Idaho Steakhouse sits nestled on the budding commercial stretch of Eagle Road between McMillan and Ustick. A solitary structure with a stone facade, it comfortably spreads out on a blanket of open lots while 50-mph traffic whizzes by on the five-lane highway. With these hardly romantic surroundings, my charming French date and I met at seven o'clock for dinner.
It was a Tuesday night. I had called earlier in the day for a reservation for two and the desk man laughed at the request—no reservation would be necessary, but thanks for calling.
In spite of the suburban sprawl, we had to appreciate the effort of a pretty fountain and artful lighting at the entrance. The lobby was huge, a progression of neutrals with a wide desk and a broad wooden wall to separate the restaurant from those waiting. The desk seemed well suited to checking in 50 people in a rush but silently and expansively housed three bored-looking hostesses who greeted me with bewildered wide-eyed youth.
My date had yet to arrive, so I asked to sit at the empty bar. The bartender was sitting reading a magazine and watching tennis until I came. She popped out of her seat and happily helped me brainstorm a bourbon drink that would soothe my sore throat. The bar was stocked with Maker's Mark, which is all it takes to gain my approval.
A second after I sat at the bar and was finally starting to mentally unpack a crazed day at the office and a week full of appointments, one of the hostesses brought me a menu. I said no thanks, I'll take a table when my date arrives. She proceeded to lead me to the table. I said no thanks. I'll wait until my date gets here. She stared at me.
My French companion arrived, sat at the bar and ordered a drink. One of the hostesses was back, ready to take us to our table. No thanks, we are going to finish our drinks. After going through that dance three more times, the knowledgeable bartender finally shooed the eager hostesses away and sternly instructed them not to come back until called. Finally, we were ready to take a seat. We had our choice of any section in a restaurant that stretched out as far as the eye could see in every direction. Shoulder-level dividers snaked around the room and created the impression of office cubicles rather than intimacy. Once we were shoved into a cold corner in a place with no booths, drapes or lounge furniture, our romantic dinner felt more like a meeting in a hotel dining room than an evening out.
However, I was starved and eager to let excellent food make up for a cold, colorless atmosphere. We ordered the onion rings ($7.95) for an appetizer from a uniformed waitress who, we were pleased to see, looked over 18. They came in a pile that rivaled K2. We should have inquired about the portions—the onion rings could have easily served six as an appetizer, and the chef seemed to prefer the "some as big as your head" onions to the kind you could comfortably eat while talking or trying to look pretty for the person across from you. I gave up after my first two rings proved to be mostly breading and the onions slipped out when I bit into them.
The food selection was unremarkable: cobb salad ($12.95), chicken fettuccine ($12.95), salmon filet ($16.95). There was nothing in the descriptions to denote a new take on classic dishes. Four out of seven appetizers were fried. Six out of 10 side dishes were potatoes. I had the filet mignon ($25.95) and found it to be a non-event. Neither creatively seasoned nor meticulously crafted, it was indistinguishable from a less-expensive chain-restaurant version. My companion thoroughly enjoyed his salmon, cooked exactly to his specifications, but was displeased with slightly raw vegetables and a thin glass of wine.
There was an enormous amount of food left on the table when we left, but I was still hungry. We hit a taco stand on the way home.
—Kelly Lynae Robinson might have Del Taco cater her next party.