We were admittedly closer to Barstow than usual, but not near enough and the desert was not an issue. There were no drugs to kick in and our car, a rented 2012 Toyota Sequoia, was more whale than shark. That said, my attorney, though not Samoan, was driving, and we were in Basque country.
We drove into downtown Boise to see if we could get a picture of the smurf turf that made Boise State famous. To the non-college football fan it might seem a little childish to go miles out of your way to take a picture of a field just because it’s blue instead if green, but we went. We weren’t the only ones there taking pictures either. A couple from somewhere upstate brought their son to see Bronco stadium. The structure was closed to visitors and $500 fine signs were posted all over for those that felt the urge to bring a piece of the pitch home with them. All that was visible was an end zone from a well chain linked gate to (I think) the south. Sliver of blue = pilgrimage accomplished.
It was getting late, though you wouldn’t know it since the sun sets around ten or so in Idaho this time of year, and we wanted dinner. Because of the hour our plane landed and the location of our hotel we were subjected to Applebee’s our first night in Boise. We wanted to taste the local cuisine and that meant Basque cooking.
I had no idea either. Apparently Boise is the fifth largest Basque community in the world, trailing only Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and the Basque region straddling Spain and France itself. There is a Basque Block downtown, and that was where we headed.
My attorney skillfully maneuvered the whale to a parking spot three hundred blocks from our goal, but that seemed to be the best we could do. Parking decks or lots are a thing of the decadent and wasteful East apparently. The restaurant, Leku Ona, didn’t look promising. The dining room was empty and our group briefly considered going elsewhere. We were lucky we stayed. Led up the stairs, we were seated on a packed veranda, menued, and cocktailed. The waitress asked permission and jumped into a “This is the Basque way,” description of what was to come.
We ordered a platter of chorizo, Serrano ham, and Manchego and a platter of asparagus and artichokes with peppers and onions. Because it was listed as “Basque” on the menu we ordered a red I had never heard of . We also ordered an albarino that was labeled “Basque” even though I knew it to be from the Rias Baixes area of Galacia. I have since tried to find a Basque link to the very Celtic Rias Baixes region. I choose to believe that at least the red was Basque and will broach no arguments to the contrary.
Our waitress told they served soup and salad family style, as per tradition. A huge salad of mixed greens, onions, cucumbers, and carrots with a simple vinaigrette and a soup from Plato’s cave: the ideal beenie weenies. Beans flageolet with chorizo in a hearty reduction of (I assume) veal stock and red wine. I had thirds. I was full.
My entree, Hake in white wine with poached egg, was as good as it sounds, but a shadow of the lamb stew one of my dinner companions ordered. About the table lay plates of breaded cod, Dover sole, and lamb meatballs and not a disappointed face, but we all tried the lamb stew, and all but one knew we could have done better.
Before that dinner, I knew what everyone else knew about Basque culture. I knew that Basques had the highest concentration worldwide of Rh blood group system and that studies on Y chromosome haplogroups and X chromosome satellites show that they may be the most direct descendants of prehistoric Western Europeans despite findings of those studying Mitochondrial DNA (pfft!). But they are so much more than that. They have soups more hearty than raw mutton and a tradition of sharing portions of food that probably undermine the idea of sharing because nobody is going to finish it anyway.
The important thing is you must stop here. This is Basque country!