THE LATEST SCOOP
Keeping you informed of local food and drink news.
WRITTEN BY MICHAEL TRAGASH
ILLUSTRATION BY GREG BRADY
As Reno-Tahoe residents, we’ve always known our food community as remarkable. But as brand-new concepts and cuisines open all around the region, major brands are staking their claim in our community, and we’re all abuzz with excitement over the attention we’re receiving on the national stage. Edible Updates is back to share the recent highlights with you, but with so much going on, we can only hope you’ll get out to eat, drink, and explore all our culinary community has to offer!
In April, chef Colin Smith, owner of Roundabout Catering and Party Rentals and Roundabout Grill inside the Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno, had his chance to Beat Bobby Flay in an episode of the Food Network series titled Mazel Tov. The episode pitted chef Smith against chef Alex Reznik, a kosher chef from Los Angeles. In the end, chef Reznik’s matzah ball soup bested Smith’s brown butter broccoli rabe, but Smith walked away with his head high, knowing he had represented Reno in a big way.
Jack Maxwell of Travel Channel’s Booze Traveler said, “The West is still a place where, if you have a dream and nothing to lose, you can still be a pioneer in a different kind of frontier.”
That pioneering spirit is what brought craft spirits to Northern Nevada, and in April, it brought Travel Channel’s Booze Traveler, too. The episode, titled Last Call of the Wild West, explores the strong influence the Wild West has had on craft spirits produced here and the passionate people behind them. It featured Maxwell panning for gold with Tom Adams of Seven Troughs Distilling Co. in Sparks, harvesting mountain mahogany with Jeremy and Katey Baumann of Verdi Local Distillery in Verdi (in contention for the Guinness Book’s world record for smallest distillery), cruising Lake Tahoe on a classic woody with Tahoe Blue Vodka’s CEO Matt Levitt in South Lake Tahoe, and competing at Cowboy Fast Draw with Colby and Ashley Frey of Frey Ranch Estate Distillery in Fallon. For those who missed it, the well-produced show is available on Youtube.com.
On May 17, the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel celebrated its grand opening during Renaissance Hotels’ Global Day of Discovery, joining 160 Renaissance locations in 35 countries around the world. Converting the former Siena Hotel Casino into Reno’s first branded, nongaming, pet-friendly hotel was no easy feat, but developer Fernando Leal saw this project as an opportunity to be directly on the path of progress in a rapidly emerging destination while elevating the hospitality standards for our city. The conversion included updating the 214 guest rooms, remodeling the existing bar and restaurant, adding a sweeping riverfront patio that spans nearly the entire back side of the hotel, and creating a 38,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art, flexible meeting and event space.
In addition, the 22,000 square feet of former casino floor were converted into Bundox Bocce, a family-friendly entertainment venue that features seven indoor bocce courts, two 50-foot projection screens, and a restaurant and bar. Bundox Bocce also features a newly built, 10,000-square-foot outdoor patio that accommodates a full-service bar, outdoor dining area, private event space, and two additional courts. The name Bundox pays homage to a former restaurant, which was located on Lake Street adjoining the River House Motor Hotel. All of these amenities and accommodations aim to attract corporate and leisure travelers to the destination and encourage them to enjoy their five-to-nine with as much vigor as their nine-to-five.
Openings and changes
Diversity is the common thread among a majority of the latest restaurant openings in Reno-Tahoe. Diners finally are demanding more, and restaurateurs are responding with well-developed concepts offering a wide array of new cuisines and experiences for us to enjoy.
Fast-casual concepts, offering customizable, cuisine-specific experiences, have been common in big cities for years. Think about the Chipotle experience and you’ll immediately understand this idea. National brands have been following this model for a while, and now our local restaurateurs are, too. Build-your-own pizzas, burgers, and burritos all have been here for a while, and now we can add poke and Korean cuisine to that list with the openings of Poke King and Bab Café.
Poke King, which opened in April in the same shopping center on North McCarran Boulevard in Northwest Reno as IJJI 4, offers poke bowls. It sounds simple, but these can go from mild to wild depending on your preferences. Poke is a Hawaiian staple, made by marinating raw fish such as tuna, salmon, and hamachi in a variety of flavorful sauces. At Poke King, bowls are made in four steps: First, choose a size (three scoops of protein or five); second, select a base (rice, mixed greens, or wonton chips); third, pick your proteins and sauces; and finally, pick your toppings, which are unlimited. There are countless combinations you can make, so repeat visits won’t be a problem, though breaking away from a favorite might be tough.
