The Otium

[remodeling soon!]

New Boise Restaurants: Patel’s Chaat House Indian Street Food

Finally, finally, Boise has Indian food worth paying for.

When the S.O. and I moved to Boise a year and a half ago, we knew we’d have to make sacrifices.  We gave up our weekly biryani runs to Namaste Flavours.  I quit my Andhra special pesarattu addiction at Athidhi, cold turkey.  And our long weekends in Toronto, spent gorging ourselves on Indo-Chinese Hakka noodles, Sri Lankan takeout, and kaju katli, became distant memories.

We gave Boise’s Indian food scene a fair shake, trying each of the three Indian restaurants in town at least twice.  But ultimately, we’ve relied upon becoming better home cooks to fill the void.  And that’s fine.  We want to cook Indian well.

But we’d also love the convenience of being able to grab some chaat for a quick lunch.

And now, finally, we can.

Last Friday, Patel’s Chaat House opened its doors.  Patel’s is located inside India Foods grocery store (6020 W Fairview Ave, Boise).  The order taker and kitchen are at the back of the store, and a small dining area is off to the side.  They’ll bring your order to your table, but water, cutlery, and napkins are self-serve.  Bus your own dishes.

Patel’s has the characteristics of every legit Indian joint:  food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks and spoons, and the place is already a dive despite being brand new.

The menu focuses on chaat, or street food, from North India, specifically Gujarat.  They have an impressive and broad menu posted on the wall, but are only offering a few items while they get their sea legs under them.  Menu items range $1.99-3.99; if you’re looking to make a meal out of Patel’s, plan on 1.5-2 dishes per person.

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On offer today was khandvi, one of my favorite chaat items.  As soon as I saw this Gujarati specialty on the menu, I knew Patel’s would be a winner — the difficulty of making this dish precludes it from appearing on many menus.  Gram flour dough is made into thin strips, then rolled into spirals with mustard seeds and cumin seeds.  Patel’s khandvi was tender and wriggly, and moved like a cube of Jell-O thumped with the backside of a spoon.  It had an earthy, savory flavor enhanced by the mustard and cumin.  Topped with coconut, cilantro, and sev (crisp gram flour shreds), this snack is served cold with chutney.

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Day Trip: Japanese & Latin Food Adventures in Onatrio, Oregon

Rarely does a farm town of barely 11,000 residents offer a more compelling immigrant story than the nearby 600,000+ metropolitan area.

But such is the case in Ontario, Oregon, a small community straddling the Idaho-Oregon border, about an hour west of Boise.  During WWII, the Treasure Valley welcomed the Japanese escaping internment on the West Coast, offering them farming jobs vacated by servicemen.  As a result, Ontario saw an influx of Japanese seeking work in the onion fields.  Over time, the Japanese-Americans gained a presence in Ontario’s commerce and have left an indelible mark on the town’s history.  Having grown up Japanese in Hawaii, Ontario’s story hit home.

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Visitors can taste the Japanese influence on Ontario at Ogawa’s Teriyaki Hut (375 E. Idaho Ave., Ontario).  Don’t expect kaiseki.  The menu is unapologetically, gun-totingly Idaho, offering rice bowls topped in teriyaki sauce, simple sushi rolls, chicken katsu, and — of course — hamburgers.  But the food is tasty:  the sushi is reliably fresh and rolled neat and tight, the rice bowls are comforting on a cold day, and the chicken katsu is crisp and succulent.

After lunch, visit the Japanese garden at the Four Rivers Cultural Center (676 SW 5th Ave., Ontario).  The Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple (286 SE 4th Ave., Ontario), established by Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, hosts weekly services and an annual summertime obon festival where one can immerse oneself in Japanese dance, taiko drumming, and food. (more…)

Retracing my Running Route

There’s a 3.5-mile Boise Greenbelt loop around Marianne Williams Park that I can run again and again.  The stretch where the Greenbelt crosses Warm Springs Creek is overgrown by aggressive, aromatic trees.  Each spring, these trees send shoots that grow up under the Greenbelt, making the pavement look as pimply as my pre-teen forehead.  By May, the asphalt pimples burst and new tree shoots reach for the sky from across the Greenbelt.  Although this stretch is a cyclist’s worst nightmare (speaking from experience), it’s also rich with fauna — red-winged blackbirds singing from cattail perches, and butterflies on every flower.

Since I never carry a camera on my runs, I never get to photograph this favorite stretch of Greenbelt.  But I decided to drive to the spot today with camera in hand.  There’s an easy gravel parking area on the south side of Warm Springs Avenue, about a block west of Eckert.

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Rockhounding Hull’s Gulch

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My S.O. and I are both geology nuts and amateur rockhounds.  We DVR every mining show on Discovery Channel, and went so far as to purchase a gold pan last year (although we have not yet broken it in).  And coincidentally, several months after we began dating, we realized we took the exact same geology class in college before we ever knew one another — quite remarkable, considering our university had an enrollment upwards of 25,000 and neither of us were geology majors.  But geology has always been a shared interest.

Several days ago, I attended a Sunset Series lecture through the City of Boise’s Environmental Education Program.  Initially I thought this would be a chore — one of several City-sponsored activities I could choose to sit through to get my $100 refund from my homeowners’ association.  But the event grabbed the greenhorn geologist in me.  It started off with a fascinating 45 minute lecture on the geologic history of Southern Idaho — from the Supercontinent Rodinia through the formation of the Snake River valley.  Afterward, we were led on a 1.5 mile hike into the Boise Foothills to identify several of the geologic features from the lecture.

I knew my S.O. would have enjoyed the geology, so I led him on the same hike today.  We headed along Lower Hull’s Gulch Trail #29, and barely a quarter-mile east of the Foothills Learning Center, we came across this layered outcropping rich with ancient corals, chunks of granite, and fossilized trees.

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