In the bustling Saturday evening twilight, downtown denizens amble in and out of 8th Street's many restaurants. Outdoor patios are abuzz with chatter, but walk across the City Grill's stately marble threshold and summer's carefree song floats away. The restaurant is oddly quiet for a Saturday night and the long empty bar and grand high ceilings only make that more apparent.
My date and I were promptly greeted by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic server and offered drink menus. We started with some ridiculously named specialty cocktails. I bashfully ordered the Sex and the City (Grill) Cosmo ($6.95), which was aromatic with Absolut Citron and lavender syrup. My date decided on the potent Pirate Booty ($6.95), which consisted of Captain Morgan rum and fresh muddled oranges and cherries topped with a splash of peach bitters.
Since City Grill bills itself as "downtown Boise's only oyster bar," we knew we were in for a little half-shell slurping. We went with a half-dozen Kumamoto oysters ($12), which were some of the freshest I've had in town: small, sweet and served on a bed of rock salt with tangy champagne mignonette.
City Grill's dinner menu is standard upscale Northwest pub fare. They offer a good selection of fresh seafood appetizers including Dungeness crab cakes ($10.95), Stella's bucket of clams ($12.95) and calamari fritti ($5.95). There's also a healthy medley of soups and salads that range from the marine life-packed seafood chowder ($4.75) to the spicy-sweet cashew curried chicken salad ($9.50). For our salad course (included with all entrees), we both selected the spinach salad. The spinach was fresh and crispy and sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese, cranberries, tomatoes and applewood smoked bacon.
Our server coursed our meal perfectly, so as soon as we'd put down our salad forks, our entrees were in front of us. My date selected the New Yorker ($24.95) cooked medium rare, which came with a hearty dollop of mustard seed and red wine reduction, Gorgonzola cheese, grilled asparagus and polenta cakes. His steak was cooked to perfection and he repeatedly assured me that the lumpy mustard sauce was a complement to the dish. For my main course, I ordered the pesto hazelnut halibut ($18.95), which came with a side of grilled asparagus, fluffy long-grain rice and a dusting of paprika. The halibut was moist, fresh and coated with a delicate creamy pesto sauce and crunchy roasted hazelnuts. The fragrant jasmine rice turned out to be a refreshingly simple pairing for the halibut. We both washed our entrees down with a glass of Durigutti Malbec ($6.75) from Argentina. The wine's fruity mouth feel and peppery finish were a nice complement for both steak and fish.
Perfectly sated and baffled at how flawless our dining experience had been, my date and I opted to forgo dessert. We finished our of wine and glanced around at the other patrons in the restaurant. To our right, a dad spoke boisterously with his large family. On the other side of the building, a couple shared appetizers and drinks. Though it might have been a fluke, my date and I both pondered why such a wonderful restaurant in such a prime location was almost empty on a weekend night.
Our server thoughtfully brought us a couple of lunch and brunch menus to peruse. The lunch menu has most of the same salads and appetizers as the dinner menu with a much larger selection of sandwiches and burgers. The brunch menu caught my eye with hearty dishes like the crab cake eggs Benedict ($12) and the aptly named Coronary ($8), which comes with quadruple-bypass-inducing cheesy hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, sausage gravy and bacon. There's also the much appreciated bottomless mimosa ($6), perfect for those lazy, hair-of-the-dog patio afternoons. My date and I left the quiet repose of City Grill, excited to have found a new regular haunt.
—Tara Morgan believes oysters are the unsung heroes in a half shell.