The modern concept of American fine dining comes with a preset of aesthetics and feelings, no longer simply the quality and relevance of the food. I remember a time when the only variable we considered was price and quality. And then social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, heralded the change, where now we look for and even expect an explicit mood, a certain vibe, and a distinct look, all without forgoing quality and relevance. Affordability has been compromised, but in the name of a shareable experience.
This novo fine dining is everywhere. Restaurants, holes in the wall, pubs, food trucks and pops-ups got the memo. So what you now get is a potential cookie cutter approach to creating a time in moment when your taste buds are content and your heart is anxious, waiting to share the experience and hope you’ve inspired another set of polaroids to curate this now far-reaching culture. Along the way, I too, changed my understanding and expectation of fine dinning. I want to and always make it a point to curate a delicious memory that I can recall time after time; one that invites additional opportunities to live in a certain space. I want to enjoy that mood and ambiance every time I travel, no matter its placement in Bon Appetit’s top cities for eating.
A dinner sometime last year at State & Lemp in Boise, ID, gave me all of that and more than I typically set out for. The corner building sits alone in a random caddy corner parking lot in a seemingly destitute part of town, leaving you to wonder how fanciful your dinner will be. Certainly not a dinner you have to make reservations for as soon as the dates are announced and budget to spend at least $120 per person. For that kind of cash flow, I’m thinking I’ll get personal bottle service, warm and perfumed toilettes to soften my hands, a welcome flute with seductive bubbles, and private tour of the kitchen — during service. Oh, and yes, the food must be the best thing I’ve ever had. To my surprise – though admittedly with a minimal level of expectation –this stand-alone restaurant met my dining lusts within the first few minutes.
State & Lemp is Boise’s answer for an elegant yet edgy but unpretentious fine dining experience. The concept, drawn up my owner and designer, Remi Mcmanus, is the kind of the program that makes you feel exclusive. From Wed – Sat, you have one opportunity to break bread, with a single seating accommodating only 25 guests. On Saturdays, the set up switches up and offers two seatings — at 7 and 9. The idea is simply to simultaneously dish out by the coyishly efficient young staff, really beautiful plates using locally sourced ingredients to a small group of people in a really sexy space full of details that give you a glimpse of the man behind the red beard. Even the dramatic pop art on the walls is procured locally. The aesthic is industrial chic resulting from conscious living. Remi used a good amount of repurposed raw and sometimes tattered materials to design and install rustically refined piping and lighting fixtures which are juxtaposed with the touch of personally hand-selected, vintage crystal drink ware for the wine and coffee. But his detail to attention isn’t limited to ambient lighting and mix-matchy filigree crystal. He’s also the perfect gentleman in welcoming each guest with a glass of bubbly and a personalized name card placed in front of a mini succulent. He’ll easily walk you to your seat. At least he did me, and that invited a conversation about mood. He’s very much into having a relaxed time that’ll invoke an excitement you’ve not felt in Boise dining. My seat was directly across the from the kitchen, hidden behind a pair of real barn doors Remi and his dad stripped and upcycled. Much like the front door, too, which has etched lines crossing to form the restaurant’s name and create the abstract of the street intersections where the resto lives.Those same line symmetries are integrated throughout the interior design. I’m telling you…this spot is every woman’s idea of modern romanticism and every guy’s homework assignment.
There’s no doubt you’ll feel like you’ve just walked into the best private dinner party full of strangers – unless you reserve for a party of 6+ — with the evening’s soundtrack an eclectic mix of Nina Simone, Saint Germain des-Pres Café Paris and Tony Bennett. But you’re really there because you want to be indulged with moody vibes and beautiful food. Though Remi doesn’t do any of the cooking, his savvy agent tapped Kris Komori, a Canada native who’s twice since opening doors in 2013 been nominated for a James Beard Award, to head the kitchen as executive chef. The young guy knows what he’s doing. A quick sneak peak into the NY-studio living room-sized apartment kitchen gave me an idea of what we’d be enjoying, but the small team of 3 – all of whom also do all of the prep and clean up (the nitty gritty kind) was swiftly passing the line and dynamically plating the amuse-bouche.
From the time the first delight – a delicately poached scallop with cauliflower and white chocolate cream perfumed with lavender – until the final entrée was introduced – a crazy rounded beef short rib dish aggressively flanked by beets, lingonberries and a discreet amount of sauerkraut and horseradish – the balance of flavor, texture and dimension was strikingly unique but greatly discernable as American fine dining begs to be revered. You won’t miss the fluffery typically associated when the food’s presentation wants to trump chef’s creativity. In State’s case, the understated description and service allows the food to really shine. I most enjoyed the Parmesan consommé with kale, butternut squash, chickpeas and quinoa. It was the kind of soup you wish you could mimic at home and do a swirly pour for your bee. That soup there was every bit about the visual appeal as much as the impressive combination.
Chef Kris’ humble demeanor is attractive. He’s not caught up on the Beard nods or this oohs and ahhs we all gave him. He’s just there to push the limits and make impressive meals. He brings a funky fresh art to his plating that makes your entrées look more like digital art than edible nutrition. It’s too bad none of these iPhone pics really show you his artistry.
If you’re interested in wine, each course is paired with a local (mostly) label, so you don’t even have to guess what goes with what. It’s all done for you with a gentle, non-intrusive way. Serve, back off, and repeat. That’s the modern way. Or, at least it’s the way when the food is legitimately well thought and presented. It’s the kind of dining experience that makes you want to share talking points with the stranger sitting right next to you. The kind of experience that you really don’t want to end but know that another glass of wine – presumably acceptable to order outside of the menu – will keep you from appreciating all of the the accolades and accouterments this modern restaurant wants you hold dear.
A year later, and I’m still talking about Remi and his sexy-cool, edgy spot. It’s the one dinner in all of Boise I’d encourage any level foodie treat themselves to. If you need to get a taste, check out State & Lemp’s Insta. It’s crazy visual.
STATE & LEMP
2870 W. State St.
Boise, ID 83702
Check out their website for more information and true idea of how stunning their cuisine is.