Restaurants to rave about

Local places with good food

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We have a lot of restaurants and food establishments all over the Reno area, and it can be a daunting task to try to figure out where to eat when you want to try something new, or even what to eat at a new place. We’ve served up some of the last year’s prime cuts from our food critics, Dave Preston, K.J. Sullivan and Todd South, and trimmed off the fat for you.

Anna’s Mexican Grill

9570 S. McCarran Blvd., 384-1675

Contradictions can be a good thing. For instance, Mexican food can be simple and hearty, or a complex mix of flavor and technique. The fare at Anna’s Mexican Grill manages to be both, sometimes simultaneously on the same plate.

When you sit down for Mexican cuisine, your first expectation is to be served chips and salsa picante. Instead, within a minute or two of being seated, we were served warm gorditas—crispy-yet-soft pillows of corn flour—topped with sour cream and grated Cotija cheese. I love good chips and salsa, but those gorditas are a brilliant introduction to a memorable meal.

When we first discovered Anna’s a couple of years ago, I ordered a pork enchilada and chile relleno combo ($7.99) with a ceviche tostada on the side ($4.99), while my wife ordered chicken fajitas ($12.25) with corn tortillas. Both dinners were served with guacamole, sour cream, rice and refried beans. The fajitas were flavorful, the enchilada and relleno were tasty, and the extras were all quite good. However, the ceviche was a knock-out. I’ve made ceviche at home, ordered plenty of it at restaurants, but was blown away by Anna’s tasty, crisp tostada tortilla holding up well under the perfectly-cured fish, avocado and seasonings. It was really, really good.

Among the “Dinner for Two” menu selections is the molcajete ($21.99). A molcajete is a carved lava-rock mortar (i.e. mortar and pestle, sans pestle), traditionally used by pre-Hispanic Mexican cultures for both preparing foods as well as serving them. As with cast iron, the molcajete does a great job of keeping Anna’s special concoction of chicken, steak, chorizo, shrimp, onion, peppers, melted cheese and “special sauce” piping hot at the table, perfect for filling warm corn tortillas with guacamole, sour cream, rice, beans, and a choice of house-made salsa picante. The shrimp was a standout item within the symphony—perfectly cooked, plenty of flavor, not too tough. This is tricky to accomplish in this kind of dish, and a testament to the chefs’ skill.

As if to say, “thanks so much for visiting us,” a complimentary slice of tres leche cake arrived along with the check. The cake was moist, not too sweet and the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

Asian Paradise

1131 Steamboat Parkway, 870-1788

Off Steamboat Parkway, next to the Starbucks, is a paradise for Asian cuisine, including Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Korean food. This upscale eatery is the creation of Tony and Amanda Chang, who moved to the U.S. from Taiwan in 2008 and relocated from northern California to Reno, opening Asian Paradise in November 2012.

There’s a lot on the menu ($9-$19), including standard Chinese fare, but there’s also a very creative and original special menu that caught my eye. Under the appetizers, a moon shrimp cake ($8) was a combination of shrimp, pork and cilantro in an egg roll skin sliced like a small pizza. I dipped it in a very elegant plum sauce and got a savory, minty sweet mouth full of tastebud pleasure.

Another special menu item I tried was the spicy fish fillet ($16). It was a Basa fish from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, and it was a firm but flaky morsel that was coated with an amazing hot sauce. Besides red, yellow and green peppers, it was cooked in hot oil and the fish was dusted with black peppercorns. Ginger and those little crimson peppers about the size of the end of your pinky added a kick that made your mouth take notice. I can’t get over how well the fish held that savory hot flavor, and the consistency was really a treat for the palate—a black peppery satisfying sizzle for the saliva glands.

Changing direction on that special menu, I went for the Peking sauce pork ($13) because it was a sweet dish. The pork was firm and very moist, with a slightly sweet glaze that does not overwhelm the tenderness of the pork. You put the meat and some onions in rice flour pancakes and eat it mu-shu style. It was mildly sweet and savory and very satisfying. Tony Chang takes pride in the fact that many of the items on his menu are unique to his restaurant.

