On Sunday, Sept. 9, the Downtown Boise Association will roll out the white linens and set out the fine china for its second Capitol Table. It's an event that brings together four of Downtown Boise's most popular eateries for al fresco dining under the lights of the Idaho Statehouse.
A precursor to the DBA's Dine Out Downtown Boise Restaurant Week (Friday-Sunday, Oct. 26-Nov. 4), Capitol Table is more than just patio seating. It's seating that takes up a city block. With Capitol Boulevard between Bannock and Jefferson streets shut down for the evening, all 150 seats have a view, said DBA Executive Director Lynn Hightower. The event is also an opportunity for downtown restaurants to showcase their talents—because even on their busiest nights in the dining room, at least they're working in their own kitchens.
"Capitol Table is a very unique way to celebrate fine dining and downtown as a venue," Hightower said. "Each restaurant has to cooperate with the others in a way that's not something they have to do on a daily basis. To serve 150 guests four courses, the timing has to be very methodical. The way the meals are prepared and presented has to be orchestrated so it's seamless for guests. If it weren't for their willingness to cooperate, this event couldn't happen."
With four courses to prepare, the chefs from Brickyard, Fork, Red Feather and Juniper won't have their own kitchens to work in (but they will have a refrigerated prep area, courtesy of sponsor Food Services of America). They'll still have to get creative. After all, guests can get a table at these restaurants on any given night. Capitol Table menus have to be staples of each restaurant's brand and present a dining experience worth the $150 cost of admission.
"For an event like this, when you're dealing with constraints like available equipment and timing, you want to focus on making a menu you're confident you can execute," said Maria Clarke, Red Feather's executive chef. "As a chef, you have to shut down the voices that make you want to be overly ambitious. These events are special, so instead of thinking about what you want to serve, you have to think about what you can get perfect."
Returning Capitol Table participant Red Feather knows what it takes to serve the event and events like it—Clarke is cooking for three equally big events in that weekend alone. So she's created a menu that's both familiar and unexpected.
A tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that she's Capitol Table's only woman head chef, Clarke's pescatarian menu features two dishes served cold and several shades of pink, including pickled watermelon rinds and beetroot-cured salmon.
In the spirit of the evening, Clarke will take simple, traditional ingredients that Capitol Table diners and regulars of Red Feather know and deliver them in new ways. Diners will recognize what's on the plate, Clarke said, but they won't recognize the flavors. As Hightower put it, each dish is your favorite meal, from your favorite restaurant, but in a setting where not every restaurant can thrive.
In choosing restaurants to participate, Hightower said the DBA had to consider which restaurants could prepare a four-course meal in the middle of a city street and still be willing to experiment, while also recreating last year's success.
"Last year's event went so well, we decided not to grow the event this year," Hightower said. "The goal is to make sure we repeat that success, because between planning with the DBA, the restaurants, the Idaho Wine Commission and the Ada County Highway District, Capitol Table is a logistical feat. And we're so appreciative of everyone who's on board."
But as any good chef knows, no matter how busy the evening, success is in planning and knowing when to ask for help.
"In any kitchen, we know where our strengths lie and when to ask people to capitalize on their own skills," Clarke said. "I'm lucky. My team is young and hungry and dynamic. And Red Feather is having a rebranding moment, so Capitol Table feels more like a coming out party for the new direction. The bar has been set, and I'm excited to show everyone what we're doing."