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Barbacoa 

276 Bobwhite Court, 208-338-5000, Barbacoa-Boise.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4 p.m.-close. 10; Open Sat.-Sun., 4 p.m. to close

Before I visited Barbacoa, I could've counted the number of things I knew about the restaurant on one finger—it's situated behind Red Robin on Parkcenter Boulevard in the location Jakers restaurant used to occupy. But one foot inside Barbacoa—and the animal-hide-lined entryway—and I knew the building, for sure, had a new resident. Barbacoa is a swanky joint featuring meats that are cooked slowly over an open fire.

The other half of our double-date ran a little late, so my girlfriend and I snagged a seat in the circular foyer booth where I admired the giant tree-branch coffee table. Our names, however, were called within minutes.

When being seated, watch for the ramp to the dining area. It's perilous to high-heel-wearers. In tennis shoes, I escaped unscathed, but both ladies in our party nearly took a spill.

Upon arrival in the main dining area, I immediately felt out of place in my T-shirt and jeans. Barbacoa's Web site states, "Come casual, as you are, with no thought to commitment in dress or appetite." Most of the other diners on that weekday night were in business casual wear, and I wished I'd dressed in something a bit finer than a Boise State sweatshirt.

If the oversized, locally made, hand-blown "Fire Light" chandelier draped above the dining room doesn't tip you off, the gorgeous furniture, ornate fixtures and fine wall adornments certainly should: Barbacoa is a world all its own—like a country club where patrons actually have taste and aren't rich snobs. Even the menus had their own style, reminding me of a custom-painted Mustang—mustardy-yellow with black and red racing stripes down the sides.

Our friendly waiter arrived quickly and recited the nightly specials. I noticed the entire serving staff wore matching belt buckles that read C-O-A, a small but interesting mobile decorative touch.

Several menu items boasted ingredients I'd certainly never tried, such as the When Pigs Fly ($26) featuring "double cut pork chop plus chanterelle mushrooms, apples with hibachi cherry wood smoked quail and house made fig jam." Both my girlfriend and her pal decided to split one of the specials, a fettuccine alfredo with seared filet mignon tips and a Gorgonzola walnut cream sauce ($26). The fellow opposite me picked the soup of the day, a Manhattan clam chowder ($6). I, for one, couldn't pass the opportunity to try the chicken pot pie ($15). I was raised on packaged, frozen foods and simply had to taste Barbacoa's interpretation of one of my all-time favorite comfort foods.

When our entrees arrived, I was impressed with the look of it all. Pretty upscale, save one thing: There were too many mushrooms in both the pot pie and the alfredo sauce. Sadly, what we really missed out on was the house specialty: guacamole, prepared at your table. (It was a busy night and the guac guy was a little overtaxed, we were told.) I'm going to get there early and order it next time. Actually, I think next time I'll probably be in the bar sampling a little two-for-one drink action and downing 10-for-$20 mini tacos. (My friend says happy hour and the appetizer bar are the real attraction of Barbacoa.)

A trip to this Latin-infused eatery may feel to others like it did to me—like a neighborhood country club that doesn't discriminate. And "The Damage," as the bill read, may set your wallet back about the same. But nestled as it is on that little pond and with a gorgeous corridor of semi-outdoor dining, Barbacoa is precisely what that hidden little nook on Parkcenter behind Red Robin needed.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go see a man about some guacamole.

—Travis Estvold now wears a belt buckle that reads V-O-L-D.

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