You always have expectations when Roadfooders all rave about a place. Sometimes good, sometimes not. In the case of Epi’s Restaurant, the people who told me about Epi’s could have doubled their praise and it would not have been high enough. From the phone conversation making reservations and the “readjustment” when we needed room for a stroller, through the goodbye hugs from the owner, it felt like you were dining in someone’s home. And you were, literally, dining in a home that looked like a 1930’s-40’s era house. You enter through a porch that probably once held a swing and now serves as an extra, semi-private dining room when the curtain separating it from the door is curtained off. Chris, the owner, or one of the other waitstaff sets you at your table and you are ready to begin.
Forget almost everything you know about Basque dining. Unlike Noreigas in Bakersfield or the Santa Fe Hotel in Reno, there is no carafe of wine on the table, nor do most people seem to be sitting with strangers. Instead, a small wine and beer list is available and the tables are usually filled with groups that know each other well. Personally, I like the list. It allows for better choices of wine to go with dinner. On the front cover, Grandma Epi, whose recipes are used throughout the menu, looks out along with Grandpa in the usual black and white photos of the 1920’s. Boise and it’s suburb of Meridian received a large influx of Basque immigrants just like Grandma Epi.
First, fresh-baked bread is brought. Drinks are chosen and the appetizer list is perused. Tongue, that bastion of Basque cooking, is not on the menu as an appetizer, only a main course. However, just asking produced a plate of possibly the most tender, delicious tongue in a pepper-tomato sauce that you could ever have. Tender, peppery but not too much so, several people compared it to a perfectly cooked pot roast. The bread ensured that not a drop of the sauce was left in the dish. The regular appetizers looked interesting too: ham croquettes, grilled chorizos and calamari seem to be popular choices. Seated near the entrance, we could hear people planning on the calamari as they were walking in.
Epi’s also differs from the traditional Basque service in that there were no group dishes except fresh-cut Idaho (of course!) french fries. Guests ordered their dinners which came with a choice of soup, a salad with a delicious white vinaigrette dressing and side dishes individually plated. The exception was the platter of fries to be passed around.
The main items were many traditional Basque dishes. Perfectly grilled Lamb Loin Chops came with a delicious side of rice, with onions, shrimp and peas. A Flat-Iron Steak was topped with delicious roasted garlic marinade. The whole restaurant, in fact, was aromatic with garlic; this is a garlic lover’s paradise. Roasted Garlic Chicken was moist and tender, two breast and wing combos nicely done. Several Basque seafood specialties were on the menu. Chris explained to us that in the Basque country in Europe, fish is very popular. It is only when the Basque move to the inland areas here that it disappeared from menus. At Epi’s, diners had their choice of Cod Fish, Ink Fish (baby squid in ink sauce), Halibut or squid.
I had made my choice when Chris came to tell us the night’s special, prepared only occasionally. She said it was a Basque Style Lamb Sha—–I stopped her there and said, “no need to go on, that’s mine!”. She explained how good theirs was, with the sauce made by her husband and the long cooking preperation. It was served with a lighter tomato and pepper sauce on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and also came with the delicious shrimp rice. The lamb shank was as tender as promised, one of the best shanks I have ever had.
Everyone finally finished, stuffed and happy. When Chris brought the menus for dessert, the group consensus was that we had no room, followed by the realization that if dinner was this good, the desserts must be exceptional. The closest to a disappointment was the rice pudding, it was good but nothing fantastic. The Bread Pudding was not too moist, with a slight butterscotch topping that was delicious. The flan? Well, I could have eaten a dozen more, with it’s sauce flavored with an assertive amount of cinnamon, making it unlike any flan I’ve had before. It was absolutely delicious, light and tasty. I actually ‘borrowed’ some bread pudding just to soak up the flan sauce!
Sitting around after dinner, conversation was lively. As fast as people left, more came in, with greeting and goodbye hugs and kisses from the wait staff. Epi’s is obviously a neighborhood place, but it is much more than that. In fact, we brought in two locals who had never been there before and are now planning on booking their anniversary dinner there. And as visitors, not once did we feel anything like locals either. The bottom line, though is that if the food wasn’t so incredible, Epi’s wouldn’t have the crowds it does. Reservations, by the way, are not optional, the place holds 50 people so you need to book early. That does give you longer, though, to think about what delicious dish you’ll be ordering next time at Epi’s.