
Still seated at the bar, I looked past the specials and more complex offerings and settled on a club sandwich with fries. The club was served cold on toasted cracked wheat sourdough bread. The turkey was house roasted, and along with the ham, hand cut. Hand cut, I say! The bacon was thick, cooked perfectly and plentiful. A sun-dried tomato mayonnaise pulled the whole sandwich together into a tangy pleasure. Off to the side my fries were damn hot--thank you.
Mies van der Rohe's other grand edict was "less is more." Bardenay doesn't overwhelm you with options but with excellence. They succeed because of their attention to detail. My mother prepares humus by first peeling each chickpea of its delicate skin and then soaking them in a mixture of water, fresh lemon juice and salt. She would appreciate the food at Bardenay, and that is high praise.
--Waj Nasser enjoys sipping bourbon and wearing less is more while reclining on his black Mies van der Rohe day bed.