Just when you’re bored of Chinese restaurants that are all chow mien and fried rice with no substance, this place might be your remedy. You’ll definitely find some razzle-dazzle on your plate.

Babe Matteri’s

7665 Town Square, Reno, 622-9945

For whatever reason, I believed that Babe Matteri’s was an Italian restaurant—my age catching up to me, I guess. The menu offers many more choices than simply Italian. Fish and chips, burgers, seafood and pork chops were just a few options available. I was in the mood for Italian food, so I went with the mushroom and spinach raviolis ($14.95), which were listed as being house-made. I also decided to start with a Caesar salad ($6.25) and asked them to split it between Brett and me. He chose to go with the Black Angus steak ($21.95).

On our waiter’s recommendation, we decided to go with a bottle of Tre Done Barbera ($32). The wine was excellent. The flavor was smooth and rich, and it took a lot to not finish the entire thing off before the food arrived. Luckily, the Caesar arrived along with a plate of toasted sourdough bread. There was oil and balsamic on the table for dipping, but why bother when Babe Matteri’s serves the bread with garlic parmesan butter? The butter was creamy and garlicky, and I basically started eyeing everything to see what I could spread on it.

When our entrees arrived, I was pleased with the large raviolis placed in front of me. They were stuffed with Portobello mushrooms, spinach and cheese and lay in a bath of brown butter. I loved the flavor of the raviolis, but I felt there was actually too much butter in the dish because it masked the flavor of the pasta a bit. Brett’s humongous Angus steak (12 ounces) was perfectly cooked and tasted amazing. This was probably one of the best steaks I’ve had. He added sautéed mushrooms that were tender and plentiful.

Bistro Habanero

1196 S. Rock Blvd., 857-3550

Not many of us can imagine leaving the place of our birth because a civil war threatened our very existence; David Arevalo can. He fled Sonsonate, El Salvador, in 1990 and landed in Reno. Now he’s living the American dream, owning this small eatery and cherishing every moment.

Everything is made when ordered. The recipes are original, and everything is house-made, something Arevalo assured with proud enthusiasm. Tortilla soup ($2.99 cup-$4.99) caught my eye. With a fish stock, fresh vegetables, chicken pieces and crisp corn strips, it was subtle with a slightly savory-spicy flavor that make me think “mm-mm good” but not too bold for my taste buds.

I’m always looking for a good fish taco ($1.99 each), and I tried both deep fried and grilled. My standard-of-measure is based on what I get on the docks in Cabo, a must when off the tip of Baja. Both were served with a mango salsa on doubled, six-inch soft corn taco shells.

The mango salsa, with a little cilantro, red onion, lime juice and chopped tomato, was mildly spiced. Most Salvadoran dished are not heavily spiced, and many seasoning profiles have a slight sweetness. I’ll take the grilled fish, just my preference, but the deep fried had a Corona beer batter and both had plenty of flavor savory with a hint of sweet.

The real treat came with the traditional Salvadoran pupusas ($1 each). A pupusa is a dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla using masa de maíz, corn dough made from hominy. These were about six inches in diameter with your choice of fillings such as pork, bean, cheese, zucchini, spinach or Loroco flower. Loroco flower has a distinctive taste, a highly aromatic, earthy, artichoke-like flavor with overtones of nuts.

Pupusas are traditionally served with curtido, a pickled cabbage relish, analogous to German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi that comes in mild and spicy varieties, this was a bit spicy, since jalapenos were used. These are served all day. I went with rebuelta (pork, beans and rice) and queso con calabaza (cheese and zucchini). There is a tomato sauce for dipping, and again, not over powering in flavor rather a slightly acidic complement. Attention foodies, put this on your “must try” list. They were delicious, with exceptional savory flavor profiles true to the stuffing ingredients.

This is more than a story about food; it’s a story of one immigrant’s belief that America is the land of opportunity. Pull up a chair and prove him right.

