For years Danskin Station, located 10 miles east of Garden Valley on the Banks to Lowman highway, was little more to me than a recreational afterthought. The hand-dipped $4 milkshakes concocted by chef/co-owner Deb Conlin and her skeleton crew had been a welcome postscript to numerous backcountry skiing trips, scrambling excursions and humiliating failed attempts thereat, but as for food I had not a clue. How good could it possibly be, tucked away on a highway so distant from the fresh produce and sanitation safety nets of suburbia? The answer, I found, isn't just "surprisingly." It's downright "friggin'."
The biggest shock to Danskin tenderfoots will be the way in which the restaurant's high-quality menu intentionally belies its mountainous surroundings. The stomach-length beard and suspenders donned by boisterous host Jim Stringham may scream Boise County, but don't expect to see any members of the area's elk or deer communities lying belly-up on your plate. Instead, fish is the dish, but not just Idaho staples salmon and trout. That would be too easy. Look for landlocked lobster, crab, clams, mussels and oodles of oysters. Sketchy in theory? Perhaps, but Conlin and Co., who are only open for weekends so that freshness is never in doubt, prepare these foreigners with a proficiency that makes me proclaim, "Gawd bless the UPS man!"
Some spectacular green-lipped mussels from New Zealand started off the proceedings, alongside a bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve Belgian ale. The former was cooked perfectly, not at all chewy, and was garnished with flowers and watermelon--a bizarre choice, except that the lime-green watermelon rind matched the lips of the mussel shells. A small pan of herbed butter, heated over a flame, provided welcome accompaniment to the mollusks and left my party shamming frantically for the privilege of emptying the final shell. The Chimay, while notable merely for its presence on Danskin Station's eclectic beer and wine list, was also delicious in price: just a dollar markup over retail. I think I have found a replacement for my milkshakes.
Among entrées, Danskin Station's Cioppino was both delectable and colossal. Unlike the swampy aquarium stew bearing the name at most restaurants, Danskin's version was a towering volcano of six different sea species surrounded by a modest harbor of spicy red broth. Shamefully, my stomach was not able to completely scale its heights, nor was I able to down yet another watermelon garnish. Could seed-on-the-side be the next culinary trend? After tasting the Cio-melon, I sincerely hope not.
The filet mignon topped with mushrooms and capers was also of impeccable quality, though so heavily mesquite-infused I suspect it may have been cooked in a nearby forest fire. The unique "peaches and pork" dish was also very smoky, but the smoke hid alluringly beneath the buttery sweetness of the sautéed peaches. Both dishes were full of complex flavors and nearly as generous as the Cioppino.
After our attentive and humorous server wrapped up the leftovers into tinfoil animals--one a swan, the other a Loch Ness monster in drag--we sampled Danskin Station's Bananas Foster. I had read rave reviews of the dish on the restaurant's Web site prior to visiting, and it was appropriately decadent--that is to say, tooth decay-dent. In three words: runny, rummy, yummy. When we asked the server why the bananas were not served flambé we were told, "Because we're in a forest." Fair enough. It can be easy to forget that during the meal, because the imagination and preparation that go into a Danskin feast make it easily stand up against the finest of Boise's culinary venues.
--Nicholas Collias likes his steak on the
rare side of friggin'.