Downtown Boise has had an overwhelming dearth of memorable Italian eateries as of late. With the small but charming Asiagos of Main Street, and the reasonably priced Cafe Vicino in the North End, there’s been an ever-growing hunger pang for an upscale freshness Boise hasn’t yet tasted. And in Alavita, translated as “to life” in Italian, located on Idaho and Ninth Streets, we are presented with a welcomed cure for said pangs.
After arranging reservations a week in advance (this is highly recommended), my dining companion, Carlos, and I walked into Alavita and noticed we were probably the youngest people there. This place, with bright and shiny crystal chandeliers and six floating lights above the bar resembling gigantic candle pillars, is cozy and buzzing with the din of a still hip, new restaurant.
If you’re an indecisive type, take some time to view the full menu online prior to your reservation to save time. The wine list, the essential bare bones to any Italian menu, is not for the thin of wallet with a 2008 red from Tuscany offered at nearly $300 a bottle; better to stick with a couple glasses of the Trevisol Prosecco at $8 a pop which make for a fun bubbly beginning.
If there is one thing I love to have while at a reputable Italian restaurant for an appetizer it’s either fresh (never frozen) calamari or prosciutto. As the former was not available on the menu, I went with their 18-month aged prosciutto di parma featuring a rather generous helping of melt-in-your-mouth sliced goodness. The prosciutto’s accompanying focaccia bread was more of an afterthought than anything else; fresh mozzarella would have been better.
In order to cover all bases on the menu, I asked Carlos to choose something from the “Pasta Fresca” section with pasta dishes ranging in price.
The last time I went to an Italian restaurant that hand-makes its own pastas was at La Spiga in Seattle, a personal favorite. With Alavita the difference between store-bought and fresh pasta is also noticeable, tender and aiding in the richness of its surrounding ingredients. Carlos chose the Agnolotti stuffed with smoked salmon, capers and asparagus swimming in cream sauce that tastes of fresh lemon rind. The presentation of the dish was flat, bland and colorless, but the taste most certainly was not. Carlos looked as if he was about to start licking the plate.
As a self-described carnivore, I had to try my hand at their entree option featuring flat iron beef prepared expertly to medium rare, two large shrimps and a heavenly buttery shitake risotto that seemed to suck away any interest in the surf and turf portion of the meal. Though the beef was cooked to my specifications, the taste was flavorless beyond comprehension, as if the risotto had staged a kind of flavor mutiny on the plate, leaving everything else to be easily forgotten.
I finished a glass of young pinot noir to compliment the youthfulness Alavita brings, and inquired about dessert. Is it trite to order tiramisu at an Italian restaurant? Is former Pope Benedict still a Catholic? But of course, so our server mentioned their gelato comes from the Gelato Cafe on Fairview. Though gelato is as ubiquitous in Italy as tiramisu, I answered my inner plea for something cold and sweet: a single helping of gelato densely packed with a smack of lemon to the mouth. As a $2 palate cleanser, I felt relieved if not stuffed.
Though not entirely friendly for students on a budget, Alavita presents a solid menu, lovely ambiance and excellent service for those “special occasions” including forthcoming graduations.