Food & Drink » Food Review

La Belle Vie

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Twenty years ago my husband and I vacationed in Europe. We spent two days sightseeing in Paris, and after a whirlwind tour of the Louvre Museum we sat at a sidewalk cafe and enjoyed a delicious dinner that was prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients. A recent meal at La Belle Vie in downtown Nampa reminded me of the simple Parisian meal we still remember two decades later.

It's no wonder. The restaurant's co-owners have both spent time in France. Chef Julie Free lived there for several years with her husband, and Chef Cathy O'Connell has traveled around the country. Both were influenced by what they tasted.

"We like to call it French-inspired rather than strictly French cooking," said O'Connell.

The menu of casual fare changes monthly, allowing the seasons to influence the dishes served. This month you'll find ripe peaches atop whole grain waffles ($8) on the brunch menu and sweet grapes complementing champagne vinaigrette in the "Ooh La La" salad ($4.50) at lunch and dinner. The chefs also grind fresh flour from whole grain wheat to create delectable mini challah braids that are served with whipped honey butter.

My husband and I were joined for dinner by our friends, a restaurateur and his wife, an executive, on a recent Friday evening. By meal's end we all wished we lived a little closer to downtown Nampa.

On the C'est La Vie appetizer plate ($14), the blossoms on four finger-length zucchini were stuffed with chevre and the tiny squashes were cooked to crisp tenderness. The fruity bouquet of a 2008 pinot grigio from Zonin vineyard in Italy ($15/bottle) complemented the goat cheese's distinctive tang. The appetizer plate also included crostini with tapenade and tortellini with pesto.

Dinner entrees came with the choice of soup du jour or salad. The executive swooned over a piping hot bowl of creamy corn soup gently accented with spicy Hungarian pepper. The rest of us enjoyed salads that were lively with ripe ingredients.

The New York steak ($24) topped with garlicky chimichurri sauce beckoned the men and the executive dined on the night's special, a flavorful double stack of rosemary pork tenderloin ($18). My tender halibut ($24), with a sweet, anise-infused melon tarragon relish, was flawless.

Dreamy creme brulee ($6) and a vanilla "ice cream cake" ($6) made with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and Callebaut chocolate fudge sauce left us satisfied and thinking "la vie est belle," or, life is beautiful.

--Jennifer Hernandez is fond of fromage a la fleur.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about La Belle Vie.