Despite its scenester status, the Modern Hotel and Bar is still a somewhat unknown beast to many. Even for some sitting at the bar in the Linen District's boutique hotel. On First Thursday, with the notes of locals Ned Evett and Bill Coffey wafting in from open glass doors, I stood at the bar to place a food order. Laying eyes on my menu, the guy next to me said, "They have food here? And they do music? And the people in the rooms just put up with it ... or wait, is this actually a hotel?" Yes, yes, yes and yes. I put in a food order, as well as an order for another Ashley in Exile--a potion of peach-kissed gin with elderflower liqueur and Riesling--and slunk back to base camp in a corner of the bar. The patio crowd was thick enough to relegate those of us who wanted a table inside. However, as the night wore on, inside--where retro chic in pale yellow and light blue chill under a chorus line of hanging, painted white antlers--was the place to be.
While the Modern has a reputation as a destination, few mention its food among the reasons. For the devoted meat-and-potatoes type, the Modern's menu has a few gaping holes. For those who overlook that, a few nice surprises wait.
The Asian salad ($11) is among the successes. A coiled nest of purple cabbage, julienned jalapenos and carrots, and whole cilantro, the salad does it like more salads should do: dispenses with the lettuce. A quartet of prawns marched in a straight line up and over the ensemble and cashews tumbled out of the veggies. For summer, it's an ideal dish. Better for winter was the roast beef, mozzarella and arugula panini ($9), which was rich and filling. We awarded it extra bonus points for the arugula.
Starters of guacamole ($9) and olives ($5) fell squarely in the land of potential. The mound of mashed avocado was just slightly off in consistency and rather than standing on its own for flavor, relied on a few stripes of Sriracha and sour cream sauce to get the job done. The guac was good stuff, though, and ultimately it was only the flat, round, functional chips that needed improvement. Olives marinees arrived piled into a dish measuring 1-foot by 1-inch. We harpooned herbed and marinated large and baby green olives--some stuffed, some not--and the occasional kalamata with wooden skewers. While they were ideal for all-night snacking for our group, I expected a more sophisticated olive choice--maybe EVOO-soaked, pit-in Spanish olives--than the supermarket olive bar standard.
Sophisticated, however, showed up for dessert ($8). Two bars of melting absinthe ice cream, each bisected with a layer of fudgy chocolate cookie crumbs, stole the whole show. Like the Ashley in Exile ($7.50), the flavors were a study in subtlety. Mint and licorice lurked but neither bragged about being there. I'd rank it as the most unique dessert in town and recommend not only finishing your night with it, but maybe starting there as well.
--Rachael Daigle almost called in absinthe to work.Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about The Modern Hotel and Bar.