Dinner at Nectar: First Date Edition
I walk in from a brisk North Idaho evening and am greeted by warm candlelight and the smell of caramelized sugar. Crème brulee, I wonder? I make a mental note to save room for dessert.
The space is small: a dark wooden bar, low lighting and exposed brick walls. I glance around and quickly spot The Date sitting at a two-top in front of one of the large picture windows looking onto downtown Moscow. Despite the inviting atmosphere, it’s a first date and I’m nervous.
I approach The Date and we somewhat awkwardly reach out in a not-quite-handshake- not-quite-hug greeting. He smiles, I smile and we sit. Our waitress promptly approaches and asks if we’re ready to order, which we are not. The Date suggests we order some wine. I couldn’t agree more.
The wine menu is thorough, but not extensive, and contains a good selection of regional options. We settle on a Syrah from Saviah Cellars in the Columbia Valley. The waitress asks who would like to taste and The Date and I look at each other, unsure. She knowingly breaks our silence by pouring two liberal glasses for us.
Nectar entered Moscow’s food scene in 2007 and has been a resounding local favorite ever since. Owners Brett and Nikki Woodland, who relocated to Moscow from Portland, OR, strive to eat and live locally and Nectar reflects that. They source from area farmers when possible, offer regional microbrews and wine, and hang local artists’ work on the walls. Above me there’s a large, flattened piece of brown paper cardboard with a stunning portrait of Rita Hayworth by local tattoo artist Thad Froio. It’s not exactly what you’d expect in most upscale restaurants, but it works. Despite its emphasis on quality ingredients and cooking, Nectar doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just as likely to host a couple on a first date as it is to see a couple of friends having a drink and little mac (made with local Cougar Gold cheese) after work.
The Date orders an appetizer of baconwrapped shrimp skewers with honey chili sauce, and after the waitress leaves, conversation begins in earnest. We talk about family, and find similarities in how we both grew up in places with heavy snow. The skewers arrive without interrupting the conversation—six plump shrimp on a bed of mixed greens. He politely waits until I take the first skewer. I wonder whether I should cut each piece in half before eating; the shrimp is a little too big for one bite, and I don’t want to be rude. I look over at The Date and he is busily peeling the bacon off his shrimp with his fingers. I realize I don’t have to worry about etiquette, and I dip a shrimp in the honey sauce and shove the whole thing in my mouth.
The bacon is crisped and the shrimp is tender. Exactly the right texture. I don’t taste the chili in the sauce, but the honey works well with the smoky bacon flavor (which thankfully is not overwhelming) and I am left with a nice peppery taste in my mouth.
I mention that he is missing a taste sensation by peeling off the bacon, and we discover more similarities in that we both tend to lean vegetarian with occasional carnivorous forays. The waitress stops to refill our glasses, and the conversation now flows as smoothly as the wine. We agree to order and share two of the lighter entrées from the seasonally rotating menu: a panzanella and an ahi tuna salad, although The Date is tempted by the leek and sweet corn saffron risotto.
The panzanella is a big, colorful dish comprised of local zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, onion and eggplant, tossed with basil, feta and toasted bread cubes. The heirloom tomatoes melt in my mouth, and the earthy, roasted eggplant pairs well with the sharp feta cheese. The bright green specks of basil add an unexpected and fresh punch.
And yet, I am eyeing the ahi tuna salad that was placed in front of The Date. He sees me ogling it. “Do you want to switch plates?” he offers and I accept. The tuna is even better. The generous portion of ahi is lightly seared on the outside and a beautiful raw pink on the inside. It is coated in a light dusting of what seems to be crushed wasabi peas and served on a nest of organic local farm greens, green beans, cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, avocado and hard boiled egg, all lightly dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
As we finish our meals, The Date reaches over the table and spears the last bite of tuna. He grins mischievously and I smile back. I know I’ll come back to Nectar, and I think I might bring The Date with me.