Sometimes you stumble upon an ingredient combination so simple, yet so powerful, that you spend months trying to re-create it. Two years ago, it was grilled Brussels sprouts and grated Parmesan from a Brooklyn dive named Enids. Last year, it was grilled kale and Caesar dressing at Red Feather in Boise. And now, thanks to Willowcreek in Eagle, I've found my 2010 obsession: chipotle mayo and sweet potato fries.
This combo, it must be mentioned, wasn't the result of a deliberate pairing by a hand-wringing chef. Rather, these star-crossed lovers got a gentle nudge from the hand of fate before meeting in my mouth.
When my dinner date and I pulled open the door to Willowcreek, we were greeted by a blush of warm air and a relaxed, sports-pub-meets-Applebee's vibe. A flat-screen TV flickered football at one end of the joint, while an assortment of low-hanging lanterns and high-backed booths balanced things out with a flash of fancy. Sipping on our malty, Kona coffee-laced Pipeline Porters ($4.50), we grinned at the "shiitake happens" and "home for the hollandaise" signs on nearby walls.
Soon, a bowl of clams in a rich white wine and diced tomato broth ($10.99) came steaming out of the kitchen. Though the clams were described as "bucket-o," they had little in common with their sports bar brethren. Most notably, the portion size was manageably small, and they came with spears of freshly grilled bread. The broth and the bread got along swimmingly, but a tinny, overly fishy taste forced me to stop mopping.
We bid farewell to the clams as round two nudged its way onto the table: a portobello melt ($9.99) and a plate of sweet potato fries (twigs) and beer-battered salmon ($10.99). After we asked for some ketchup, our server returned cupping a special surprise in her hands: the chipotle mayo. "This goes great with the sweet potato fries," she said. Damn, was that an understatement. The mayo--with an impeccably balanced tang, smoky spice and creamy richness--wrapped its arms around the otherwise plain sweet potato slivers and hoisted the fries into an otherworldly realm. I paused momentarily, then scribbled on my notepad: "Sweet potato w/ chipotle mayo = perfection."
The Portobello melt, topped with fontina cheese, spinach and sweet grilled onions, was juicy and well executed but in no way surprising. The same was true of crunchy, lightly battered salmon, which like the clams, also suffered from a slight fishiness.
After polishing off our meal, I glanced at the wall and noticed another sign: "Wacked out country cookin'." Nothing about Willowcreek, we decided, is particularly "wacked out." The vibe is mellow mainstream and the menu isn't anything you haven't seen before. It is, on the other hand, a comfortable spot with thoughtfully prepared, well-seasoned and highly enjoyable food.
Tara Morgan thinks sweet potatoes and chipotle mayo should ride off into the sunset on a bicycle built for two.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Willowcreek Grill.