Legendary chef Traci Des Jardins heads The Ritz-Carlton Highlands’ stunning restaurant.
Morphing from a timber farm to one of the north shore’s finest dining experiences, the location of Traci Des Jardins’ Lake Tahoe restaurant is steeped in local food tradition. It was in just this place, more than100 years ago, that loggers and winter sports enthusiasts packed their tins with bread, salted fish, and dried meats. The simple lunch provided fuel and a much-needed break for those working and playing on the mountain.
Traci Des Jardins knows firsthand the importance of partaking in sustenance in this impressive landscape. In addition to being an accomplished chef, Des Jardins is a proficient and enthusiastic skier. She has been visiting the region for decades. So when Ritz-Carlton managers approached her to develop its flagship restaurant in the new Ritz-Carlton Highlands hotel just outside of Truckee, she jumped at the chance.
After months of anticipation, in December 2009 Tahoe residents and visitors got their first look at Des Jardins’ vision: Manzanita. The restaurant is nestled within an exceptional resort (the area’s first five-star property) that capitalizes on outstanding views and incorporates a design that is reminiscent of such historical Lake Tahoe spots as the Thunderbird Lodge. The color scheme is drawn from the mountains that surround it. With rock accents and a 55-foot granite fireplace in the guest lobby, the $300 million Ritz-Carlton Highlands takes visitors back to Lake Tahoe’s former grandeur.
Developers tapped into the genius of one of Northern California’s most acclaimed chefs to oversee the restaurant. Des Jardins began her food history on a farm in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, about 45 miles west of Fresno, where her father grew sugar beets, cotton, and rice. After dropping out of college, she began a culinary career that has taken her through some of the most acclaimed kitchens. In 1997, she opened Jardinière, where her French-California cuisine developed a following that endures today. In the meantime, she’s won virtually every important cooking award, including the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef of the region. And she even defeated renowned New York City chef Mario Batali on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America.
It is this style paired with her understanding of Lake Tahoe that is reflected on the plate at Manzanita.
“The menu is influenced by the area,” she says. “There’s always an influence of place in whatever I do. This will be food that is to be consumed primarily by people who have been exercising a lot. So that will have a bearing on the composition of our menu.”
Sharing the spotlight
Des Jardins brought an important part of her team with her. Reylon Agustin is the young, energetic chef de cuisine at Manzanita. He is the perfect choice for the job. He worked his way through the kitchen at Des Jardins’ flagship restaurant Jardinière. On his rare breaks from work in the city, he would pack up the car and head to his family’s home in Round Hill on Lake Tahoe’s south shore.
Des Jardins and Agustin say the essence of Manzanita is sophisticated food within a casual, elegant setting. They both believe that the food should be as local as possible.
“Quality goes hand in hand with all the different aspects of being local and sustainable,” she says. “With local and sustainable you are creating a community around you; you are supporting growers and farmers and producers who are in your area, so you create little economic centers that support the immediate surroundings.”
They admit that they have a lot to learn about what is locally Reno-Tahoe. But Agustin has already frequented the farmers’ markets in Tahoe City and Truckee. He plans to gather ingredients from both, visit farms throughout the area, and even offer a farmers’ market cooking class series in the restaurant this spring.
It is an exciting time for food in our region. With great Lake Tahoe chefs such as Des Jardins and Agustin; Mark Estee of Moody’s, Baxter’s, and Burger Me in Truckee; Billy McCollough of Dragonfly in Truckee; and Doug Dale of Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City leading the charge, it is only a matter of time before people will come to the area for more than just the beautiful mountain scenery. They will come for the beautiful and dynamic scenery on the plate.
Manzanita is located at the Ritz-Carlton Highlands, above Northstar ski resort in Truckee. It is open for lunch and dinner. For reservations, call 530-562-3000. For details on the menu, visit Ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/LakeTahoe/Dining/manzanita/Menu.
Jennifer Bushman has written three cookbooks under her Kitchen Coach™ series and is a James Beard nominee. She has a syndicated cooking show and has made national television appearances on the Today Show, Life and Style, and Tony Danza.
A selection from the dinner menu
Foie Gras Terrine with Quince Chutney, Marcona, Almonds, and Sauterne Gelee
Smoked Salmon Carpaccio with Lucques Olives, Meyer Lemon and Herb Salad
Little Gem Lettuces with Roasted Chioggia Beets, Chevre, and Winter Citrus
Housemade Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Steelhead Salmon with Celery Root, Roasted Chioggia Beets, and Mustard Greens
Red Wine Braised Short ribs with Horseradish Potato Purée and Herb Salad
Moroccan Tagine with Cous Cous, Chickpeas, and Dried Apricots, Cumin-Scented Pine Nuts
Five Dot Ranch Rib Eye with Potato Gratin, Braised Greens and Sauce Bordelaise
Apple Tarte Tatin with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream
Warm Bread Pudding with Kumquat Marmalade and Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Butternut Squash Souffle with Mascarpone and Brown Sugar Ice Cream
A selection from the lunch menu
Liberty Farms Duck Meatballs with Mission Figs and Lucques Olives
Dungeness Crab Sliders with Pickled Mango, Jalapeño, and Arugula
Salad Lyonnaise with Frisee, Fingerling Potatoes, Smoked Bacon, Crispy Farm Egg
Maine Diver Scallops with Potato Mousseline and Black Truffle Nage
Five Dot Ranch Grass-Fed Burger with Housemade Pickles, Smoked Bacon, and Pommes Frites
Manzanita Sandwich of Pulled Pork, Baby Lettuce, and Apple-Raisin Relish
Braised Pork Belly with Butternut Squash, Celery Root Purée, and Fried Sage
Warm Bread and Baby Artichoke Salad with Marinated Crescenza
1 loaf French bread, crust removed
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
12 baby artichokes
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped Italian Parsley
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped basil
9 ounces Crescenza (Fresh Mozzarella may be substituted)
¼ pound of salad greens, washed and spun dry (the mixture should consist of hardy greens i.e. arugula, mizuna, treviso, or radicchio)
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon cut basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tear the bread into small pieces and set aside.
Remove the tough outer leaves and the choke from the baby artichokes and place them into water with the juice of 1 lemon. Slice and immediately sauté over medium high heat in the pure olive oil. Add the garlic and rosemary to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. Season well with salt and pepper. Place onto a cookie sheet to cool.
Mix together the extra virgin olive oil and the chopped herbs. Cover the cheese with the oil and herb mixture and season with salt and pepper. This step should be done the prior day if possible.
Place the greens into a mixing bowl along with the herbs. Make a vinaigrette by placing the two vinegars into a mixing bowl and slowly adding in the oil while whisking, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place a sauté pan over medium high heat, add the bread and cook until golden brown and crispy, about four minutes. Add the baby artichokes and cook for another minute or until they are hot. Place into the bowl of greens and toss with the vinaigrette, season to taste with salt and pepper. Place three small pieces of the crescenza down onto six individual plates and place a mound of salad into the center of each plate.