Brickie’s Tavern

706 W. Second St., 322-8298

I’ve heard good things about their burgers and chili dogs, but our visit was all about the breakfast menu. Served only on weekend mornings, the menu is short and simple (ranging between $8-$11 a plate) with four-egg omelets, huevos rancheros, breakfast sandwiches, and the classic plate of eggs with meat of your choice (ham, bacon, sausage, hamburger steak), fried potatoes and toast. However, my eyes were immediately drawn to the large print on the menu declaring, “Ask about our breakfast specials,” which is where the real action is.

My wife ordered the biscuits, and I got the chicken-fried steak, which are two dishes we often order to evaluate a new breakfast experience. We shared a nibble of each other’s meal, then shared a momentary sense of, “I should have ordered what you did.” The eggs were cooked perfectly over-medium, the cubed and seasoned fried potatoes were far better than most I’ve been served (crispy outside, fluffy inside), the bacon was thick-cut and crispy without being overcooked, but, holy moly, those biscuits were a real surprise. Huge, fluffy, delicious. The country gravy was pretty good, if a bit blander than I’d like, but that’s what the salt and pepper shakers are for, right? The chicken-fried steak had great flavor, but required a little more effort to cut with a fork than the best examples of this diner classic. Still, it’s among my current list of Top Five chicken-fried steaks available in Reno, and it’s not like I had to resort to using a knife. Or left a single bite on my plate.

I’ve heard good things about their hash as well as the chili-cheese omelet, so a return visit—or 12—is definitely in the cards. Brickie’s is the kind of place that just exudes an “only in Nevada” vibe. I know there are plenty of great “greasy spoons” across the country, but not with a 24-7 bar culture where you can party all night, then get a stick-to-your-ribs hangover-curing breakfast the next morning in the same place you got hammered. Even if you’re a teetotaller who never sets foot in a saloon, you’re going to love your breakfast at Brickie’s.

Brothers Barbecue

463 Roberts St., 384-3547

There are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of barbecue styles and methods in practice around the globe, and just within the U.S., there are dozens of regional varieties. Brothers Barbecue claims to be serving “Texas style,” and I’d say it’s akin to that of Central Texas—dry-rub spice blends (with finishing sauce on the side), plenty of hardwood smoke, chopped rather than sliced meats, and simple, minimal, side dishes. I’m a big fan of Deep South sides—collard greens, fried okra, hush puppies, oh my!—but Central Texas is all about the meat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Brothers Barbecue is a family affair, drawing on two generations of grilling and smoking expertise. Having operated a catering and food truck business for several years, the family recently decided to take the plunge and open a sit-down smoke shack.

Sandwiches and mixed bowls are available, but my wife and I went with a couple of plate meals ($7-$13, including two sides and a roll), as well as a couple of orders of “barbecue by the pound” ($5-$24) to sample and take home. Brothers’ beef brisket is among the best I’ve had from a Reno smokehouse. Chopped and moist, with just enough bark to add flavored texture, and plenty of smoke.

The pulled pork was less dramatic, with little bark and less smoke, yet perfectly pulled, moist, and with plenty of porky goodness. The St. Louis-cut pork ribs were just plain perfect, at least in my book. Great dry-rub bark, and though totally tender had just enough hang-on-the-bone to provide nice “bite and pull” action. Some folks think ribs should slide off the bone, but I think they’re best when they have just a bit of fight left in them. All three of the meats we sampled were perfectly delicious as-is, but the two house-made finishing sauces sent them over the top. The milder sauce was tangy without being too sweet, full of flavor, yet the habanero sauce was something special. I’ve been told my homemade barbecue sauce is pretty good, but Brothers’ spicy sauce is damned near perfect. Hot, but not too hot. Complex flavors that match just right with the dry spice rub cooked into the meat. If Brothers’ bottles and sells that sauce retail, I may quit making my own.

Chez Louie

160 W. Liberty St., 284-2921

Don’t let the name fool you. It’s a very imaginative menu with a petite French flair. A small, simple eatery with seating inside for 40 but adding the foyer of the Nevada Museum of Art, there’s room for another 80. They offer a small spirits bar and a small, but well thought out, wine and beer list.

