Epi's Basque Restaurant 

Even before we moved to Idaho three years ago, I had heard about this great restaurant near Boise that specialized in Basque food. Why it took us three years and a food review assignment to arrive at Epi's I cannot tell you. I turn to the old adage: better late than never.

One of the reasons we never make it to Meridian from our 20-block living radius around the State Capitol is because what we've seen in the sprawling burbs reminds us of the homogenous strip mall hell we happily left behind in other places we've lived. Oh sure, there are gems in every city, but you have to wade through the traffic, McDonalds and Krispy Kremes (no offense) to get there. It was pleasant to find Epi's in a remodeled old house on downtown Meridian's Main Street. No glitz or glam--you enter through the sunroom on the porch where curtains adorn the windows.

The place was smaller than we imagined and less pretentious. Having been led to believe that Epi's was a fancy restaurant, our preconceived notions were shattered by the group family tables, children and cooing infants. We could have taken the kids and fit right in, but we were due for a pleasant adult evening. Not many places can pull both scenarios off. I wouldn't call the hostess and waiter friendly, I would call them super-friendly; their warmth enhanced the meal and actually made it taste better. It was like having dinner at mom's.

Our familiarity with Basque food comes from dining at Gernika and infrequent visits to the Basque Market, both within the downtown grid. Excited to finally be at the highest rated Basque restaurant outside of Basque country, we expected to find some lamb, a little seafood, perhaps some great meat dishes, and what everyone told us to order--tongue.

The menu and wine list both have information about the family who started and continue to own the restaurant. Family friends' artwork, photographs and children's colored menus adorn the walls giving off a cozy, homey feel. We were intrigued by the tongue and the baby squid with ink sauce but decided to stick to more known fare. My dining date ordered the seafood special and I went with the lamb chops. A bottle of Idaho Pinot Noir and a calamari appetizer cooked just right began the meal. The entrées came with soup--we both chose the rice and shrimp, a savory, hearty bowl of goodness. A salad course with a rich dressing preceded the entrées. We were ready for the finale.

I was impressed with the lamb chops, grilled with an authentic seasoning at the proper temperature. Accented with mashed potatoes, sautéed green beans smothered in garlic and the rich and creamy seafood special--a dish of scallops, shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes and spices--it was all just too much. We had to take some home. Next time, we'll bring the kids.

--Bingo Barnes can't wait to bask in more Basqueness.

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