House of Kim is located in the heart of downtown Nampa, on an historic block that is guarded on one end by a dilapidated pawnshop and on the other by a new but much-chipped sculpture of a herd of wild horses. Like its surroundings, this quiet cafe labors under the old-in this case, the endless struggle for unique style in a market craving only oversweet, Americanized Chinese restaurants-while garnishing it with the new. For example, they recently added an extensive Thai menu and are building a swank nightclub upstairs. After an ill-advised afternoon spent battling an overgrown blackberry bush, my erstwhile vegetarian sidekick and I ventured across the valley to Nampa for dinner at what we have long known to be one of the finest Asian restaurants in Idaho's meager market.
Upon walking in, we both immediately noticed a pungent, unpleasant odor. I thought of caustic cleaning products; Veggie conjectured, "Too much stuff has been fried in here." Either way, we were a little suspicious as we sat down at our booth (right next to a hollering baby).
Our fears were quickly eliminated when our waitress brought out the entrees in three large bowls. Veggie selected sautéed vegetables and tofu and was pleased by the sauce-not nearly as sweet as we'd feared. The dish featured generous amounts of fresh vegetables from all sides of the garden and the tofu was crispy and perfectly battered.
I selected two entrees: spicy Szechwan bean curd and a dish identified on the menu as "Black Been Noodle." The former was served in a dark, spicy sauce over firm tofu. If you like tofu, you'd love it-we did. The bean dish was spectacular, topped with heaps of frijoles, fresh zucchini, bean sprouts, broccoli and water chestnuts. Thanks to cumbersome serving bowls, bits of it all were smeared on our table in no time.
Halfway through the meal, Veggie pointed out that our three dishes, delightful as their ingredients may be, were all swimming in basically the same sauce. A blind finger-dip test confirmed our suspicion, although the bean curd added subtle heat from red pepper flakes. Given the tastiness of the sauce, neither of us minded, but we'll be certain to vary our orders accordingly on the next visit.
All three dishes cost between $7 and $9 and since our waitress provided generous rice on the side, we left stuffed to the ears and with plenty of leftovers for when we got hungry again-two hours later.
-Nicholas Collias just won't give up on Nampa.