Food & Drink » Food Review

Cottonwood Grille

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For years, Cottonwood Grille has been considered among the upper echelon of fine dining in Boise. However, the greatest achievement isn't making it into this rarefied company, but staying there.

Cottonwood has managed to escape flavor-of-the-week status, as well as the gradual slide into mediocrity by simply offering creative, quality food, while reinventing its menu to keep diners interested.

The restaurant has perfected the balancing act between style and comfort. The food is gourmet, but it's also entirely approachable, comfortable Northwestern fare with a concentration on regionally produced and raised offerings. Even the decor accomplishes the same task--oozing elegance with the grand proportions of the dining room, massive chandeliers, a river-rock fireplace and linen-covered tables--yet it remains comfortable with wood accents and panoramic windows offering the quintessential view of the Greenbelt.

On a recent afternoon, the dining room was filled with diners clad in a mixture of jeans and suits, epitomized by one gentleman sporting Keen water shoes and a tweed jacket. As early spring sunshine streamed through the windows, my favorite dining companion and I gazed longingly outside at the still-closed patio, wishing it was just 20 degrees warmer. We consoled ourselves with glasses of wine--Lagaria pinot grigio ($5) for her, Portillo pinot noir ($5) for me.

Both of our lunches were prime examples of what Cottonwood does best: putting thoughtful, Northwestern twists on familiar dishes.

For me, it was the buffalo burger ($10.95). Cottonwood buys its meat from area producers and hand cuts it all. I've had a lot of buffalo burgers in my time, but this was one of the few times the rich flavor of the meat shone past the condiments. The earthy flavor of the meat raised on an Idaho farm was a welcome surprise, as were the seasoned and battered waffle-cut fries that accompanied the dish.

My dining companion's choice was a bit more daring. The Butter Schnitzel ($9.95) was an interesting take on the traditional German wiener schnitzel. Instead of thin, breaded and fried veal cutlets, this version used freshly chopped Black Canyon elk mixed with onions and petit peas before being breaded and lightly roasted, then served with a lemon caper beurre blanc and garlic mashed potatoes.

The texture was a bit of a surprise for someone versed in the finer points of wiener schnitzel, but the strong flavor of the elk, combined with the bite of the lemon and caper sauce, quickly won a new fan.

It was these same twists on traditional flavors that filled our table on a recent dinner outing as well. From fillet of fresh Atlantic salmon topped with a thick mound of horseradish that had been just slightly crisped ($18.95) to the farm-raised, marinated and grilled pheasant served with a truffle sauce ($24.95) to the house-made salad dressings, the flavors were a celebration of the best of what makes Northwestern cuisine unique, while pushing past the ordinary and expected. And, in true Northwest style, Cottonwood does it without being pretentious.

—Deanna Darr thinks no one spins like a Northwesterner.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Cottonwood Grille.