Though Muse Bistro and Wine Bar features a weekly rotating menu that is both inspired and well executed, the front of house gives off a different impression.
When you walk into the Meridian bistro, a cloud of sugary sweet air freshener hangs over the elaborate espresso and wine bar, masking any savory smells that might seep out from the kitchen. Starched white linens mask lovely wood tables, candelabras hold cheap electric candles, silly patterned carpeting draws your gaze away from the gorgeous tin ceilings, and to put it James Blunt-ly, the music sucks. The vibe straddles the line between tarted-up coffee shop and fine dining establishment.
But while the place could use some help nailing down the ambience, it hits a bulls-eye in the kitchen. The small menu gets a complete overhaul every Tuesday and features a handful of apps, a soup du jour, a couple of salads and five or so entrees. Both the pasta and the dense, rosemary-flecked table bread are made fresh in house.
On a recent dinner visit, the tangy champagne, brie and cauliflower bisque ($7) was a delightful bowl of gut-warming richness. Despite its eccentric combination of ingredients, the soup was both subtle and well seasoned.
The same can be said for the Idaho trout picatta ($22), which was lightly coated in flour and pan-fried, lending it a subtle crunch and sealing in the fish's flaky moisture. Covered in a pungent but not overwhelming lemon butter, dill and caper sauce, the trout was also well salted--something many local chefs tend to cower away from. The nutty mound of wild rice was an apt textural accompaniment to the trout, though I found myself craving more than the allotted five or six green beans that garnished the plate. My date's tomato tagliatello ($16) featured a pile of house-made pasta with a handful of large, pan-roasted shrimp in a tomato sauce topped with tiny crumbles of chevre. It was pleasantly filling.
As we took the last sips of our wine, and John Mayer crooned a rendition of "Free Fallin'," our server listed the day's rotating desserts, which included a salted-caramel-and-pecan-cookie-filled ice cream sandwich.
Too full for anything sweet, we decided to forgo dessert. As we piled on our winter gear and prepped for the drive back to Boise, we mused over how great the meal was, but how much better the whole experience would be with some front-of-house tweaking. And since it's only been open a few months, there's still time to figure it out.