The North Shore area of Lake Tahoe boasts a plethora of interesting cafes, restaurants, bistros and coffeehouses. This makes it a fun place to tinker around on the weekend, and it makes it a playground for those with gustatory inclinations. The Soule Domain Restaurant strives to tickle whatever fancy you may have.
Tony and I arrived on a cool evening to find the log cabin restaurant warmly lit and half full. Even for the cozy size of the place, they still managed to accommodate a reasonably large party in one of the rooms. A small wedding party, complete with a fully decked-out bride, took up part of the main dining room where we were seated. Despite the rustic look of the log walls and the beamed ceiling, the linens were pale pink with black octagonal plates. It struck me as vaguely 1980s in its cosmopolitan departure from the rural surroundings.
The menu is self-described as “Creative American Cuisine,” which basically means that chef/owner Charles Edward Soule IV has taken liberties with just about every style of food you can imagine and tossed it together. The result is a bizarre fusion of Pacific Rim and Mediterranean influences that make for some intense flavor combinations. I had to study the menu at length before I came up with a series of courses that wouldn’t clash. The upside is that great effort has obviously been made to please the palates of vegetarian patrons, with many dishes being non-dairy, low cholesterol and meatless.
The wine list is reasonably priced, although the interesting Voigner we tried opened up as it warmed and revealed its residual sugars in an unseemly way. I guess it was my fault for bucking the system and ordering something other than Cabernet Sauvignon.
For appetizers, I tried one of the evening’s specials: lobster wontons in a soy/ginger broth ($10). While the wontons were colorfully presented, they were a bit scant on filling and a bit over-sauced for my taste. They were also accompanied by two unidentified (and unnecessary) spicy dipping sauces. One was so loaded with horseradish as to completely obliterate any hint that delicate lobster was the intended pairing.
Tony started with the soft-shell crab, which was dipped in cornmeal and pan-fried with roasted garlic, pistachios, almonds and cashew butter ($10). While the plate was attractive enough, the star ingredient was just a bit late in the season, making it more leathery than buttery soft, as it should be.
Soup came next, and that evening it was a veggie-based puree with yellow corn and squash. While it needed garnish, it had a light, satisfying flavor.
Tony’s entrée was the pork tenderloin, roasted with fresh tarragon balsamic vinegar and shallot butter ($20). What sounded like a refined, herbaceous dish ended up being one-dimensional. Tarragon is nice, but that doesn’t mean more tarragon is better.
I had similar luck with my linguine ($15). The menu indicated that the artichoke and proscuitto sauté would contain tomatoes, olives and mushrooms in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It sounds light, but it was more tomato-intensive than I hoped and contained so many olives that the dish had a briny quality.
The anticipated entrees were a bit of a letdown after an almost interminable wait between courses. Our server was rather tepid with us, saving all of his homespun charm for just about every other table in the room. Must have been a chemistry thing. That and the fact that he was the only server in the place, which was reasonably busy.
Dessert was a pleasant denouement, as we chose simple fresh berries with white chocolate sauce ($5). Strawberries and blueberries are so nice that way; I almost hate to see the season be finally over.
Taking a drive up to Lake Tahoe for dinner is one of the great perks of living in Reno. Right now, the fall leaves are rendering the drive all the more lovely. That such a splendid view of a full moon reflected brightly on the lake is within such a short drive is a wonderful thing indeed.