The last time I was in New York, friends wanted to show me life in the city at its best, so they promised to take me to a hot new restaurant in Greenwich Village. My mind Google Earth'd the globe, imagining Ethiopian injera and Indonesian rambutan, but what I got was Basque food. My friends were pleased to have found such a unique restaurant, so I avoided saying anything about Boise's rich Basque heritage, and we enjoyed a great dinner that ironically reinforced my appreciation of home.
Boise's claim to the Basque region of Spain has been legitimized by decades of immigration, and the influence is happily evident in our city's culture. Authenticity is an appealing idea for most of us.
Ray Kroc's genius was to make French fries taste the same everywhere. Does this concept bother you at all? It should. Americans have sadly become inured to mass-produced frozen food. Eat just one French fry at Bar Gernika, and even the most catatonic consumer will be aroused.
Bar Gernika's French fries are hand cut. They have not been frozen. About a minute after you order them from one of the waiters (often male, confused dark hair, black T-shirts with obscure imagery, jeans, black Adidas shoes—all de rigueur) you will hear the sizzle of their immersion in oil. Soon thereafter, they arrive in a paper-lined basket. Some are thick, others thin and long, skin is variably present and errant clips and corners of over-cooked and crunchy potato occupy the bottom of this seething heap. They are all hot, every time. The exterior of Gernika's fries is consistently firm and crisp, and wrung of most of their oil, while inside, they are fluffy; never dense nor grainy. They are sprinkled with a proprietary mixture of spices that I conjecture includes paprika, garlic, salt and pepper—my waiter was appropriately circumspect when asked. In the pantheon of great Boise French fries (Highland's Hollow, Bittercreek, Smoke Inn, Hawkin's Pac-Out) Gernika has the best and there should be no dissension. To disagree with me would be to exhibit either ignorance or poor taste; sadly, neither is in short supply (see hysteria associated with arrival of the Cheesecake Factory).
There is far more to Gernika than French fries that make it one of my favorite spots in Boise. Many of the orders come with a pickle, and it is always chilled, of Falstaffian girth, and as rigid as a shorthair with a pheasant at bay. Grey Poupon mustard is on every table. Guinness is on tap and served perfectly chilled. Gernika's walls consist of cracked off-white plaster and exposed brick. The ceiling is low and the lighting is dull, like the wood and the concrete floors. The L-shaped configuration of the restaurant makes you feel all the more ensconced. Basque separatists could hold an ETA recruiting klatsch here and be right at home. You can't help but feel like you're up to something nefarious when you're slouched over a Guinness, cornered up and waiting on some food. And do order some food. Order a chorizo, and if you've never sunk into one at Gernika before, then its exuberance will make you question what else is mundane about your rote life. Order croquetas and lament the sadness you feel as their number diminishes with each bite. Order paella and a salad and a soda and get out of there for under 10 bucks. Order a glass of Rioja region wine because it's cheap and it's good and you won't feel so provincial.
Toward the end of our evening at the Basque restaurant in the Village, our waiter overheard that I was from Boise. "Boise?" he queried, with some surprise. "The owners went there to research this restaurant," he said. "They wanted the real thing."
—Waj Nasser is an arrogant food pundit strictly in the service of great local food.