Big room with a view

The building that the Big Water Grille is housed in has seen quite a few tenants. In my six years at Tahoe, I can think of at least two restaurants that failed to make it there. The large, tiered dining room is well-designed to take full advantage of the excellent lake views. But it is also a huge space. Being situated in Incline Village, a small town with an economy that depends heavily on tourism, it is hard to keep the tables loaded throughout the year.

My friend Darolyn and I arrived there on a Thursday night after work without reservations. The bar had a few patrons. We were seated promptly at a table on the lowest level, the front row for lake views. Our busboy arrived quickly with water and bread, and Dan, our friendly, personable server, followed soon after with the specials.

The menu is inventive and colorful, with a style the restaurant refers to as “American contemporary cuisine with Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences.” Fish and game abound, with choices such as the grilled venison flank with wild rice and Szechuan pepper whisky sauce ($22) or the Hawaiian ahi poke with fried wonton chips ($10).

Darolyn, who hails from Montana, started with one of the specials, a roasted portobello mushroom soup with goat cheese and hazelnuts ($8). I, with California still in my blood, had the Sonoma Valley salad—mixed baby greens served with herbs, heirloom tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese and hazelnuts ($7). The soup was excellent; the goat cheese, floating in the middle of the bowl with the nuts sprinkled over, added just the right amount of excitement to the mild, flavorful mushrooms. The salad was fresh, light and left the palate clean.

As we waited for our entrées, I looked about the room a bit. Much of the glass is etched with modernized cave paintings. Each table is lit from above, while the seating near the bar has some handsome, blue-glass fixtures. The tables have clean white linens with blue water glasses.

When our entrees arrived, however, all eyes were on the table. Darolyn ordered a seared goat-cheese crusted rack of lamb ($26)—she likes goat cheese. I ordered one of the specials, a 16-ounce porterhouse ($34). The presentation of both dishes was exceptional. Darolyn’s lamb was seated upon a triangle of grilled polenta and surrounded by a minted demiglace, while my pound of beef was accompanied by a trio of red potatoes and a honey-mustard rosemary sauce.

My steak was an excellent cut, but I did have a few complaints. I ordered it medium rare, but there wasn’t a bit of red, or even pink, to be seen inside. It was definitely overcooked. I also found the sauce to be a bit heavy on the honey; the sweetness overpowered the mustard and rosemary hints. That said, however, the meal was still tasty. I enjoyed the dish despite my objections.

Darolyn’s lamb, however, was perfect.

For dessert, we shared key lime cheesecake, which was served with a kiwi coulis ($7). It satisfied our sweet teeth, but was nothing special.

At the end of our meal, the restaurant had filled up quite a bit, an encouraging sign on a weeknight. It seems the new owners know something about the tourist market, and with their inventive cuisine and gorgeous views, they’ve got a solid finisher in a competitive Lake Tahoe market.