Chez also has a quartet of unique cocktails like French ’75 ($9): gin, lemon juice, Prosecco served over ice, or the Rue de la Liberte ($9) brandy, lemon juice, Elderberry liqueur, orange liqueur, sugar rim served up. Old Pal ($10) is bourbon, Campari, dry vermouth served up, and I decided to try the Ginger City ($9) vodka, ginger liqueur, lime juice, cranberry juice served up ($9). It was pink and tart with a little bite from the ginger and like the others, meant to be fun.

The big thrust is lunch, and it’s tailored more toward a lot of flavors and textures, and not over-served portions. There are also a few starters ($9-$15), soups ($8), salads ($7-$14); a kids menu ($8) and the main courses ($10-$16), painting a mental picture of tantalizing morsels with descriptive adjectives foodies will appreciate.

The chef eagerly presented me with the Parisian gnocchi ($13), and the aroma alone was sublime before the first bite. Not the traditional potato pillows, rather a puree of pumpkin and butternut squash-type pasta, poached and served atop some blanched, finely shaved Brussels sprouts, with fresh bacon bits, pumpkin seeds and some crisped Brussels sprout leaves surrounded by a Sherry gastrique. The savory from the gourd dumplings, the texture and flavor of the delicate vegetables accented with the bacon treated my palate to a creamy medley of hearty yet delicate tastes.

The menu will change with the seasons, and specials are at the chef’s discretion and imagination.

Choosing a wine from a simple list was easy; most are by-the-glass ($8-$12). The bottle list covers a spectrum ($31-$230). I went with the 2012 Domaine St. Rose Rousanne-Marsanne-Viognier white blend, all elegant grapes. These grapes from southern France were picked at night to protect the juice. The nose is white melon, pear drops and sweet vanilla. In your mouth good acidity and balance up front is followed by rich, caramel flavors and a lush, almost creamy mouth feel.

Dorinda’s Chocolates

727 Riverside Drive, 432-2024

When she was just 12 years old, Dorinda Vance mastered the art of making chocolate-covered cherries. Now her childhood passion has become her life-long dream.

She handcrafts everything. Her cherries are Maraschino cherries (five for $10) rolled in butter cream and dipped in Belgian Chocolate. This cocktail condiment never tasted so good, with a texture that congeals perfectly with the chocolate—four chomps and its goodness pleases your palate and delights your stomach.

Sea salt caramel truffle—every piece of candy is about $1.80—is an awarding-winning bite. Honey undertones pop from this smooth, light and non-sticky caramel. A light layer of Malden sea salt tops the Valrhona dark chocolate. Valrhona is French luxury chocolate manufacturer based in the small town in Hermitage, a wine-growing district near Lyon—this is Vance’s source of dark, milk, white and dolce chocolate. The sea salt balances the sweetness of the honey caramel with a saltier tang.

“Mint Melt Away” (12 for $22), creamy and smooth, is made of milk chocolate and peppermint oil, creating a melt-in-your-mouth experience—no chewing required. This is a close-your-eyes-and-smile experience. Then there’s the “Hub Espresso Truffle” (12 for $22) if you want a caffeine fix, look no further. Made of dark chocolate and an Ethiopian roast espresso bean provided by Hub Coffee Roasters right next door.

The “Kraken” (12 for $22) is a crunchy yet smooth European-style chocolate that envelops a hazelnut praline biscotti crunch. It melts in your mouth on the first bite, complementing the light snap of the biscotti. Texture that teases the taste buds with divine goodness.

Do you remember the first time you had a really good piece of chocolate? I mean the good stuff, not the sort you steal from your kid’s Halloween stash. I’m talking about the kind of chocolate that melts slowly on your tongue, and tastes like berries or citrus, maybe even with a hint of coffee at the end.

Learning to distinguish between candy chocolate and fine chocolate isn’t as hard as you might think, but it does involve all five senses, and by the time you had this adventure, you’ll have developed a sixth sense for understanding, appreciating and tasting chocolate. Dorinda’s is the place for this memorable, mouth-watering enlightenment.

