July 13, 2009

Bar Gernika (Review)

I've been broke enough long enough that I feel self concious when people offer to give me things, but that being said I'm only human, and being able to turn down a free meal is a talent I don't have. Such was the case Saturday morning. Wife and I had been out hitting the yard sales, with Boy reading his comics irritably in the back of the car, but our end destination was my Mother-in-law's house, where Grandpa intended to take Boy to an airshow in Nampa. Wife and I had intended to return to the sales, but soon she was helping her mother assemble a file organizer kind of like this one, and I was drooling over a Pampered Chef catalog, admiring Himilayan salt and knives that presumably don't suck.

By the time we were finished, we didn't really have time to do much but eat lunch before visiting our friend in the hospital. Not wanting to go home, we contemplated having lunch at Mother-in-law's, before realizing that anything worthy of our efforts would take longer than we had. I had the feeling one of us was seconds away from putting up the white flag of surrender to Top Ramen, when MIL said the magic words. "I'll spring for lunch."

Hallelujah. To be honest, I waver between Agnosticism and Atheism, but when someone offers up restaurant food (or non-prepackaged home food, of course) I think in religious terms. And Mother-in-law is a bit of a foodie herself, which meant that we'd be going somewhere with edible food. My wife, she's a hell of a cook. She didn't cook before we were together, but she's been one of those "the student has surpassed the master" kind of cooks at home. But she's not a foodie. When she's not in the mood to cook, anything is game. Well, except McDonalds. Except this time she surprised me. When MIL suggested a little cafe where we'd had a nice breakfast before, Wife kiboshed it on account of it's tiny seating. But then she said something that I found sexier than any pillow talk. "Let's try something new and different."

I honestly can't remember if it was her or her mother who first said "How about Bar Gernika?" because my excitement blotted out the details. This institution of the Boise Basque community was on my to-do list, in general and in specific due to this blog. I'd noticed the place often in my nine years here, but had largely ignored it until this Spring. That's when it was featured on Food Network. There's something wrong when you live in a city as far out of the national spotlight as Boise (sorry Broncos) and a hometown restaurant makes it on cable TV before you can eat there.

We wound up parking on the other end of the Basque block, and found ourselves staring at Leku Ona, the other Basque restaurant, which was considerably less crowded than Bar Gernika appeared. Perhaps it was an omen. But we'd made up our collective minds.

We entered the crowded space, and I was shocked at how small it really was. Thankfully my MIL asked for the patio, and soon we were back outside. Despite being next to a major street, things weren't too noisy and the day was perfect, with the weather in the high seventies and a light breeze moving through the air. Both Wife and MIL knew our waitress...I broke palaver with the menu long enough to catch that she went to school with or otherwise knew Brother-in-Law. One of the most impressive things about Bar Gernika is the menu. It has a small selection of items, but offers them in not only a standard entree portion but in smaller and larger quantities. MIL went with the small (side-free) chorizo and an Arnold Palmer. Wife took the lamb grinder, which was predestined from when we watched the Food Network video. I was curious-also from the video-to try the beef tongue, but chickened out. After a long time contemplating the Solomo (pork with pimento and peppers) I decided to try the chicken and chorizo paella. Wife chose the croquetas, a traditional Basque side, while I took the white bean soup, just to add to the variety. In addition, while MIL was covering the meal, I requested a glass of El Mason, a Basque wine, on a seperate tab. I was taking this new gig of food writer seriously, you see.

I'll say this for Bar Gernika. The service was efficient and fast. First to arrive were the beverages. I felt no need to mooch MIL's tea, but as for my wine....well, first let me digress. I'm not much of a wine drinker. I appreciate good beers, and can debate the minutia of various IPA's or describe the fragrance of a favorite Oatmeal Stout, but when it comes to wine I can only frame things in terms of the few I like and the many I don't. Unfortunately, this was one of the latter. It was listed on the menu as "perfect for the patio on a summer day"....but perhaps they meant I should use it for killing insects? It was a blush wine, which I had supposed would make it lighter and floral, but it was remarkably bitter and while I tried to be every bit the professional, swishing it around and analyzing it all I could really come up with is that it tasted like alcohol. Perhaps someone with a developed palate would appreciate it, but it's no novice's wine, certainly.

The table next to us was already eating, and after smelling their food for several minutes we were giddy like schoolchildren when we saw the tray of food arriving for us.

First on the list was Wife's lamb grinder. It was truly a beautiful sandwich, and on looks alone I have to rate it highly. But the flavor was somewhat lacking. I was surprised, after watching the video that shows everything that goes into it, but it was kind of plain, and while the lamb was generous, it was a bit dry. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it, it just didn't wow me. What did wow me, however, were the croquettas. Underneath their crunchy surface was a rich chicken filling, like a gravy but more substantial.
Next was MIL's chorizo. It came unadorned, since there was a wide array of condiments on the table, and was served on a crunchy baguette. I sampled a small bite and was impressed. It's hard to mess up something as simple as chorizo, but I was still pleased to see they'd cooked it perfectly, unburned but charred along the sides, with just a hint of grill persperation to let you know it would be juicy throughout.

Last was my paella. It wasn't what I'd consider a true paella, as it didn't have any shellfish, but since I'm allergic to crustaceans I was willing to ignore what I would once have considered a flaw. Unfortunately, I couldn't forgive the rest of it's issues. The chicken was completely dry, and other than the bits of chorizo scattered throughout it was strangely flavorless. Rather than containing an exotic essence, it tasted like the spanish rice out of a Rice a Roni box. At least there was the soup. While the first bite came off a bit like another poor pantry staple-pork n beans-each subsequent taste revealed layers of subtle flavor and I wished I'd had a large bowl of that instead of the paella.
The food at Bar Gernika was largely decent; then again so is the food at buffets. I don't think I'm in any hurry to return, although I probably will give it another chance some day if only to eat more croquettas. As it was, after our plates had been cleared we had to get one more plate, if only to enjoy the beautiful patio a bit longer. On the way back to the car we stopped off in the little Basque Market that was across the street. After browsing for awhile, I fished some change out of my pocket for a green olive stuffed with anchovy and on a spear with manchego cheese and a smoky strip of grilled pimento. It was the best thing I'd eaten all day.
Gernika Basque Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon

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