If ever a town was in the throes of a restaurant emergency, Reno is it. And if only the food in Reno were half as good as that show is funny, all would be forgiven….Unfortunately, however, what you find in The Biggest Little City In The World are hotels and casinos so outdated and shopworn, that they make Fremont Street in Vegas look like the Champs-Elysee.
If I were forced to find sustenance in this culinary backwater (and lately, I’ve been forced to a lot), I’d steer clear of the hotels-unless you’re fond of restaurants that haven’t changed their menus since 1979. La Strada in the El Dorado* has serviceable Italian food, and believe it or not The Men’s Club (a “gentlemen’s club”**.. a block from Virginia Street-the main drag) does some fine things with seafood, sushi and steaks. That is, if you don’t mind slurping decent oysters and savoring salmon skin rolls among a bunch of pink tacos.
Both restaurants have garnered Awards of Excellence from the Wine Spectator for their wine lists; although neither will give the Wine Directors of Aureole (Bill Scherrer) or ALEX (Paolo Barbieri), any palpitations.
What will cause palpitations (and, perhaps, slight nausea, or, at the very least, visceral confusion) is the sight of gorgeous young things gamely gyrating on patrons’ crotches whilst they pretend to play with their own. Yours truly doesn’t like to mix his pleasures or his perversions, so I begged off–the stripper not the steak.
My two best meals were at Louis’ Basque Corner-a place that’s been serving garlic-laden, family-style Basque food forever-and the relatively new (5+ years) Beaujolais-a classic bistro with superb renditions of French classics.
Eating at Beaujolais made me wistful for everything the Las Vegas restaurant doesn’t have. A neighborhood restaurant, it is located in an old building (just blocks from downtown), has around 50 seats, a four seat bar, and a decent (and surprisingly large) wine list. The menu lists 9 apps and 8 mains, and a couple of desserts. That’s it. My roulade of pig’s trotters couldn’t have been more gelatinous or more perfect, and the gamey and sweet braised rabbit actually tasted of rabbit-not the bland just-like-chicken meat you might expect. Chef/owner Bill Gilbert keeps things simple and precise, and I can only dream of the day some Las Vegas chef takes a cue from such an operation.
* Owned by Don Carano of Ferrari-Carano winemaking fame….And by the way, a member of the Nevada State Bar, i.e. an attorney who’s a legitimate wino, and, unlike some of my bretheren, respected for it.
** Although the number of “gentlemen” in these types of places is highly debatable.
130 West Street
Reno, NV 89501
Louis’ Basque Corner is just a good plate of honest grub, albeit with enough garlic on the meat to make a Sicilian rethink his catechism. Strangely though, we suffered very few digestive consequences from this onslaught. The drill is you sit down at a communal table, are told of the 4 or 5 main courses offered that day, pick one, and then are served a parade of soup, salad and side dishes for the table. Just like the Greeks, they criminally overcook their lamb, but the chicken Basquaise and cabbage soup are winners. Lunch for two ran $25 with a small carafe of chilled red wine (take that, you snooty sommeliers!)
p.s. The Santa Fe Hotel has similar Basque family dinners, and is only a couple of blocks away.
LOUIS’ BASQUE CORNER
301 East 4th Street
Reno, NV 89512
Here is my meager Reno travelogue, befitting a town with so little photograph-able food.