Homage Bakery

519 Ralston St., 323-8952

Trained as a classical musician, Nicholle Alumbaugh opened her bakery in December 2011, and has been able to make a symphony of classical, nouveau, and original delight with discipline, concentration and passion.

Her compositions began with 100-percent-from-scratch small batch fine pastries and espresso. The repertoire has moved to 49 varieties of cream, meringue, chiffon and fruit pies; cakes referred to as “entremets” (serves 6 to 10, $42) that have names like Mogador, 24-Karat, Chanel and Cherise. These plaisirs célestes have ingredients like passion fruit gelee, cassis mousse, espresso-soaked vanilla cake and caramel corn.

Lunch is a new amenity at Homage. I had an opus: sprouted mung bean salad ($11) filled with snap peas, shaved carrots, radish, cabbage, celery, red peppers and cucumber with a honey-ginger vinaigrette. Mung beans are light yellow in color native to the Indian subcontinent about the size of a young sweet peas and have a fairly dense structure. Healthy, crunchy, earthy fiber with a nice hint of sweet ginger—a vegan delight

Then, I had a black bean burger ($12), with sprouts, pickled onions, avocado, yellow pepper, ketchup, cilantro, and lime on a house-made Kaiser roll. This was a fugue worthy of Bach, a big composition in flavor. The reoccurring flavor of the bean married with so many other tastes and texture and the crescendo of the sauce created the perfect chord—music in my mouth. The ginger pumpkin soup ($3), with rich, distinct orange gourd flavor and a ginger accent, ended this movement gracefully.

The second movement of this food symphony came as Croque Madame ($12), a waffle made from croissant dough, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese with an egg sunny-side up and a Mornay sauce—simple but fortissimo in flavor.

I had two encores. The first was a strawberry-basil pot de créme ($5), a loose French dessert custard dating to the 17th century. It was sweet and creamy, with fresh-cut berries and the accent of the basil gave it a minty, almost aromatic finish, something I wasn’t expecting, but it created a “wow” factor.

Encore two was a lemon posset ($3.25), which refers to an old English drink similar to a simple pudding. This was rich and just tart enough, with lemon notes that left my taste buds satisfied and not puckered.

Alumbaugh’s inspiration for this bakery is her love of life, baking and cooking for friends, old and new, producing beautiful food and pastry. Her compositions are melodic artistry for the taste buds and her homage to food and life.

Lanna Thai Café

4786 Caughlin Parkway, 284-1080

Chef Pim Marshall’s passion comes from growing up cooking with her mother in Chiang Mai, in the northern part of Thailand (Lanna means people of the north). She cooks every dish to order, making sure that each bite has the traditional taste.

Lanna has a good variety on its menu, with traditional appetizers ($6-$8), salads ($10-$15), curry ($11.95-$15), and soup ($10-$15), and a good selection of traditional entrees ($10-$15).

A noodle salad ($10), just coming on the menu, was my first adventure—thin rice noodles with fresh ginger, Thai chilies, green and red bell peppers, green onions, a little tofu and chicken, and a light brown sauce that was a bit tart but also finished savory—these are signature Thai flavors.

Goong Opp Woon Sen ($15) is a traditional dish: bean noodles with shrimp, scallions, peppercorn, garlic, green onions, ginger and cilantro root. It’s a medley of textures and flavors, defining the elegance and flavors of this food. It congealed with aromatic tastes and textures ranging from smooth to chewy, satisfying as well as intriguing to the palate.

Salmon bites ($12) were next and the most unique dish I tried. Little morsels of salmon rolled in corn starch, pan fried and steamed and served with Pim’s homemade Thai teriyaki sauce, Korean mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Again, aromatic flavors with a hint of sweet caused these salmon bites to almost melt in my mouth, turning somewhat cream-like with the thick sauce.

Since I like heat, curry was the next obvious choice, and I went for the “five star”—the hottest. Panang beef ($11.95) carries with it flavors and aromas of Malaysia, India and Burma. Death Valley in mid-July is cool by comparison.

