March 24th, 2010

Eatin’ in Reno aka the Grand Sierra Resort Restaurant Guide

Another bridge nationals, another crappy city to visit. When I was asked what Reno was like (I was there in 2004) I explained it as, “if Vegas is a high class Gentlemen’s club, then Reno is a Revere strip joint with welfare mothers, with stretch marks and missing teeth.”


To be fair, I didn’t make much of an effort last time. The playing site is a behemoth hotel on a concrete island; without a car, you are stuck on site. I think I ate at Port of Subs, a  Subway-like alternative a dozen times over the ten days. So this time, I promised myself I would do better.


Restaurants in the Hotel:


The hotel advertises Charlie Palmer as Reno’s first celebrity chef. From one kitchen, he has three different concepts: Briscola (Italian), Fin Fish (seafood) and Charlie Palmer Steak. I hit all three, and it was surprisingly inconsistent.




I think Briscola was the best of the bunch; I had a veal osso bucco, which was tender and flavorful, but a little greasy. Steve had the special, a chicken saltimbocca. I tried it and it was good rendition of a classic. Dessert was a lovely cherry panna cotta (with appropriate jiggle) and coffee gelato. We sat at the bar, and had great service and Steve loved his wine.


Fin Fish:


I had the roasted monkfish, which was a fine but uninteresting. Steve’s halibut was overcooked and the red pepper coulis did nothing to help. I did like the bread basket, which was composed of crisp flatbreads. The décor was disjointed; sleek bar and counter area was juxtapositioned with floating driftwood wall, giving the space a Lincoln log feel. Weird.


Charlie Palmer Steak:


A celebration meal requires a big hunk of meat. Steve and I toasted our 4th place finish in the national mixed pairs with a meal at Charlie Palmer Steak. We had a mixed green salad to start, medium rare ribeyes and shared the “CP” fries and mushrooms. The salad was fine; it was a little over dressed, but I was desperate for greenery. Someone in the kitchen had a heavy hand with the salt as the steak and the fries were over seasoned. But the steaks were nicely cooked and fairly tender. The fries were a huge disappointment, mostly due to the sodium content. The mushrooms were excellent, earthy and meaty. Dessert was a sampler of 6 different ice cream and sorbets, which was a mixed bag. The tart black cherry was delicious; the green apple was cloyingly sweet. Our service was good, especially since our server went out of his way to get Steve the wine he enjoyed so much from Briscola. My raspberry lemon drops were sweet, tart and delicious.


Café Sierra


Moving away from the fine dining, there was Café Sierra, the standard all purpose hotel café with a menu that covers everything from Kung Pow chicken to quesadillas. I ate 3 breakfasts there, all consisting of oatmeal, which was gluey and not great, but healthier than chicken fried steak.


Port of Subs.


I had promised myself that I would not have Port of Subs more than once. Sadly, I went 3 times. Their shtick is that the meat is freshly sliced, which means the waits are longer than they should be. Steve got a BLT and it was the scariest sandwich I’ve ever seen. Imaging how much bacon it would take to mortify me, now double it. It was like a game of pick up sticks, with rashers of bacon. Then he got it with provolone to top it off! I’m surprised that he did not die of a coronary shortly after ingesting it. 


Johnny Rockets.


Oy. By Friday, I desperately needed greenery, but my friends wanted to go to Johnny Rockets, a cheesy faux 50’s burger and fries diner, so I ordered a chicken club salad. It was a pile of iceberg lettuce, fried chicken pieces, bacon and cheese; not exactly what the doctor ordered. My friends ordered turkey burgers on wheat rolls. I’m sure the waiter thought we were crazy. The unlimited fries undid whatever good the lettuce brought to my diet. It was a sad meal.


Restaurants outside the hotel


4th St Bistro


The best bite of food the whole trip was from the 4th St Bistro. Dr. Marc and I had a lovely meal at this small restaurant, 15 minutes away from the playing site. We started with the divine maple glazed pork belly. It was so flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth tender, it make my eyes roll in to the back of my head. The other appetizer, a shrimp and chickpea tagine paled in comparison. For entrees, we had short ribs and filet of sturgeon. I think the beef was better than the fish, both were good, but did not reach the heights of the pork belly. Lastly, my lemon pudding soufflé was light, tart and refreshing; it was the perfect ending to a meal. I thought Marc’s brownie sundae was pedestrian, but he seemed to enjoy it.


Pho 777


I love a good steaming bowl of pho, so I was looking forward to Pho 777. This was Marc’s pick, so four of us piled in to a cab and headed downtown. We ordered fresh and fried spring rolls, neither of which was impressive. We all got one kind of pho or another and the general consensus was that it was fine, but nothing special and certainly not better than our favorite pho place back home.


Louis Basque Corner


Who knew that Reno has such a significant Basque population? Basque people come from the Pyrenees Mountains region of northern Spain and southern France, so their food is a mix of the two cultures. Robin, Kim, Steve and I went to Louis Basque Corner to experience this cuisine. The seating is family style at long tables. The meal started communal servings of a tomato and pasta soup, bread, a platter of beans and chorizo, fries and an overdressed salad. Then we had chicken basquaise, sweet dish of chicken, red peppers and other veggies. Later in the evening, I noticed the chicken basquaise had changed to oxtail bourguignon, which I would have been far more excited about, but I think my dining companions would have been squeamish over.


As for our individual entrees, our choices were: salmon, roast lamb, sirloin steak and sweetbreads. Robin went for the fish, and Steve and Kim had steak. I ordered the sweetbreads. I explained that they are the thymus of the cow and neither sweet, nor bread. This prompted a discussion of “What won’t Gloria eat?” I was scared when the dish came and the mushroom white wine sauce appeared thick and gloopy, but luckily I was wrong. The abundant serving was delicious, cooked perfectly and so very tasty. I was disappointed that I couldn’t convince a single one of my dining companions to try a bite. Everyone seemed to enjoy their entrees. Dessert was a choice of vanilla ice cream or fruit and dry jack cheese. They went ice cream, I went cheese. It was a fine finish to the meal; the cheese was aged and nutty. I really wished there was some kind of flan or pastry.


The meal was quite a deal; it was $24 per person, which included a carafe of red wine.


Robin also wrote about our meal, so check his blog for a slightly different perspective.


So, I did much better this time. I made it out of the hotel on 3 separate occasions (4 if you count a grocery store/liquor run). There were definitely highs (pork belly, sweetbreads) and lows (Johnny Rockets and Café Sierra), but I left Reno this time with a much better sense of the city and its food. And thanks to Charlie Palmer, the Grand Sierra is not a complete culinary wasteland.