Saturday, June 30, 2007
Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery
Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery
1710 N. Riverstone Dr.
There’s a bit of a social stigma about dining solo. Last week, I decided to pop down to Riverstone and check out the new Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery, but all my usual partners in crime had either already eaten or were leery, thinking the place was going to be beyond their budget. I nearly said “forget it”, but I had a lucid moment. If Rachael Ray can go it alone (with a camera crew) for $40 a day across the globe, then surely I could get away with a solo trip to Bardenay. The problem is, solitary diners are often recognized by perceptive restaurant staff as being food critics, especially when the suspected food critic immediately starts scribbling away in a little notebook and snapping photos as soon as he is seated. Ah well, I’ve never really been one for discretion.
I suppose it is preferable if the place under review is unaware that they’re being scrutinized. And for some reason, when I’ve got a dining partner, it’s less obvious what I’m up to. It was my affable waitress Casey who finally got me to fess up. She had already been by twice to take my order, but I kept denying her, stalling while I tried to absorb the menu and take notes. After I finally ordered, we were chatting and she steered the conversation toward Bardenay’s recent write-up in another local paper. “Did you see that article? Do you know the writer?” She was poking around for clues. “Okay,” I blabbed, “I guess you caught me, I write about restaurants, it’s true…”
Actually, at that point it didn’t matter because I was already impressed with the place. This was only their second day open and I expected it to be chaotic, but the cavernous building was actually quite mellow and inviting. There were plenty of patrons contentedly dining and chatting, but I had no trouble finding a spot to land after the hostess told me “Just sit wherever you like, hon.” There was seating up at the bar itself and also a row of tall booth seats dividing the room down the middle, but I chose a traditional table near the patio door with a surprisingly gorgeous view of the new man-made Riverstone Pond.
A host immediately brought water, something I always look for in a restaurant as the basis for a first impression. Water good, no water bad. I looked around, fascinated by the simple elegance of the high wood ceiling, with massive exposed beams and long hanging lamps. Bardenay owner Kevin Settles replicated the unique look of his two other Bardenays in Eagle and downtown Boise, and the result is classy and dramatic. A large outdoor patio provides additional seating and overlooks the pond and its giant spray fountain.
The bar is the main visual attraction, a huge cherry-oak monolith that takes up nearly an entire side of the room, with diagonally cut wine racks on each side, and a complete selection of liquors displayed in front of a grand beveled mirror. The place has a look that I can only describe as modern old fashioned. Sitting regally in the front window is an 18 foot tall copper still, which is used to concoct their own brand of distilled sprits including vodka, gin, and rum. Yes folks, you’ve heard of on-site breweries and wineries, well Bardenay took the concept a step further and started a distillery. In fact, their website mentions that the original Bardenay was the very first restaurant/distillery combo in the entire nation.
Casey was so patient while I pored over the food menu. I had expected something rather high-end but the menu is affordably casual and bar-appropriate rather than gourmet. Still, they offer some truly unique options, such as their selection of Satays, which are basically Indian shish kabobs, with dipping sauce. I finally decided on the , which was just the right amount of spicy and grilled to a perfect moistness, and came with one of my favorite dips, Peanut Sauce. The presentation was delightful, served atop a colorful slaw of garnish veggies. The order came with two large, delicious skewers for a mere $6.95, and I accompanied it with a mixed green salad with lime honey mustard dressing. It was a step beyond ordinary, thanks to the addition of flavorful red peppers and zesty home-made croutons. The dressing itself married the sour of the lime and the sweetness of the honey mustard to create a completely fresh taste.
Appetizers here include calamari, fish tacos, and a fun Mediterranean plate, which comes with hummus, baba ganoush, sundried tomatoes and olive tapenade. The bulk of the menu is made up of salads and sandwiches, and Bardenay takes an original approach to both. The Pear Spinach Salad comes with your choice of chicken, salmon, or prawns. Sandwich options include Charbroiled Steak, Portabello Mushroom, Oven Roast Corned Beef Reuben, and the Bardenay Club. If you’re the type that has trouble choosing a side dish, good luck. Each sandwich comes with any of the following: fries, salad, house greens, spinach salad, apricot-walnut cous-cous, cabbage slaw, soup, or garlic mashed potatoes and gravy. Phew! All salads and sandwiches are big, and nothing will set you back more than ten bucks. If you’re feeling like an even larger meal is in order, there is a small selection of entrees as well, including Rum Pepper Steak, Hagerman Trout Filet, and Fettuccini Alfredo.
A blurb on the menu mentions that the word Bardenay was invented by sailors as another term for “cocktail.” And it’s clear that these folks know how to throw a couple of boozes together. The drink menu and wine list is about thirty pages long and bound inside a solid wood cover. Among the mind-blowing multitude of specialty mixed drinks listed are the “Iguanabana”, made with Bardenay Rum and Guanabana nectar, and the “Basil Instinct”, which teams Bardenay Gin and Patron Citronge with fresh pressed lemon and lime and a sprig of basil. The bartender will shake up or stir any type of martini you can imagine, and there’s a rotating mix of 12 brews on tap at all times. If wine is your passion, this is your mecca, with literally hundreds of options ranging from the local flavors of the Pend Oreille Winery to a $450 bottle of Gaja Costa Rossi vintage 1998, all the way from Tuscany. Next visit I definitely plan on tasting some of the refreshments, but since I was solo, I chose to play it safe and be my own designated driver.
The service at Bardenay was remarkable and friendly; the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable, even for a solitary diner like me. Casey the waitress was a delight, checking back often and providing timely soft drink refills and friendly chat. We wondered whether or not the man-made pond had been given an actual name – she even asked around, but no one knew. She told me they were going to be running a couple of trolley cars back and forth between downtown and Riverstone, so people can party it up, back and forth, which we agreed was a truly fun idea. I can be terrible with names at times and as we were chatting I realized I had forgotten hers. When she brought my check it said “Server: Hot Lips”, which was cute as heck, and I couldn’t resist asking her “So Hot Lips, what’s your real name again?” Bardenay is open seven days a week and food is served until 9:30 p.m. with the bar remaining open until an unspecified late hour.