The Press 

Simple Italian fare in a classic French space

The Press is the kind of small, unassuming joint you might stumble upon in a neighborhood in Seattle or Brooklyn, N.Y. It has a quaint French brasserie feel, with black-and-white tiled floors that push up against simply adorned walls and a large street-facing window. The menu offers a few small plates--cheese, meats, salads, panini--but the focus is on the wine and beer selection, which is displayed prominently behind the long bar. But despite its charming setup and central location--on Ninth Street between Idaho and Bannock streets--The Press can be easy to overlook.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the sounds of salsa poured from the open second-floor window. A chill in the air had ushered the bedazzled jeans and high heel-wearing crowd off the small front patio, but they clustered inside sipping malbecs and swaying their hips slightly as they spoke. Upstairs, The Press was hosting its weekly $5 salsa night and a dozen or so couples stepped and dipped to the beat.

Settling into a small table by the window, I scanned the interesting and surprisingly affordable wine list. Italy makes a heavy showing among the whites, with a few wildcards like the Zestos Malvar ($7) from Spain and the sparkling Saint Hilaire ($8) from France. The reds are more standard California fare, with an Argentinian malbec ($8) and a Chilean pinot ($6) thrown in for good measure. I ordered a glass of the refreshingly crisp malvar and my date and I shared a cheese and meat plate ($10) to start.

Fat-flecked sopressata and salami cozied up with manchego and sharp white cheddar on a wooden artist's palette. The board was simple and thoughtfully assembled, like the space itself.

But that wasn't the case with the pear gorgonzola salad ($8). A bed of mixed greens buckled under a mound of bland gorgonzola, syrupy sweet cinnamon-soaked pears, precooked bacon shards and ample candied pecans. And, as if the salad needed any more sweetness, it was served with a side of maple Dijon dressing that tasted like it had fallen off the back of a Wendy's truck. Luckily, the Classico panini ($8)--which came with house-made pesto, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella on delightfully crisp Zeppole bread--was much more enjoyable.

The Press' tiny open kitchen doesn't allow for much in the way of culinary innovation. But it does the simple things--cheese and meat plates, panini--well. It's a place you'd do well to hit up during happy hour (two-for-one drafts, $2 off wines from 4-7 p.m. everyday) while you linger over a cheese plate with the whir of urban life chugging by outside.

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