For dessert, mango sticky rice ($6) is a popular dish in Southeast Asia in countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It’s a dessert dish where sticky rice is cooked by steaming, and sweetened with coconut milk and sugar. Slices of mango are put on the plate, and then you enjoy. For anyone with a sweet tooth, this is nirvana.

Thai food is harmony. It is a blend between centuries-old Western and Eastern influences that make it into something unique.

Marty’s café

10115 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Calif., (530) 550-8208

There are a lot of places to eat in old Truckee and when a friend suggested I try this place because it was an “original,” I grabbed a buddy and made the trek on a beautiful fall Saturday. Sitting next to the train station, at the end of a long, green building, is this little 28-seat, plank-floored, funky, hodge-podge of tables eatery. People were waiting for a table since it’s first-come, first-served. In all my years of tucking a napkin in to chow down, people waiting has always been a good indicator of the food to come, especially since there are so many restaurants within a stone’s throw—why wait?

Marty’s Cafe is a breakfast-lunch joint, and the menu for breakfast ($3-$14) has some standards, some classics and some originals. Lunch ($9-$16) has a sandwich theme—hoagies, sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs—covering the gambit of classics, up-scale, themed and originals. All items are served all day, and the sandwiches have a choice of sides of potato salad, Italian macaroni salad, mixed green salad or kettle chips.

If you’re looking for stick-to-your-ribs, plentiful food, this is the place. I studied the hoagies ($12 half, $16 whole).

Katie’s was a leading contender. It was built with mortadella, Genoa salami, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, and house-made sun-dried tomato spread on a Truckee sourdough roll, but then my eye wondered and beheld a house-made meatloaf sandwich ($14), which got the call. It was loaded with caramelized onions, chipotle ketchup, topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato on a nice, long house roll.

It was my grandmother’s meatloaf all over again, with the added touch of the caramelized onions that gave it a nice touch of sweet with the southwest flair of the chipotle pulled together by the cheese.

My buddy went for the green chili and chorizo breakfast burrito ($14), a Mt. Rose of a meal. Two eggs, Spanish rice, tomatillo salsa, guacamole, sour cream and green chilies rolled into a 12-inch flour tortilla. Everything was very fresh, and the flavors were tart with the savory acidity of the tomatoes smooth out by the avocado and sour cream. The green chilies definitely tantalized the taste buds.

The ladies of the wait staff are super nice and very accommodating. Things like brie are used in omelets, there’s a house-made Granola ($9), Israeli couscous ($9), and Chicago-style hot dogs ($12).

Chef Marty Carlton reveals that the secret of cooking at Marty’s Cafe is about “simplicity at its finest—using common ingredients that the everyday customer can recognize, while still trying to be innovative.”

Oxbow Café & Bistro

2365 Dickerson Road, 453-1160

Follow Second Street west beyond Keystone Avenue past the Chism Mansion, and it turns into Dickerson Road. It’s a mostly industrial area that’s developing into an artsy neighborhood, and that’s what attracted Kathleen Austin and her husband, Greg. They were landlords in the area, and their 30-year tenant with an auto mechanic shop said enough. That was Kathleen’s ah-ha moment. She always wanted to own a restaurant.

Oxbow eggs Benedict ($7.95) was up first. What stood out was the more-than-a-Hollandaise sauce atop the two eggs. This had a velvety texture with a savory finish in a rich creamy-buttery glaze—it will get your attention. The chef’s home fries are generous and have a crisp, hearty/savory outside texture not too salty or greasy.

Soup ($3.95- $5.95) is always good at this time of year, and three were offered. The vegetarian French onion had a savory broth with plenty of caramelized onions and toasted Provolone capping a generous serving. The clam chowder was creamy, with nice fresh clam meat and not too many potatoes. I could have made a meal of it. The third soup was a chicken vegetable with generous pieces of white meat and fresh veggies in a hearty, almost buttery stock.

I focused on lunch, and the Reuben ($8.95) was my first nosh. Thinly sliced fresh corned beef on a marbled rye, piping hot under the slab of melted Swiss cheese and a homemade coleslaw that was tangy and savory—and they didn’t forget the pickles. It was also served with fresh-made-daily homemade chips—not at all greasy, crispy perfection in every bite.

