SouthDowntown Restaurant and Bar—SoDo—is a low-key, airy space that is off the beaten path in downtown Reno but offers a world of palatable pleasures. Partner and executive chef David Stern, who has the business in his blood, CIA Hyde Park training, a respectable resumé, and is fresh from the Charlie Palmer kitchen, has created a sophisticated menu with worldwide trappings. Front-of-the-house is another multi-bistro veteran, Joel Giandalia, with stints at the Eldorado and Bully’s, and he’s another Palmer grad with 22 years in the Reno foodie scene.
The lunch menu emphasizes sandwiches ($10-$14), with a few entrées ($12-$22), and four salads and a couple soups ($4-$11). There’s a “Bar Bites” menu with noshes like BLT sliders, jalapeño crab poppers and salmon tartar (1-$5/2-$8/3-$10), and cocktails galore, beer and wine. You’ll find linen napkins on the tables and a congenial staff. There’s seating for 70 insides and a patio that will accommodate 50.
The dinner menu was in play for me and it’s a globe-trotting bill-of-fare ($12-$25), a starch and veggie included. The soup of the day was a jalapeño bacon mushroom ($4-$6). I had a cup. In a beef stock, they used cremini mushrooms in a mature state, meaning they have a browner color, firmer texture, and better flavor than immature mushrooms. They absorb flavors better and deliver the taste to your mouth with authority. Creamed with the jalapeño bacon, this bisque-like starter was bold, pork-savory with an olé finish.
I went with the “Lower 48” geographic selection and chose the hanger steak ($25), a cut of beef steak prized for its flavor and derived from the diaphragm of a steer. In the past, it was sometimes known as “butcher’s steak,” because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale. Hanger steak resembles flank steak in texture and flavor.
The meat was amazing. It was marinated for three days in Balsamic vinegar, soy and maraschino cherry juice. This married a rich, tart, salty and slightly sweet fusion into a piece of moist meat that took over my taste buds and created a savory, enjoyable flavor memory bit in my brain. There was a wow factor to this morsel.
The chef’s creativity went even further with a potato medley beneath the steak. Sweet potato, Yukon gold, pink Yukon, and purple Peruvian were the assemblage. Add to this baby arugula and sugar snap peas, tossed in a beurre blanc sauce combined with chimichurri—a thick Argentinean herb sauce made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and white vinegar—and a little poblano pepper for a lift. To hell with garlic mashed potatoes, this spud creation was brilliant and bursting with flavors of savory, aromatic mint and texture, a perfect complement to the meat.
The wine list is proper and features several by-the-glass selections ($7-$14). I needed something worthy, with complex flavors to stand up to this sensory celebration, so I chose the Apaltagua pinot noir ($8). It filled the glass with a clear, brilliant red ruby color. On the nose, it emphasizes aromas of cherries and raspberries well combined with soft notes of oak. In the mouth, it has smooth and elegant tannins that finish soft and delicate.
Stern and Giandalia use a lot of local ingredients and the gastronomic creativity in their menus is well worth your time. They deliver solid execution, fair prices, good service and offer a menu that’s not too avant garde or too retro, and I promise you’ll come away SoDolighted.