Though downtown Nampa has come a long way in the last few years, nothing could've prepared me for La Belle Vie. The restaurant occupies a quaint bungalow on a side street near Flying M Coffeegarage. Pulling open the front door feels like walking into your good friend's housewarming party--it's warm and uncluttered; they've been expecting you. Though the spot bills itself as a French cafe, it doesn't wear the theme on its sleeve. You won't find wine bottles topped with dripping candlesticks or accordion music wafting through the air. La Belle Vie keeps it classy with heavy, dark wood tables and framed, patterned wallpaper. From my seat, I could see through the window in the kitchen door to a shelf stacked with teal, chocolate and moss green plates. It looked like a page torn straight from Martha Stewart Living. That deliberate minimalism, it turns out, is a palate cleanser for the culinary adventure ahead.
La Belle Vie's lunch, brunch and dinner menus change monthly, depending on what's local and seasonal. At the start of September, the dinner options were heavy on the summer squash, with bell peppers and chevre making a solid showing. Our appetizer, in fact, the chef's choice C'est La Vie sampler plate ($8), combined all three to great success. Fresh carrot, celery and red bell pepper crudites dunked in a house-made, creamy cucumber dill dip tempered the rich tang of goat cheese and mixed olive bruschetta. A bowl of lightly salted cayenne curry peanuts and raisins made way for the piece de resistance, two mini zucchini with still-attached, chevre-stuffed squash blossoms. Oh, sweet lord.
And it only got better from there. The soup of the day, a Southwestern corn chowder ($4.50 cup, $6 bowl), was at once delicate and hearty, with flecks of bell pepper and sweet corn swirled in a creamy broth so light and comforting it made me ache for my slippers. The chevre salad, too, was out of this world, with warm discs of pecan-crusted goat cheese hovering over bitter mixed greens and sweet dried cranberries. The salad, like everything we had tasted up to that point, was so thoughtfully seasoned and dressed it shrugged off the requisite shakes of salt and pepper.
Our entrees, dill butter salmon on basmati rice ($18) and herbed gnocchi ($14), both with summer veggies, were two of the lighter options on a list littered with steak and Cornish game hen. Though the salmon was a substitute entree for the halibut that evening, the execution was notably lacking. The white rice was an uninspired pairing with the salmon, and the thick slab of dill butter didn't do much to moisten the bone-dry, overcooked fish. Luckily the gnocchi--though not at all what I had pictured--was incredible. Made with the same light, eggy dough used for profiteroles (combined with savory spices and mustard) the gnocchi was unlike any of the glutinous Italian varieties I've tasted. Though it had the messy look of an egg scramble, it was nonetheless a delight washed down with a glass of the house red ($5 glass, $12 bottle).
Grinning as I cracked the delicate sugar layer on the creme brulee ($6), I sighed contentedly. Life, at that moment, was undeniably beautiful.
--Tara Morgan used to say gno to gnocchi, but gnot anymore.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about La Belle Vie.