Laugh it up
Whim Café800 W. Second St.
Reno, NV 89503
The first thing I heard walking into Whim Café on a recent Saturday evening with my wife, Kat, and her mother, Pam, was laughter pouring from the kitchen. This seemed particularly fitting given that the first thing that caught my eyes was the word “laugh” hanging on the wall. When our server appeared, her energy and cordiality were so infectious I found myself smiling too. She let us sit wherever we liked, told us to relax and enjoy ourselves because having a good time is what Whim Café is all about.
Whim Café is the food-serving arm of Back of the House cooking school. Learning how to cook awesome food is one thing, but having that food cooked and served up for you is a different type of wonderful. For two years, they’ve been serving lunch, and now at the request of fans are serving dinner from their quaint renovated cottage on West Second Street. Inside, it feels like a mix between a country kitchen and a Williams-Sonoma: Almost everything from our table centerpiece to the homemade gourmet foods filling the hutches along the walls is for sale.
My seat wasn’t even warm yet when a plate of baked goat cheese topped with tomato sauce and served with triangles of crispy toasted bread ($7) appeared, compliments of the chef. This was truly a treat, tangy and creamy, and gone far too quickly. Usually I only get free stuff in reparation for some wrongdoing, so my only explanation for this move is that they like the food, and they want to share.
The ever-changing menu reflects the owner, Barbara’s, intrigue with “small plates,” like the bacon and bleu slider trio ($12) or the shot of cream of jalapeño soup and petite grilled jack cheese ($6). That evening we each ordered one of the three entrée-sized plates. Pam chose the boursin stuffed chicken with a limoncello sauce, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus ($14) and Kat the meatloaf with parmesan mashed potatoes and truffled green beans ($14). Pam ferociously guarded that chicken with a grin on her face and only allowed me one small, savory bite, which tasted a lot like cream cheese in a chicken thigh.
Kat was more generous, allowing me two bites of her bacon-wrapped meatloaf. It came out a little ingloriously covered in ketchup and looked like what Mom used to make, but each bite was perfection and tasted closer to what I imagine Paula Deen’s kids ate throughout childhood.
I ordered the beef stroganoff with a side salad ($16). I don’t usually rave about salads, but this one filled with spinach, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, feta cheese, bacon and topped with the homemade Vidalia onion and peppercorn dressing deserves it. The stroganoff was such a comforting treat, and they nailed the sauce, which was rich and creamy without being overpoweringly so, and they did not skimp on small bites of beef that just melted away in my mouth.
I ordered dessert thinking this place walked on water, and then they tripped up. We each ordered the Whim sweet trio ($6), which that evening was a mouthful of lemon bar, Basque chocolate cake and homemade pistachio ice cream. Fabulous ice cream, but the other two were dry.
Both Kat and her mom were totally blissed-out when we left and rightfully so. Whim is an incredibly fun place to eat. However, while my soul left satisfied, my stomach needed more. Their meals definitely focus on substance over size, which just means a hungry man like myself might have to order seconds from their fantastic menu.