Cafe Vicino 

808 W. Fort St. 208-472-1463. Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Mon.-Thurs., 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.

Myanmar; Iraq; the Boise Co-op parking lot during the holidays—all among the most dangerous places on earth. I have no desire to suffer the ignoble fate of being crushed under an SUV because the driver lost track of his foccacia-noshing teacup Chihuahua while texting his mistress, but I'm not going to let risks like that keep me from Cafe Vicino—and neither should you. Why, you ask? Because Steve Rhodes and Richard Langston are the collaborative force behind this restaurant, that's why. And if you don't know who they are (B.B. Strand's berry cobbler, Amore's urbanity, Tapas Estrella's Rioja wines, Saffron's curries, Richard's pastries), then picture Scott Dorval and Larry Gebert getting together to predict the weather. Imagine knowing the barometric pressure five days ahead of time ... gives me goosebumps.

Anyway, Rhodes and Langston have positioned Cafe Vicino as something other than strictly an Italian restaurant, which I'm glad to see because it would be a shame if these pros constrained themselves in such a way. And it's obvious from looking at the menu that they've decided to indulge us with imports from Spain and France, as well as Italy.

I feel important when automatic doors open for me at the grocery, so it may not be saying much, but you'll feel special the second you step foot in Cafe Vicino, unless you didn't make a reservation—then you might feel disappointed, but that would be your fault. So call ahead because this place is popular. The staff is as tight as they come, and it appeared to me that many have been with Langston or Rhodes in past endeavors. The crisp, dignified interior matches their exceptional food like a bespoke Italian suit and Berluti shoes.

Lunch includes an impressive array of salads sure to placate even the "let's plan what we're going to do next year" crowd. My favorite is the house ($6). The feta and olive-infused dressing makes me want to clean my plate lingually—my proper Southern rearing and Cotillion be damned. The dressing is unlike anything I've ever had. Their lunch actually reminds me of a renowned eatery in Jackson Hole called Sweetwater's, in case any of you are familiar with that bistro. The heart of the lunch menu is divided between pastas and sandwiches that all hover around 10 bucks, and are served with a cup of soup or salad. You're grateful to have any of it at double the prices. My favorite is the BLT. The use of mozzarella, marinated red onions and basil bends this standard offering in a favorable direction. When you bite into it, the BLT collapses and almost shatters; it doesn't condense—near perfect.

Most recently, I was fortunate to have the company of an Italian-speaking photographer who used to live in Rome and Bologna. I thought you might be inclined to trust her opinion more than mine. Of dinner, she wrote: Dio mio, che buona questa bistecca! Aiutami nella mia debolezza della carne! I think that means she really liked her meal—and my company, of course. My friend is primarily referring to the New York steak ($25), which I have had in the past. Our appetizer that evening was a flatbread ($10). The toppings change nightly, and ours included sausage, a rake of veggies, and goat cheese as I recall. The crust is perfectly slender yet firm in its support, like a ballerina on pointe. The size of the flatbread threatened to dampen our hunger, so bring a healthy appetite. You'll have the option of pasta dishes, halibut, lamb, chicken, pork chops and cioppino. There are no weaknesses in this lineup, and local farms are heavily utilized.

The wine selection is intimate. I was pleased to see a red from Alba, Italy, where I recently spent a lazy summer evening overlooking the misty curves of an endless vineyard, as the owners reminded me of a kind of affection that can only be expressed by preparing a meal for a guest. Allow yourselves the same remarkable gift at Cafe Vicino.

—Waj Nasser has the collaborative skills of a porcupine, but his underbelly is pretty soft.

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