Barbacoa: The Phoenix Still Rises

Looking at Barbacoa today, it’s hard to believe that just a little over three years ago the predawn skies of Southeast Boise were illuminated by a devastating fire that reduced the dream of Robert and Martine Castoro to ashes.  While the restaurant structure may have been destroyed, however, the dream was not.  Standing in front of the rubble that just a few hours before had been one of the Treasure Valley’s most unique dining venues, Robert Castoro vowed, “We will rebuild.”  Strite has been honored to play a small role in the fulfillment of Castoro’s pledge, and with the completion of a remodeled rooftop dining area, we wanted to celebrate the vision of Barbacoa’s owners — and the restaurant’s reemergence from the ashes of January 2010.  

The tagline on the sign next to the front door tells you a lot about what you can expect once you walk through it: Stimulate your senses.  Elevate your mind.  If you’re tempted to dismiss this as mere hyperbole, you’re bound to do a quick reality check once you cross the threshold of Barbacoa.  If anything, the southeast Boise restaurant’s tagline seems suddenly understated.

“We want to bombard every single one of your senses the second you walk through the front door,” says manager Brian Hurzeler.  “Whether you are taking in the ambiance through the music, the scenery from our patio or rooftop, the art, the fragrances we’ve customized for different areas of the restaurant, or of course, the food…we want you to be moved by what you experience.”

As people who love good design, we often think thematically.  That’s a mindset that somewhat misses the point of the Barbacoa experience, however.  As Hurzeler explains, owners Robert and Martine Castoro combined a shared love of food and art to create a venue that is equal parts art gallery, museum, and restaurant — with much of the art created by local artists, including Martine.

The jambalaya of ethnic influences that exude from Barbacoa share their origins with its name, from which our word for barbecue is derived.  Latin, European, and even North African flavors permeate the decor — sources that Martine alludes to in a painting she did on a wall of the lounge navigating the cultural influences of the art and antiquities on display.

From a reception area where Egyptian fabrics and balsam wood roots vie texturally with exotic upholsteries, through a wine bottle tunnel supported by pillars from on old Roman library, past a lounge dominated by a metal sculpture of Medusa, the journey just gets more visually stimulating.  A Greek aqueduct hangs over the bar, dripping suspended crystals.  A glycerin water fall shares a space with its elemental opposite, fire.  Antique doors that include those from a 14th century Turkish castle open into a conference room just a few feet from a bar crowned with sandstone from a more local source, Table Rock.  The centerpiece of the main dining area is the hand blown “Iced Antlers” chandelier created by local glass sculptor Filip Vogelpohl, owner of Boise Art Glass.

Barbacoa’s muse finds its way into its menu as well — or as Hurzeler puts it, “The artwork flows into the food.”  The culinary interpreter of that muse is the restaurant’s head chef, Enrique Martinez, who brings a Latin influence to his cuisine.  Hurzeler’s personal favorite menu item is the Hot Rock.  “It’s a 10 oz. filet mignon prepared on Idaho river rocks that are heated to 600 to 700 degrees, with a cognac sauce over the top to flame it.”  For further temptation, we suggest you check out the restaurant’s menu online — which also includes some amazing visuals of its decor.

Although Strite’s reputation has been built on residential remodels, our focus on adding value through great design resonated with Robert and Martine’s creative vision, and we were asked to handle the remodel of Barbacoa’s rooftop lounge, which included a restroom addition.

As with the restaurant’s other spaces, customers should expect the unexpected with the rooftop bar and dining area — along with a killer view of the Southeast Boise foothills and Parkcenter Pond.  Additions include new lighting and misting systems, new flooring and fabric shade “sails” anchored to sculpted metal tree posts. We especially encourage you to visit the rooftop restroom, if for no other reason than to admire the tile work we supervised.  We don’t know if it will inspire a new trend in home bathroom decor…but we’d love it if it did.

Physically, the few things that survived the fire of 2012 are some picture frames and door handles, which have since been integrated into the new restaurant decor — along with a door that now forms the entry to the rooftop bathroom.  The art and antiques that were destroyed would probably be a constant source of heartbreak for Robert and Martine if they chose to dwell on what they lost.  Instead, they focus on what remains: a bold sense of adventure, a love of beauty, and the belief in the transformations that take place when we sit down to eat together in settings that elevate our minds by stimulating our senses.  At Strite, we get that.

Click on photos to enlarge.