Food & Drink » Food Review

Sweetwater's Tropic Zone

On the plate of Reviewer No. 1


The Afro-Caribbean menu at Sweetwater's is both thorough and authentic, with goat, spicy seafood, barbecue--generously flavored with heat and tropical fruits and nuts--and staples like jerk chicken and Cuban steak sandwiches. However, on my first trip to this relatively new downtown restaurant, I did not need to look at the menu. I was there for curried goat ($15).

The meat is served on the bone, as it should be, and I dug in with relish, gnawing off every last morsel, holding the meat in one hand and spoonfuls of white rice in the other. I did eyeball a friend's plate, which appeared to have a much meatier piece of goat than mine, but the accompaniments and the giant bottle of Red Stripe ($7) filled my belly.

Goat is rare enough on a Boise menu to be worth a trip. So is the locally raised alligator appetizer, which Sweetwater's serves as tots ($9.25)--alligator tail deep fried in a spicy, dark-colored batter and dipped in a very complex ginger, pineapple tartar sauce. Squeeze of lime optional, but recommended.

For lunch, on another trip, I started with one of Sweetwater's clever beer/wine drinks: The Kingston ($5). Green-tinted ginger beer forms the lower third of the glass, topped by three fingers of Land Shark Lager and two fingers of Guinness, engineered to resemble the Jamaican flag.

If there is one thing missing at Sweetwater's, it's a liquor license; a mojito with the pan con bistec ($12.50) would have been idilico. The sandwich comes on a beautiful airy baguette, made by Gaston's Bakery, that seems custom-made for the thin slices of top sirloin inside. The meat is topped with grilled onions and a honking piece of proletarian lettuce. The sweet plantains on the side were perfectly browned, whereas my wife's green plantains were dissatisfyingly dry. We asked for more of the tartar sauce for the dry fries, but instead got some infused catsup that did not do the trick.

My wife's jerk chicken ($13.50, plus $1.50 avocado salad upgrade), on the other hand, was blackened on the outside, and perfectly moist and jerked on the inside, almost, but not quite falling off the bone. The Jamaican seasonings were sweet at first bite, gradually heating up.

Speaking of sweet heat, the avocado salad may be the best thing on the menu and a meal in itself. Sticky coconut rice is slathered in a thick, hot yellow curry and topped with generous chunks of avocado. But that's not it. The more you dig into this salad the more treats you find: peanuts, raisins, tomato ...

The blues and Rasta soundtrack in this restaurant, the island motif and mix-matched silverware along with the diverse and experimental menu are enough to make you cry. Or is that the chili sauce I just rubbed in my eye?

--Nathaniel Hoffman likes the voodoo that you do.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Sweetwater's Tropic Zone.