A name like Franco Latino can elicit some confusion. As my companion and I cruised west along State Street, I wondered, would this restaurant be the culinary equivalent of the Godfather's youngest nephew: a baby-faced hitman decked out in Italian silk? Quite to the contrary, I discovered that Franco and Latino simply describe the restaurant's "fusion of European techniques with Latin flavors" coupled with Chef Mortimer's emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients. Diners are not overwhelmed by gigantic portions, nor bullied by oily spices posing as flavor. Just excellent service and delicious cuisine.
The restaurant's pointedly casual atmosphere evokes a hotel lobby. It's clean and tasteful–perfect for its location in south Eagle. The menu shows a similar restraint; there are plenty of delicacies to choose from, without challenging hungry guests with a Tolstoy-sized tome. The ample bar offers a list of wine, beer and cocktails that put the "select" in selection. Not that there aren't surprises in store, such as the half-dozen creamy martinis on the dessert menu. The prices, while reflecting the gourmet focus of the restaurant, were lower than expected, making the ordering process even more enjoyable. While I did not test the premise, Franco Latino assures that vegan, vegetarian and other dietary concerns will be graciously accommodated.
The two of us started off sharing a sturdy Tuaca lemon drop. This old standard couldn't compete with the surprising flashiness of a Franco Latino specialty, the tropical Fuego Loco, which arrived topped with a flaming sugar cube afloat an orange slice. As for appetizers, the shellfish stew was less substantial than the name suggested (and would be more aptly named "stewed shellfish"), but its subtle flavor and golden color hit the mark. My dining partner and I devoured this before starting on the seasonal mushroom risotto, which was heavenly. Chanterelle, shiitake and morel mushrooms perfectly blended into a light risotto, accented by a red bell pepper. The flavors were so well balanced that my drive to identify flavors was overcome by the sheer, carnal joy of simply tasting.
Our Caesar salad was a sculpted head of romaine drizzled with dressing, which my companion loved, but I found a tad too mayonnaise-y. However, the tamale croutons held me in thrall; the two warm, golden morsels accompanied the lettuce with dignity. I usually pick croutons out of my salad, but these I sliced open, enjoying more than my half as my dining companion finished off the salad.
We had a bit of a wait for the entrees, during which the staff showed their stuff. They executed their moves with quiet grace, refilling water glasses exactly when needed, taking empty plates without rushing us. Our server shone in the starring role of Perfect Waiter. He struck the right balance: polite without being obsequious, charming without being distracting. I am not exaggerating: Franco Latino offers some of the best service I've had in the Treasure Valley.
Unable to resist the name, I ordered the Frenchilada. This rice-and-chicken-filled crepe was delicious, though the crepe was more like a pancake in thickness. My dinner partner loved the pork loin with asparagus and cheesy grits (aka "polenta"). In both cases, delicious and perfectly harmonized in size and seasoning.
Our well-balanced and well-paced meal left plenty of room for dessert. We decided to go with the seasonal theme of our menu and try the special dessert, a strawberry parfait. This turned out to be my only regret of the evening. The cake was a bit dry and turned mealy when soaked with the juice of the chopped strawberries, and the whipped cream was a bit too sweet. Still, not disappointing enough to dampen our spirits after such an overall fantastic meal. With its delicious cuisine and excellent service, Franco Latino won our hearts the right way—through our stomachs.
—Gretchen Jude doesn't take shiitake from just anyone.