The river wild

Owner Chuck Shapiro toasts a raspberry lemondrop with Chef Joseph Bell, presenting Wild River staple lobster mac-n-cheese.

Owner Chuck Shapiro toasts a raspberry lemondrop with Chef Joseph Bell, presenting Wild River staple lobster mac-n-cheese.

Allison Young

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“In the past seven years since we opened, I’ve watch the resurgence of downtown and now, truly the area has become a dining district,” said Wild River Grille owner Chuck Shapiro. Adjacent to the Virginia Street Bridge, WFG offers inviting menus at lunch with small plates and starters ($9-$14.50), soups and salads ($6-$10.50) and burgers to mahi tacos as entrées ($10.50-$13.50).

One thing on the lunch menu that caught my eye was the lobster mac-n-cheese ($11). Served in a piping hot metal crock, this is “A” rated—for adults only. Parmesan, Swiss and cheddar cheeses congealed with generous bits of lobster meat and macaroni pasta to create a chewable fondue with a rich regal cheesiness, soft texture of the decadent crustacean with a little crunchy Panko atop making this a meal in itself.

Chef Joe Bell told me they use as many local products as possible. The beet chips salad ($7.50) looked good, and I appreciated the creativity—fresh spinach, arugula, feta cheese, red onions, balsamic glaze with a Champagne vinaigrette. Beets—potato-type, crisp chips—combined with the greens and onions created an aromatic mixture. The textures were accented with an effervescent sweet-tart dressing—very tasty.

There’s a well-stocked full bar, and the single malt and blended Scotch labels are extensive and impressive, including Johnny Walker Blue. Simple but nice beers and a specialty cocktail menu ($10 each) with a dozen creative quaffs. I was offered a raspberry lemondrop served up consisting of house-made raspberry-infused vodka, house-infused orange brandy, lemon juice and simple syrup. Mildly sweet and tart, with a smooth but bold finish that lingered in my mouth just long enough to taunt my taste buds to want more.

Dinner menus expand with interesting seafood like pan-seared Idaho trout ($23.50) with oyster mushrooms, lemon caper butter blanc and pearl cous cous with quinoa. There’s a steak bill of fare ($29-$33) and a half dozen house specialties ($19.50-$26). The nouveau American cuisine is created by Wild River Grille’s chefs, Bell and Jessica Marrufo.

The menus change monthly and Bell was on duty when I visited. He wanted me to try the pan-seared duck breast on pork belly risotto, with berry ginger compote and fresh asparagus ($26). This had a savory, luxurious, fatty flavor. It was moist and satisfyingly elegant with a crispy, gently seasoned skin. The fat is an important part of the dish’s flavor profile, exceptionally well prepared. Duck fat is regarded as a superior fat for cooking. It provides intense flavor, has a high smoking point, and is considered one of the healthiest animal fats. Some say it’s as healthy as olive oil.

The risotto bed was even more savory with the pork belly bits adding smoky, salty, rich creaminess—what a kicker for the duck! And the berry ginger compote was a sweetness off-set toning down the multi-salt components of this offering to perfection.

A well thought out wine list ($22-$350) but just a few of each varietal by-the-glass ($6.50-$15). I had the Schug 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($15). A silky texture in the mouth with a bright ruby color and aromas of cherry skin, dried cranberries smoky undertones. The palate shows more cherry and dried fruit flavors with earthy notes. Clean with a nice solid backbone completed by a racy acidity. It complemented the duck amazingly.

The WRG bills itself as Reno’s restaurant of the arts, offering a three-course, $35 prix-fixe menu on select evenings featuring Reno Philharmonic and Broadway shows at the Pioneer Center. Mondays during the summer are “dinner with your dog” nights on the large, pet-friendly patio.

On menus, Shapiro has links to various businesses in the downtown area his restaurant supports, and it includes many of his competitors. A nice, classy touch and how you build a vibrant dining district—mutual respect and support.