’Whispering Vine on Fourth Street offers an exceptional wine and cocktail bar with an A+ chef.
WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS
When it comes to typical wine bar cuisine, one expects a modest charcuterie plate, not a melt-in-your-mouth pork osso buco with creamy root vegetable mash, a fresh and spicy ahi tuna poke, or a duck confit taco with Hatch chile cream.
But then again, Whispering Vine Wine Co. on Fourth Street in Reno is not a typical wine bar, nor is its cuisine, thanks to the culinary vision of chef Josh Davis. The hearty tapas menu reflects the diverse locales where the talented Davis honed his gastronomic chops.
“In coming up with a menu, I wanted to try covering all bases,” Davis explains. “I’m making dishes that I’d want to serve my family, dishes I’d love to eat.”
Move over predictable cheese plate …
In fact, to call what’s offered here a tapas menu is woefully inaccurate. Case in point, the locally sourced spring lasagna features the bloomsdale spinach with young Delta asparagus, sprinkled with tender English peas. Or the delicately battered coconut shrimp that perch on a mound of lovely, Asian-flavored slaw. And with a nod to its location’s former life as a steakhouse, Whispering Vine Fourth Street’s lineup also includes braised bison short rib sliders and an Angus burger with mushroom brie and bacon jam.
A Reno native, Davis studied at The Art Institute of Seattle’s culinary program. Later he “fell in love” with Japanese cuisine and its attention to detail, presentation, and knife skills while working at Nikko in Seattle. These finely tuned skills are evident in each and every artfully executed dish that Davis creates.
In the ensuing years, the young chef worked in Maui, and then New England. Most recently, he was the chef de cuisine at Reno’s popular LuLou’s, and this is where Whispering Vine owner Curtis Worrall found Davis.
At this juncture, Worrall already had two extremely popular Whispering Vine Wine Co. locations in Reno — one at Mayberry Landing and another in the SouthCreek Center. Both spots have gained a faithful following of Truckee Meadows wine lovers who enjoy a vast wine selection at prices comparable to those at big box stores.
“My goal has always been to demystify wine, and people have responded,” Worrall says. “Basically, we were outgrowing our Mayberry location when this steakhouse on Fourth Street became available.”
Mutual admiration society
With a winning wine retail model in place and an accomplished chef on board, Worrall says, he thought, “How could we not succeed?”
Likewise, Davis gives kudos to Worrall’s inimitable business acumen.
“I got the chance to sit down and talk to him, and it was basically, ‘I’m buying this brand-new car, let’s take it for a spin,’” Davis recalls. “We went and looked at the kitchen, and he said, ‘Run with it, tell me what you need, and let’s have some fun.’ It’s like he knew it was a winning formula and didn’t seem to sweat the growing pains of a new endeavor.”
The venture opened in 2015, and judging from the crowd on a recent Wednesday evening, the growth has been swift and steady.
The atmosphere retains much of its dark steakhouse feel, but with the large wine retail area to explore, there is much movement between rooms. The outside patio area, with its unobstructed view of the eastern Sierra, is a warm-weather favorite.
At the newest Whispering Vine Wine Co., the interaction between patrons and employees is easygoing. Customers can wander over to the retail area and select their own bottles of wine with the help of nonintrusive staffers.
As far as food and wine pairings, Davis says he leaves it up to the Whispering Vine wine experts.
“I try taking a broad stroke with the food and let them find the perfect pairing for our customers,” Davis says.
Another wonderfully distinctive addition to Whispering Vine is the vast collection of spirits and cocktails, thanks to another smart hire by Worrall: Michael Moberly, who is the spirits program’s director. You’ll find one of the largest and most diverse selections of spirits and cocktails in the world. And some of the spirits are not available anywhere else. Education is a large component of the program as well, including regular spirits and cocktail tasting events. (If you are a fan of spirits and cocktails, visit the Whispering Vine Spirits Tasting Room in Mayberry Landing, where Moberly regularly tends bar.)
Yet another element that’s atypical about this wine bar? Dessert!
Indeed, a recent ice cream du jour trio included a dreamy cardamom white chocolate, a double chocolate, and a salted caramel that almost begged the diner to tip the dish back and lap up every last drop.
“I’m having a lot of fun with our homemade ice creams,” Davis says. “I mean, who doesn’t love ice cream?”
Perhaps it’s this ethos of loving what you do that shines through in the food and wine here, making the newest Whispering Vine Wine Co. such a fast favorite.
Full disclosure: When no one was looking, writer Ann Lindemann did tip back the ice cream dish to lap up every last drop of her Whispering Vine Wine Co. ice cream. And don’t even get her started on the delectable savory selections that preceded that memorable dessert.
Whispering Vine Wine Co.
4201 W. Fourth St., Reno • 775-786-1323 • Whisperingvinewine.com
Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tues. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Sun. – Mon.
Kitchen open 4 – 9 p.m. Tues. – Sat. Closed Sun. – Mon.
Ahi Tuna Poke
(courtesy of Josh Davis, chef, Whispering Vine Wine Co. in Reno. Serves 4)
8 ounces sushi-grade ahi tuna
1 medium knob ginger, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced small
1 Fresno chile, diced small
4 scallions, sliced paper thin and rinsed
1 spoonful Sambal Oelek chile paste (available in Asian section of grocery store)
1 spoonful toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Cut tuna into ¼-inch cubes and mix together with rest of ingredients. Serve with favorite crackers or chips, on a salad, or over rice. Davis also suggests a squeeze of citrus to finish.