No Bad Beans
When Boise State exchange student Loic Nigen asked the baristas at one of the campus's Moxie Java locations if he was purchasing fair-trade coffee, his question was answered with a puzzled look. "At first, they didn't know what it was," says the senior civil engineering and liberal arts student from Montreal, Canada. "I talked about it with other students on campus, and many had not heard of the concept."
Fair-trade coffee is certified by a system that ensures products meet trading standards that protect producers. Surprised to discover that coffee retailers on a university campus did not serve fair-trade-certified coffee, Nigen approached the manager of Boise State's catering program and asked about the possibility of changing to fair-trade coffee.
However, vice president and general manager of Moxie Java International, Tim Wright, says that though Moxie Java does not serve coffee certified and labeled with the official fair-trade endorsement, that doesn't mean the Boise-based company isn't following fair-trade standards. "We don't have fair-trade-certified coffee because we do it in a different way," explains Wright. "We do have farmer-friendly practices to make sure that we give fair prices to the growers of our coffee. The most important thing is to make sure farmers get their proper money, and we feel like we're doing that and taking our farmers into consideration."
On April 10, as BW went to press, Nigen was holding what he describes as a small awareness campaign about fair-trade practices, distributing literature with the help of Ten Thousand Villages and collecting students' signatures in an effort to bring fair-trade beans to Boise State. Although his office has not been contacted by Boise State in regard to Nigen's request, Wright says that if the Moxie Java location wanted to sell fair-trade coffee, it would come at a hefty price, due to steep membership costs.
"The fair-trade organization is a legitimate organization, but they don't say what the dues cost; that information is not available to the public," says Wright. "We want to be responsive to our customers' needs, and our franchisees feel there is no advantage for the actual certification and having to charge customers more for that, so we don't stock [fair-trade coffee], but we can special order it." But, he says, it will cost cash-strapped college students more pennies per cup.
Valley foodies who've already heard the names behind Fort Street's newly opened Cafe Vicino (that's "Vi-chee-no" for the linguistically challenged) have said a little prayer of thanks to the powers that be. And for those who know not yet who's cookin' in the kitchen, drum roll please ... chefs Richard Langston and Steve Rhodes.
For a refresher in the Who's Who of Boise restaurateurs, Langston was co-owner of Rampant Restaurants, which included Goldy's, Saffron, Richard's Bakery and Richard's Across the Street and Rhodes has done stints in the back of the house at Richard's, Gamekeeper, Amore and Piper Pub.
Cafe Vicino is a new venture for the two, who have worked together intermittently for 15 years and, thanks to word of mouth and name recognition, it has hit the ground running. The European-style bistro is serving lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner Monday through Saturday from menus that steal the best of Italian, French and Spanish cuisines.
"It's probably heavier in Italian," says Langston, "but we didn't want to limit ourselves to that because so many foods come from that part of the Mediterranean."
That idea translates into a casual lunch menu with simple choices like daily quiche with soup or salad, or something more robust, like a portobello mushroom sandwich marinated in balsamic with roasted red peppers, watercress and pesto aioli on rosemary walnut bread. Dinner choices are more serious, with starters like carpaccio and steamers, a long list of pasta (including some with a decidedly un-Italian flare, like spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, spinach and feta) and entrees that run the gamut from braised lamb shanks to a New York steak to cioppino. But don't get too attached to the menu. Langston says he and Rhodes plan to freshen up the rotation monthly, so that things stay "fresh and innovative" while keeping a few mainstays beloved by their patrons.
As for the timing of Cafe Vicino's opening with the closing of Richard's of Hyde Park, it's nothing more than coincidence, assures Langston.
Cafe Vicino, 808 W. Fort St., 208-472-1463. Reservations recommended. Lunch Mon.-Fri.: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.-Thurs.: 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat.: 5-10 p.m.