For its part in the greater gastronomic good of Boise's restaurant scene, Cazba's role is perhaps understated. From its whimsical cloud-covered walls to its framing columns, the Eastern Mediterranean eatery channels an air of elegant mystery, furthered only by the mystery of how the unequivocally ethnic-only menu propelled the restaurant through the first few years of its existence when words like "shawarma" and "falafel" were almost completely absent from the average Treasure Valley diner's vocabulary. Cazba, however, has abided fairly strictly by a policy that forbids altering what is apparently "not broke," a practice that has earned the downtown restaurant a foodie following while still managing to lure in curious new customers.
In nearly a decade of dining on the kitchen's heaping plates—the contents of which hail from Med locales Greece, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey and some reaching far beyond those shores to Japan and India—I have only once left Cazba feeling like I'd dined on the wrong shore. Not surprisingly, it was the only time I'd sought out non-Mediterranean food at Cazba.
On a recent Saturday night, we were a twosome who arrived for an early dinner, during which one of the owners doted on us as though we were the only paying customers on a night that was quickly shaping up to be a busy one. My hankering for a not-too-fussy lamb dish had me honing in on the Lebanese shawarma wrap ($13.95), a choice lauded by our server as his favorite. Tender bite-sized nuggets of lamb and sauteed mushrooms were dusted with feta and made for a formidable mound atop warm pita. Served with tangy tzatziki and, in this case, a boat of vegetables sauteed in herbs and stewed tomatoes, the shawarma makes a serious case for menu favorite. It is rivaled, however, by the koto pita ($15.95), which is most simply Greek spanikopita with marinated chicken and "Cazba's special sauce." Uncovering the flaky phyllo and spinach pie from beneath the hefty portions of rich sauce and chicken to build careful bites featuring equal portions of sauce, chicken and spanikopita is the best way to enjoy the koto pita, otherwise a diner could find his or her palate has wearied of too much sauce or an overwhelming amount of sauce-less spinach.
When, after paying for our meal and lingering long over drinks, we were joined by two friends, the addition to our party was quickly tended to, served drinks and brought portions of pita and hummus, a dish Cazba does particularly well. Stiff, drizzled in tahini and creamy in consistency, Cazba's hummus sets the bar for all other versions in town.
Some days later, an autumnal afternoon allowed for what may have been one of the last patio lunches of the season. Once again, service from the owners, who basked in the sunlight at a table nearby, was diligent and personable. I, unfortunately, strayed too far from the sunny shores of the Med in my choice of an Indian curry fish wrap, and unwittingly found my least favorite dish at Cazba. Chunks of salmon simmered in Indian curry was an unflattering flavor combination that left the pink fish picked around in favor of the milder flavor white fish, which mostly featured in the mix of sauteed herbs and vegetables. A second culprit in the dish's poor rating proved to be the flimsy "gourmet wrap," which was nothing more than a flavored flour tortilla too delicate to host its stew-like stuffing. Across the table, however, my lunch companion was thoroughly enjoying a plate of true Mediterranean fare: a stripped-down gyro of pita filled with thin meat strips of a beef-lamb composite and feta. Served, in this case, with the diner's choice of highly praised waffle fries, the simple gyro made for a satisfying lunch.
In the future, I may be leaving Indian curry to other restaurants, but Cazba is still my choice for Mediterranean cuisine. After all, as the row of plaques displayed near the door suggests—and its cuisine evidences—Cazba hasn't been voted first in category year after year by Treasure Valley diners without having rightfully earned the honor again and again.
—Rachael Daigle likes red M&M's the best.