The hefty barbecue bacon cheddar burger ($8.95) with fries had a sweet-smokey-tangy sauce that worked with the cheese and didn’t overwhelm the meat. There’s also flat bread pizzas ($7.95-$8.95). Four beers on tap and eight bottled-beer selections.

This place is a nice fit in the artsy-crafty environment where it’s located, and the idea of keeping it simple and sculpting food created to complement and support the neighborhood can become a work of art.

PlumpJack Café

1920 Squaw Valley Road, Squaw Valley, Calif., (530)583-1578

A wanderlust to discover a new and intriguing menu took me to the iconic Squaw Valley.

Executive chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne has exceptional credentials, double degrees in biology and environmental studies. After interning with an organic vegetable farm, he spent a year developing his cooking skills in restaurants in Colorado and Vermont.

An enthusiastic skier, he moved to Tahoe in 2002 as sous chef at PlumpJack. After cooking at West Shore Cafe and LuLou’s Restaurant, in 2010, he came back to PlumpJack as the executive chef. His team includes sous chefs Shawn Arney and Jack Connell.

It’s an astute menu with two courses. First, starters ($12-$19) like white gazpacho ($16), and I had the diver scallop “BLT” ($19) with crispy pancetta, tatsoi (a green with a sweet aroma) atop heirloom tomatoes, and drizzled with Balsamic and a roasted red pepper sauce. The mollusks were silver dollar sized and about an inch thick. They were rich and elegant with a myriad of flavors from savory to a lightly sweet-tart and textures. And those fresh tomatoes were delicious.

The second course ($25-$46) includes the likes of Mt. Lassen trout ($35), Creekstone Ranch ribeye ($46), and my choice, the Ellensburg lamb chop “Nicoise” ($44). This Pacific Coast grass fed lamb was cooked medium rare and seared in a broiler and then finished on a grill using Almond wood, perfectly moist with a nutty, sweet flavor. Red potatoes were nicely seasoned, par boiled and finished in the oven. Haricot Verts (French green beans) sautéed in butter with simple seasoning added the finishing touches to the dish.

There’s an uptown wine list with just north of 500 varietals covering the world and a very proper set of California wines with impressive offerings.

Desserts ($8-$15) are another level of palate joy. Mine, a chai crème brulée with Blueberry compote ($8) from pastry chef Jon Howard, was nirvana. The Olympic rings still greet you when you enter the valley. It’s a home of champions, and the team at PlumpJack Café has embraced that legacy victorious on every plate.

Rigo’s Mexican Cuisine

1450 E. Prater Way, Sparks, 331-4200

They have one of the best chips and salsas I’ve had. The chips are made fresh, and so is the salsa. Roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, roasted jalapeños and habanera, some homemade tomatillo (a slightly sweet, citrus flavor) and cilantro are all puréed. This was addictive from the first bite.

Salmon in Sedano’s “Adovo” sauce topped with sautéed prawns ($17) caught my eye, something unusual for a Mexican restaurant menu. A generous piece of Atlantic salmon came served atop a corn husk covered in the adovo sauce made with red peppers, cilantro, canella (white cinnamon, lighter in flavor) and cloves producing a slightly sweet with a gentile spiciness and very aromatic with the cloves adding a woodiness on the nose. The prawns were covered in a delicate, citrus white sauce made with lime, tequila, and garlic—a nice marriage in presentation and flavors.

Chef offered up the steak and shrimp caliente ($17), asking how spicy I wanted it—to which I said, “mucho caliente.” I like spicy food. A New York strip, medium rare, topped with a half dozen large shrimp and covered in a red sauce—with one whiff, I knew my sinus would be opened with the first bite. In the sauce were sautéed mushrooms and onions bathed in a combination of sauces—enchilada, habanera and adovo. This ran the gambit of tastes: savory, spicy heat, slightly sweet, and slightly tart. If you’re into hot food, ¡ay Chihuahua! This produced a lasting hot-flash from head to toe. Know that Rigo will spice anything to anyone’s palate.