Bab means cooked rice in Korean, and at Bab Café, a fast-casual Korean café that opened in May on the first level of the all-new Third Street Flats, you’ll find bab in almost everything on the menu. The concept is based around bibim-bab, meaning mixed rice. Here, the dish features a bed of steamed rice topped with your choice of beef bulgogi, spicy Korean pork or tofu, and an array of fresh, colorful, and flavorful veggies and condiments of your choosing. Everything is freshly prepared and will be ready in a flash. While the bowls are delicious, think outside the bab and be sure to try the kim-bab (aka Korean sushi) and the Korean fried chicken wings, coated in a light, crunchy batter and a sweet and tangy sauce and served as a shareable side.
Carson City’s restaurant scene also is coming into its own with the arrival of a few locally loved chefs and restaurateurs staking their claim in the capital city.
Chef David Stern has worked in several prestigious kitchens in Reno — including Charlie Palmer Steak in the Grand Sierra Resort, SoDo, and Centro in Reno — and, most recently, he brought his culinary talents to Carson City as executive chef of Mystique. When the restaurant closed earlier this year, Stern saw an opportunity to open his first restaurant, and with the help of his parents and two sons, Brighton and Beckham, he opened Battle Born Social on May 1. The main dining room looks out onto Carson Street through floor-to-ceiling windows, and the blue-and-gold bar stocked with a selection of local craft beers and spirits serves as the focal point. The menu is signature Stern, featuring approachable dishes, all locally influenced, done in a slightly elevated style but at an affordable price. Think blue-cheese-stuffed meatballs with wild berry barbecue sauce; an ever-changing selection of tacos, sliders, and po’ boys; and, of course, his famous Brussels sprouts.
Across the street, excitement is brewing with the opening of The Union in June. The name refers to a partnership between Mark Estee, chef/owner of Liberty Food & Wine Exchange and chez louie in downtown Reno, and Mark Trujillo, owner of Hub Coffee Roasters, as well as Nick Meyer and chef Tommy Linnett. The Hop and Mae Adams Foundation, owners of the building, selected this team as the new tenants after several months of careful deliberation, citing the team’s reputation, successful track record, and extraordinary concept as their chief reasons. The Union is a three-dimensional concept bringing together a restaurant, coffee shop, and brewery all under one roof. The Union’s staff members will utilize the large wood-burning oven already in place to prepare Neapolitan-style pizzas, and in typical Mark Estee style, the frequently changing menu will be inspired by the fresh, seasonal ingredients available from local farmers and ranchers and will be prepared with influences from a variety of national and international cuisines. The bar program was designed by Michael Moberly, spirits program director for Whispering Vine Wine Co. in Reno, and offers cocktails with the same seasonal inspiration found on the food menu. On the brewery side, The Union will adhere to that philosophy, offering seven or eight of its signature brews on tap along with a carefully curated selection of other local brews and select imports. At the rear of the restaurant will be Carson City’s first Hub Coffee Roasters, which guests can enjoy in the restaurant or on the outdoor patio facing Curry Street.
While growth represents opportunity and excitement to many, it also poses challenges to others. As rents and competition for customers and space increase, sadly, some great businesses must make difficult decisions, often resulting in unexpected closures. In April, Wedge – A Cheese Shop’s owner Laura Conrow made the call to close her doors in the Saint Lawrence Commons of Midtown, stating rising rents as a major factor in the decision. Conrow isn’t taking this time off, though. She plans to travel, learn, and come back from a one-year sabbatical with a renewed fervor and maybe even a cheese food truck in tow.
Our support for longstanding local institutions and these new concepts and cuisines are the reason Reno-Tahoe’s food community is growing so rapidly. Sharing these highlights and other great stories you hear with friends and family members will inspire others to show their support, too. We’re all an active part of putting Reno-Tahoe on the map, and, in doing so, we’re helping our local food community thrive.
Until next time, remember to eat, drink, and support local!
Michael Tragash is the local community director with Yelp.com. He’s passionate about connecting people to all the useful, funky, and cool businesses and happenings in the Reno-Tahoe region. You usually can find him exploring the local food and drink scene or the natural beauty that surrounds us.