Some like it hot springs

1862 Restaurant executive chef Richard LaCounte presents a sampling of his foods and wines.

1862 Restaurant executive chef Richard LaCounte presents a sampling of his foods and wines.

Photo by ALLISON YOUNG

For more information, visit www.davidwalleys-resort.com.

When David and Harriet Walley built a resort hotel over geothermal waters for baths that were said to cure everything from “sore muscles to rheumatism” in 1862, they also catered to the palate of their guest with elaborate menus and every delicacy in season. Today, executive chef Richard LaCounte carries on that tradition and then some.

LaCounte got his start locally in the culinary program at the Glenn Hare Occupational Center when it was attached to Reno High School. He went on to complete a degree at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park, New York, and has been cooking in kitchens from Vail, Colo., to the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and a stint at Charlie Palmer’s. After 13 years of honing his craft, the 1862 was his next challenge.

The menu ($26-$42 for entrées complete with starch and vegetable) is stunning and seemingly over the top for an eatery in the middle of a field south of Genoa, but LaCounte is determined. The appetizers ($7-$22) are extremely creative. I had the seared foie gras on a caramelized onion tart with pepper roasted strawberries ($22). The creamy duck liver combined with the treatment of the onions and strawberries and a touch of goat cheese was a flavor explosion of salty and tangy.

Chef insisted I try the fried rattlesnake arancini with a spiced red cabbage slaw and charred poblano coulis ($14). These were breaded, fried croquettes with rattlesnake meat, a white risotto, a little mozzarella in a puree of poblano pepper. This Sicilian recipe went from crunchy to creamy with texture from the risotto and slight heat from the pureed peppers—an original, unusual starter and a worthwhile adventure.

Next were two of the biggest lamb chops ($34) I’ve seen in a while—7 to 8 ounces each, with German-style potatoes and grilled asparagus—straightforward, well presented with all the flavors expected.

A seared duck breast ($30) served over wild rice pilaf, cherry orange chutney and baby bok choy. A generous portion of sliced breast atop the nutty pilaf married in my mouth with the tart-sweet chutney to cause flavor to flow through the palate.

And not to leave out the beef, I had a grilled 8-ounce Buffalo Filet ($42) with wilted spinach, potato croquette, truffled celery root slaw and cherry balsamic jus. A very lean meat complemented by a myriad of flavors and textures. Pine nuts put a crunch to the simply sautéed spinach with the slaw’s elegant truffle richness and the jus added a slight, bright tart taste to the meat.

The wine list is a Wine Spectator award winner, and Sommelier Troy Denkler manages a very sophisticated cellar with the likes of Petrus and Romanée-Conti. The by-the-glass list is very nice ($6-$30), and there are half bottles also. With the array of foods, I chose a glass of Guigal white from the Rhone Valley ($10). Yellow gold, clear and brilliant with a nose marked by the distinctive aromas of white flowers, apricot, acacia and white peach. On the palate, it was fruity with plenty of richness and body.

Red was also called for, so I had a Steltzner Claret ($10). Full fruit balanced with dark toasted oak/vanilla nose. It’s a classic Bordeaux blend with just enough merlot and Cabernet Franc to give the underlying Cabernet Sauvignon finesse and grace. Dark berry fruits on the palate with hints of cedar box on the finish.

They have desserts ($7-$8) including table-side bananas foster and cherries jubilee ($9 per), but I couldn’t.

The restaurant seats 100 in a lovely, rustic atmosphere, with a very accommodating staff. The lunch menu is exciting, with several burgers made from fresh game meat. This is a place where culinary passions live.