As most locals know, Eagle Road is filled with dining opportunities and giant box stores. It's an expanse of parking lots and giant neon signs boasting foods inspired by the world at large. While these food outlets may provide a little distraction for people stuck in Idaho's worst traffic, they seldom offer anything unique. But buried in the middle of a shopping center that holds a Red Robin, Panda Express and Krispy Kreme is the Blue Ribbon complex, which features a blend of European and American culinary experiences. The two-building complex is home to a cheese and wine shop, a deli and pastry shop and an English pub, which sits above a French-American inspired restaurant called the Blue Ribbon Bistro: an oasis in the surrounding concrete desert.
As I waited for my dining companions, I ventured into the building, which houses the creamery, deli and pastry shop. Walking into the Fromagerie Wine and Cheese shop, I was overwhelmed by the smell of fragrant cheeses. This shifted my attention from dinner to snack time. Before I could run off with some smoked Gouda, my friends arrived, but before they could drag me into the restaurant, I sampled a small block and asked the young man behind the counter for a dinner recommendation. He suggested the prime rib--which immediately made me frown. I had no intentions of ordering beef for dinner. One way to truly test an inland restaurant is to try the seafood.
We were seated across from a large window, and the waiter poured me a tall Belgian beer into a large skinny glass as I looked over the menu, which features escargot, frog legs, duck a l'orange, as well as an abundant amount of beef dishes. When the waiter came for my order, I wavered between the maple-glazed salmon, and the halibut a la dieppoise, but the waiter pushed my hand away from these seemingly fool-proof choices and suggested the beef. "But why?" I asked.
According to our server, the beef served at the bistro is 100 percent Idaho raised, and dry-aged 21 days for the perfect texture, balance and flavor. Although I felt a little weird about eating other Idahoans, I went for it and ordered a medium-rare rib eye, with rice pilaf and battered prawns (I worked some seafood in). I also ordered a cheese tray and bottle of '04 Amisfield Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Aside from watching the Lord of the Rings movies a hundred times, I know nothing about New Zealand, or wine for that matter, except that they are both loved by hobbits and are strikingly beautiful.
As we consumed copious amounts of cheese, wine and berries, I was concerned that I would not be able to eat much more, and the steak I had reluctantly ordered would have to live in a box until the next day, or be given to one of my companions. "Take a breath," I thought to myself as the waiter delivered what was possibly the largest single plate of food I have ever personally been in charge of eating. Before me was a giant 1 lb. slab of Idaho native that looked like something out of a cartoon. I imagined myself, the cartoon lion, licking my chops, ready to eat.
I took the stainless steel carving knife and cut a quarter-inch thick slice. The steak was cooked perfectly. In rapture, time seemed to disappear, and before I knew it, the steak was gone. I snapped out of my state and noticed my companions staring curiously at me. "Did you really eat that whole thing?" they asked. Like an apparition, the steak came and went, and the only thing that marked its existence was my distended belly and few bits of fat that remained on the plate. "Yes. Yes I did," I replied.
That steak was probably the best I've had, and as I sat there bloated with wine-stained lips, I felt like a Don, a criminal king taken down with food in his mouth.
When the beautiful pumpkin cheesecake dessert arrived, I just couldn't do it. I gave up and went home, and although the meal is gone, it left me with a few new pounds and a favorite place to get a steak.
--Brian Mayer likes to pretend he's king of the jungle.