Reef. The word conjures memories of scraped and bloodied appendages battered by unforgiving rock and coral hiding beneath the surface of many a good break. It's also a sailing term that refers to the action of rolling in part of a sail so as to reduce wind exposure in the event of a nasty storm. Talk about negative word connotation.
Fortunately for diners, hitting Reef for drinks and dinner won't be as painful as hitting reef with a nine-footer attached to your leg. Nor will an experience at Reef be as potentially perilous as a hurricane gale requiring you to reef your sails. At least it wasn't for us.
My copilot and I made the downtown happy hour round, even bellying up at one of Reef's siblings before going rooftop Caribbean for dinner. With precious few patio days left, we headed for the tiki torches and took two seats beneath the bar's grass canopy. The plan was simple: drinks and appetizers at the bar, dinner inside. Our friendly bartender (friendly but sloppy; we noticed some discarded onion rings--sans plate--sitting on the bar top our entire stay) took our order, slapped our drinks down, said the magic word and our nachos appeared. Heaped in a paella pan with all the necessary fixins (plus a few unanticipated ones like corn), we cleaned the plate before remembering to save room for dinner.
A second attempt to officially sample Reef's fare found us at lunch. Hungry and indecisive, we struggled with the menu. Nothing was screaming for my attention, but for my copilot the choices were too many. Then Angela came to the rescue. Enthusiastic about her recommendations and knowledgeable about all the sauces, sides and such, she coaxed our indecision into a starter of chips and guac, and an order of Caribbean fish tacos and seared ahi. Chips and guac hit the table with the speed of light but still in love with the guacamole at El Rinconcito in Nampa, my cheating heart couldn't banish the memory of the best damn guac in three states. Reef's was good, but a little too "zestless" as the copilot eloquently stated.
Fish tacos and ahi made their way to the table within minutes of the chips. Filled with strips of fried fish, cabbage, avocado and drizzled with sour cream and a mango-cumin vinaigrette, the fish tacos were ... good? We each took a taco and decided we liked it just fine but there really was nothing else to say. Remembering the fish tacos at one of Reef's siblings (and my periodic cravings for them) I was hoping for a little more "je ne sais quoi." But hey, how inspired can you be over fish and tortillas? The ahi, however, lived up to what Angela promised. Seared and spicy hot, served with a spring mix and a chili pepper infused soy sauce, we were happy.
The overall experience? The atmosphere, with its dark, cool inside and tropical getaway patio, is perfect for Treasure Valley summers. And every time I visit Reef I'm impressed with the staff. BW awarded Reef best cocktail concoctions in our Best of Boise issue because the mixers and shakers deserve it. As far as food (and I've eaten at Reef at least a half-dozen times), it seems Reef suffers from an identity crisis. The menu has undergone a recent revision and now leans toward traditional bar food with a twist. The lunch menu is little more than quesadillas, burgers, salads, fish and chips, meat skewers and a few sandwiches. The first time I ate lunch at Reef I needed a translator and I liked that. Now, with Hawaiian music, Caribbean-esque dishes and a plethora of drinks and apps from south of the border, we don't know what part of the world Reef is imitating. But it is a cool place to hang out and probably the only Idaho restaurant playing Brudda Iz.
--Rachael Daigle once got twhacked by a hammerhead shark.