“Yes, but I don’t feel like I’m in Aspen,” said my friend Sasha.
There’s a fine line between comfortable fine dining and the sort of ostentatious yuppie showiness associated with a certain Colorado ski resort town. Café Soleil in southwest Reno walks that line delicately. It boasts impressive city views, hip interiors (practically art deco—all sharp angles and dramatic, high-flying wooden beams) and stylishly presented gourmet dishes, yet it provides a casual, relaxed dining environment. It achieves this balance by way of friendly, unobtrusive service, comfortable ambience and food that, though it tends toward the “California cuisine” variety, is tasty without being too daring.
I visited Café Soleil recently with my girlfriend, Danielle, and our friends Sasha and Jamie. Danielle and Jamie both had salads from which I—out of professional interest—pilfered freely. Danielle had the mesclun pear salad ($7) with candied walnuts and blue cheese vinaigrette. It was good, but I preferred the very similar featured salad of the day ($8) that Jamie ordered; it was also a mesclun pear salad but featured a sherry chalet dressing and some soft, sweet goat cheese.
For the main event, I had the pan-roasted wild king salmon ($17) with morel mushrooms and snap peas, soaked in sorrel butter. A “wild king” is what I felt like after diving into this dish. It was prettily presented and the fish fresher than a spring daisy.
Danielle, after her customary lamenting of the lack of vegetarian options, had the tomato and basil Margherita pizza ($12), one of the many wood-oven-baked pizzas offered. Danielle usually won’t eat anything—not even something she really likes—without finding something to complain about. But the Margherita pizza had her pleasantly placated, and that’s high praise.
Sasha had the Soleil burger ($12), certified Angus beef with blue cheese on a grilled ciabatta roll. Sasha described the burger as “awesome, though the onion rings are a little stingy.” Indeed, the accompanying onion rings were scant, scrawny and unimpressive, which proves the age-old axiom: The nicer the restaurant, the lousier the onion rings.
Jamie had the fritto misto ($10), fried calamari and shrimp with lemons and aioli. Jamie said the fish was good, tangy and sweet, but that the aioli was “uninspired—there’s not even any garlic! How can you have aioli without any garlic?”
Danielle and I split a dessert: the chocolate brownie ice cream ($7), which was appropriately decadent.
The service was excellent, though we did have a long wait for the food. Our waitress apologized and offered some explanation to which I paid no attention (I was secretly glad to have the wait because I hadn’t been very hungry upon arrival). Despite this and a few other relatively minor complaints, we all agreed that dinner was excellent.
Café Soleil, which is under new ownership, has a pitch-perfect mix of class and comfort. The same goes for the food, which is good enough to startle but not necessarily unique enough to dazzle. And the view is superb (though on our recent visit we were, to my irritation, seated far from the large window overlooking the city). It’s pricey enough to grumble about, but certainly not so exorbitant as to encourage boycotts. It’s a nice place for an enjoyable evening of fine dining without feeling any need to impress with conspicuous displays of wealth or overly sophisticated taste.