Taking on the challenge of replacing a well regarded eatery, recently opened Washoe Public House is forging its own identity with a new chef/owner and menu, while retaining quite a bit of the charm and style that made its predecessor, SoDo Restaurant, so popular.
We started with the “Lost in Translation” ($12) and “How We Mule”($10) cocktails. The former’s blend of mezcal, agave, absinthe and both Angostura and grapefruit bitters was good, but the absinthe could be dropped. Its strong single note was mostly a distraction. However, the Mule was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted. The familiar mix of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer was dramatically elevated with a muddle of housemade blackberry-jalapeno jam—sweet, tart, zesty and pleasantly spicy.
We followed drinks with an order of coconut prawns ($10). The coconut and panko-encrusted shrimp were served with housemade orange marmalade and pickled radish on the side. Overall, it was a bit too sweet for me, but the shrimp were tender, and the radish provided a nice contrast.
Next was a serving of pork belly spring rolls ($8) stuffed with cilantro, pickled carrot, jalapeno, kimchi, hot and sweet mustard and an above-average peanut sauce. Every bite was a delight. Equally good was a plate of bibb lettuce poke wraps ($12), filled with fresh hamachi, housemade green sriracha, black sesame seed, bean sprout, cilantro and lime—fresh and tasty.
Classic arancini are small balls of risotto stuffed with ragu, peas, and mozzarella, deep-fried in Italian bread crumbs. This chef’s take ($4) is a simpler mix of risotto and peas, deep-fried in panko and served with a creamy gouda sauce. The bacon-enhanced sauce was a must, as the rice seemed a tad overcooked and the seasoning was mild-to-missing. Perhaps the chef purposely went bland with the morsels in order to showcase a knockout sauce.
Still unsated, we ordered a pair of memorable entrees. First, a sizeable bowl of fancy mac and cheese ($14) made with cavatappi pasta, jack, cheddar and smoked gouda cheeses, bacon and golden cherry tomato. I’ve tried a lot of classy takes on this favorite—and I’ve made a few at home—but this was something else. The spiral pasta was fun, the blend of cheeses work well together, but the savoriness of bacon combined with sweet tomato is what pushes it above and beyond. A side order of house-pickled vegetables ($4) turned out to be an excellent counterpoint.
Last was a dish of the sort that makes you wonder where it’s been all your life. I’ve grilled and smoked elk, made sauces and stews with it, enjoyed elk sausage, and am generally a fan of the large cervine. I don’t often write in flowery tones, so strap in. On this occasion, I was served one of the best prepared, best tasting examples of wild game I’ve experienced to date.
A double on-the-bone elk chop ($28) was cooked to a perfect medium rare, drizzled in a luxardo cherry demi-glace and set astride what was described as “lemon, fork-crushed potatoes,” dressed with grilled chunks of asparagus and fresh sprouts. The potato bites had a nice crusty exterior and pillowy interior, the hint of lemon adding an air of mystery. I can’t remember when I’ve had asparagus done so expertly. The sauce was an ideal complement to a perfectly cooked piece of high quality meat. I took my time and savored every bite.