Deep fried ice cream ($4) for dessert and then roll me out. As one of the most versatile and varied cuisines, the cultural aspect of Mexican cuisine takes on a personality of its own; at Rigo’s a new personality comes across with every dish—con mucho gusto.

Rounds Bakery

294 E. Moana Lane, 329-0800

When new owners Anton Novak and Sean Cary took over this established bakehouse in March, they popped their ovens into bakezilla mode. Hybrid pastries like the Cronut—half croissant, half doughnut—and a cookie crawler, a square, chocolate covered doughnut, complete with gummy worm, are the new dimensions of Rounds.

Bearing the looks of a doughnut and the inner workings of a croissant, the cronut is a confectionary hybrid that has become a near-global sensation since its creator, Dominique Ansel, debuted it at his New York City pastry shop about a year ago. This is the only place in town I know serving that trendy Manhattan marvel.

I had to go right for the cronut ($3-$4.25), and went with the triple dark chocolate with mini chocolate cookies, raspberry filling drizzled with granche and sprinkled with Mexican chocolate powder and cinnamon. It’s dense and very rich with the top of your mouth experiencing the flaky croissant and the bottom filling with the doughnut texture. The flavors are what you would imagine with the berry and chocolate mating perfectly with the pastry giving you a mouth-full of palate nirvana.

There are nice breakfast ($2.49-$4.99) and lunch ($5.99-$7.69) menus using bagels as the sandwich’s foundation. For breakfast, you can choose anything from peanut butter and jam ($2.49) to a classic egg, cheese with ham, bacon or sausage ($4.99). The lunch offerings are more diverse. There’s the ultimate veggie ($5.99), with fresh cucumbers, ripe avocado, pine nuts, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and black olives on a bagel of your choice.

I found their rye bagel most excellent and went with the Tahoe cado ($6.49) roasted turkey, crisp bacon, and ripe avocado and added a jalapeño artichoke smear. Everything was fresh and from the savory to the tangy to the spicy, sandwiched together with the light malty flavor of the bagel and a hint of tart from the baked in caraway seeds in the bagel, this nosh really came together with very satisfying flavors.

A visit here is a “what-the-hell-moment,” where you’ll leave with a full belly and a warm heart. As Ben Franklin said, “everything in moderation, nothing in excess”; but then again, he never had a cronut.

Two Chicks

752 S. Virginia St., 323-0600

People of lesser ambition might be content to let the good times roll, but not Jessie Watnes and Haley Wood of the GourMelt food truck. Two of Reno’s favorite road chefs have parked their wheels and opened Two Chicks, a brunch restaurant located in the heart of Midtown.

The locally-roasted coffee, a special blend created just for this restaurant, was very smooth and low acid ($2.29, free refills). As a true “only in Reno” brunch joint with full bar, they offer draft beers from local breweries and a cocktail menu full of interesting selections.

If you were a fan of GourMelt, you’ll be happy to hear all your favorite cheesy sandwiches are included on the new menu, along with some new goodies. I ordered the Two Chicks Burger ($10.99) and was delighted with the dish. A fresh-ground beef patty was joined by melted cheddar cheese, avocado, grilled red onion and fried egg on toasted “Icky bread” from Great Basin Brewing. I ordered the meat medium rare and the egg over medium, adding plenty of gooey goodness to the flavor collective. The meat had just enough pink to be perfect, and although the bottom of the toast got a little soggy, it didn’t last long enough for me to care. I chose their signature garlic-parmesan fries and basil aioli—a favorite from the old menu—and it was like greeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

Rounding out our meal was a well-executed plate of eggs Benedict ($10.49), including veggie fritters that resembled hash browns, yet crispier and with more flavor. The usual suspects were in the mix, including thick-cut ham on an English muffin topped with perfectly-poached eggs and a very light, creamy Hollandaise sauce. Classic and satisfying, yet I look forward to trying all the other variations the menu has to offer. In a town full of brunch options, these two chicks have just started their climb to the top of the pecking order.