It was a warm Friday evening. I was seated on a sunlight-dappled patio flanked by two large burbling waterfalls. As I looked beyond a row of tables through a stand of cottonwood trees, I could see the Boise River flowing casually through the bedroom community of Eagle. The smell of the river as it springs back to life filled the air, and a few deep breaths refreshed my mind and soul. The soothing setting, a glass of pinot noir and lively conversation with my friend Susan helped wash away the cares of the past week. We were at Franco Latino, Chef Jon Mortimer's newest restaurant, which is nestled in a scenic corner just off of Eagle Road.
It is difficult not to compare the new place with Mortimer's eponymous restaurant in Old Boise. Franco Latino's dining room is more colorful and modern than Mortimer's understated, historical downtown digs. A few of the menu items at Franco Latino are classic Mortimer—roasted corn chowder ($4), Idaho trout roulade ($17), a four-course chef's tasting menu ($35). At both restaurants, the waitstaff wear chef's coats and shin-length aprons, a tasteful uniform that serves to keep your focus on the food and your company. But with the new concept comes new fare that gives the chef's European cooking techniques a Latin twist. Consider the "Frenchilada" ($12), composed of green onion crepes, braised chicken, pork chile verde and local cheddar. Both restaurants feature ingredients like Ballard Family Dairy cheese, which comes from a small dairy farm an hour and a half away in Gooding. Using regional products means seasonal variety, so the menu changes regularly. What lucky ducks we were to have wandered into Franco Latino during morel season.
We started with an appetizer of plump morel mushrooms in a delectable sherry cream sauce ($8). So divine was the sauce that we sopped up every last drop with a few slices of "corn bread," a tender herbed loaf studded with corn kernels and served with butter and spicy apricot-jalapeno jelly. Not only was the bread a suitable mop for the sauce, but eaten simply topped with butter and jelly, it was downright addictive. As we nibbled and swooned, Susan and I contemplated some of the a la carte choices for dinner: shellfish stew ($8), avocado salad ($6), smoked chicken relleno ($15). Susan settled on the Idaho trout roulade with Dungeness crab and spinach stuffing, while I went with the four-course chef's tasting menu.
I was delighted when my first course turned out to be more morels and sherry cream sauce on a little pastry puff. Next came a small romaine heart salad with marinated cucumbers, grape tomatoes and diced golden beets in a tangy apple cider dressing. Compared to the morels, it was OK but not memorable. Susan's trout roulade arrived along with my third course, which was two small filet mignon rounds cooked on the rare side of medium rare in a simple jus with caramelized onions and a small scoop of mashed potatoes. Susan commented that her trout was on the verge of being overcooked and wished it had been pulled off the heat a few minutes sooner, but she liked the flavors nonetheless. This was her third visit, and she enjoyed the meals she'd eaten before.
For dessert, we shared the fourth course of the tasting menu, a tiny strawberry parfait that was like strawberry shortcake with diced, macerated strawberries and fresh whipped cream on thin slices of pound cake. As we nibbled at the dessert and sipped the last of our wine, Susan remarked, "I like it here because not only is the food good, but it's an affordable night of fine dining." Indeed, we enjoyed a flavorful dinner in a picturesque setting on the Boise River and lingered more than two hours as we savored both food and conversation. I'd gladly return.
—Jennifer Hernandez is the luckiest duck of all.