Cottonwood Grille 

With the ever changing restaurant scene in Boise, it's nice to have a foundation to the local culinary experience. Such is Cottonwood Grille.

Though in the past I have been to Cottonwood Grille for a cocktail, or to meet friends in the bar, I had never eaten a meal there. So I took myself and a book of Sudoku puzzles to Cottonwood for lunch.

The elegent restaurant is located on 9th Street, just before the road crosses the Boise River. Serving a slightly more upscale and professional lunch crowd than your typical sit-down burger joint, I felt a little underdressed in my jeans and T-shirt, but still felt welcomed.

Perusing the menu, a blackened fish sandwich, baked rigatoni, tortellini Bolognaise, elk Stroganov, curried lamb, myriad soup and salad options all whetted my appetite. I started with a cup of elk chili.

The lounge--a solo diner's paradise with big booths and seats at the bar--was warm and comfortable. Large, spacious windows overlooking the Greenbelt let in natural light, and the dining room's big fireplace made me want to return on a cold evening to dine with friends. The smartly dressed and responsive waitstaff served the chili quickly, along with a glass of iced tea, that surprised me with tropical mango and fruit flavors (a nice treat, even on a winter day,). The chili was light and more like a soup and not overly flavored, which allowed the wild game taste of the elk to stand out against the other flavors. Several kinds of beans enhanced the dish. My only complaint was that I had to ask for crackers. Call me picky, but I think a chili should be served with crackers, cornbread or some yeast-based product as a standard. Even so, the chili was delicious.

After the chili kick-started my appetite, I chose the warm pastrami melt as my main course. The sandwich was so big I could hardly get my mouth around it, but it still came piled high with curly fries on the side. Curly fries dipped in ketchup, chunks of sliced beef pastrami falling out of the sandwich, squared focaccia bread with melted Swiss cheese and caramelized onions on top ... it was scrumptious.

The restaurant's speed of service, quality of fare and reasonably priced lunch menu (my cup of chili rang in at $2.95 and my sandwich at $7.95), Cottonwood Grille may just make it to the top of my list when the question of where to have lunch arises in the future.

—Bingo Barnes' wears just his boxers to work on "casual Fridays."

913 W. River St., 333-9800, Mon.-Sun.: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

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