Old West elegance

Photo by David Robert

Washoe Grill

4201 W 4th St.
Reno, NV 89503

(775) 786-1323

I sauntered up to the bar and had my usual Cosmopolitan—shaken, not stirred. “That’s a big dang bar,” Michael said. The bar inside Washoe is at least 30 feet long, bent in half at ninety degrees.

When the bartender set my pretty pink drink on the dark, heavily varnished bar next to Michael’s Campari Press, we were struck by the contrast—the first of many we noted.

Washoe is a big dang restaurant full of well-thought-out opposites, including a striking elegance in décor and presentation and a complete lack of pretense in atmosphere. It’s located on old Highway 40, just east of McCarran Boulevard. The wooden chairs are as dark as the bar and all the walls are white and covered with 19th century maps of the West and pictures of indigenous westerners. The subdued lighting and the kraft paper over white tablecloths on the tables tie the wood and sterile walls together in a brawny, comfortable way.

The restaurant feels like a true roadhouse, as if it’s the only meeting place for hundreds of miles, and everybody seems to be having a good time gathering and gabbing.

The food is utterly sublime. “Perfectamundo,” Michael said when he bit into his crab cakes appetizer ($15). He could taste the layers of flavors—hot from pureed red pepper sauce, sweet from the basil-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, savory, crusty, crabby. Definitely the best crab cakes he’s ever had.

My spinach and Napa cabbage with warm pancetta dressing ($6) was equally splendid. Again, there were layers of textures and flavors. The smoky, assertive pancetta against the acidity of the dressing, along with the crunchy cabbage and limp spinach, created a flavorful burst in my mouth at every bite.

When our entrées arrived, Michael said of my 2-inch thick grilled double center-cut pork chop ($21): “Look at the size of that thing; it’s like a section of two-by-four.”

My chop was so cooked to perfection—tender and juicy—that my eyes rolled back in my head when I took the first bite. I did pay my respects to the other items on my plate: a dish of delicious mango chutney for the pork, a heaping mound of homemade mashed potatoes and a pile of al dente baby green beans. I will dream about that husky pork chop for years.

Michael’s 14-ounce New York steak ($24) was not the showstopper my pork was, but it was chewy with lots of flavor. It was served with a baked potato with a ton of butter, sour cream and chives and a serving of the baby green beans. Our entrées were served with a choice of soup du jour or house salad.

As always, we saved room for dessert. Michael ordered the crème brulée ($5), which was served in a ramekin dish on a piece of kraft paper in the center of the standard Washoe white plate. The 4-inch brulée was covered with a stained glass-like shell of caramelized sugar, and was everything a classic crème brulée should be.

Had my bread pudding ($5.25) been served by itself, I would have been happy, but it arrived in a pool of warm whiskey with butter sauce that was out of this world. The texture and flavors of the pudding were right on the nut—who knew butter and whiskey could combine like that. What a discovery.

Our server, Sarah, took care of our needs, then left us alone, giving us plenty of time to savor each course with no rush.

Being at Washoe is like leaving town for some classy cowboy joint in the middle of nowhere where you can have an intimate meal and conversation miles from home.