Murphy's was one of those restaurants my parents always took me to on Saturday nights. I remember the smell of steak and dark beer and the distinctive glow of green lamps like you see in big libraries. When I walked in last Thursday, the aroma was similar, but the landscape was entirely different. The simple booths had been replaced by a grand dining room with a vaulted ceiling and a semi-exposed kitchen. It was much more formal, but the boy and I still felt comfortable in jeans and jackets as the hostess seated us at a booth near the bar.
The table was beautifully set with ivory linens, polished flatware and long-stemmed wine glasses, all of which were warmed by overhead light filtered through mod-looking, earth-toned panels. Our waitress, Tori, brought the boy a frosted pint of Disorder Porter (one of several specialty beers brewed especially for Murphy's by the Ram) and a Caramel Appletini for me. The beer was tasty, pleasingly bitter with chocolate undertones. My cocktail was a sweet-tart mix of wild apple vodka and pucker with a splash of Sprite and a drizzle of caramel on the rim, and while it tasted nice, the shaved ice and maraschino cherry seemed wrong somehow.
To whet our appetites, we went for the recommended coconut shrimp. Six giant shellfish had been butterflied, battered and fried before being arranged in a circle around a cup of plum dipping sauce on a bed of Asian slaw. The meat was sweet and buttery and went down smooth with a bit of slaw and gingery sauce. The breading had a little too much coconut (combined with the already generous coconut garnish), but it was wonderfully crispy and light. The Caesar salad left something to be desired. The greens were fresh, but the dressing (the main event in a Caesar) was very bland and the croutons were dry and a bit too salty. The anchovies saved the day in the end, lending their richness to an otherwise forgettable side dish.
Dinner completely made up for the salads. The boy's prime rib was served with a loaded baked potato and horseradish garnish with a petite filet of salmon for only six dollars extra. Both meats were perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned, and we found the lack of frills refreshing. I chose the pork osso bucco and salmon roulade from the "custom combinations" menu, and both were exceptional. The tarragon and basil-rubbed salmon filet was exceedingly tender, and the red pepper coulis paired with orzo, feta cheese and calamata olives made for a layering of flavors and textures that was explosive without being overwhelming--one of the best dishes I've had in Boise. The shanks of braised pork literally fell off the bone, and the garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables and apple demi-glace were tasteful accompaniments that played off one another and provided a balance of complex and simple elements.
After sharing back and forth and exclaiming to each other how delicious everything was, the boy and I sat back to finish our drinks. I observed the well-oiled machinery of this Boise mainstay, impressed by the weaving of bussers, runners, servers and cooks making sure each and every guest didn't want for anything. Tori made it a point to engage in conversation far beyond the basics, and having been a waitress myself, I really appreciated her standard of service on such a busy night at such a quality establishment. Ambiance, food, service, efficiency--Murphy's has it all, so much so that I didn't even miss the green lamps; and I'll be sure to stop by before the next remodel.
--Erin Ryan has nightmares about maraschino cherries.