Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779)
STAYING PUT IN RENO, Part One
by John Mariani
FROM THE WINE CELLAR
STAYING PUT IN RENO
Reno, Nevada, with a population of 225,000 residents, has not yet ditched its promotional mantra as "The Biggest Little City in the World," but the new ad campaign's slogan is "What's your passion?"--a reasonable enough query because Reno, while living in the p.r. shadow of Vegas, is obviously a far less razzle-dazzle city and one that offers a whole raft of cultural activities that Vegas either has or lacks entirely, including a National Automobile Museum, an Opera, the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, the Reno Philharmonic, and the Reno Theater Coalition.
In addition, the city's outdoor parks and riverside show a more habitable, neighborly side of the city, which is added to by opportunities for golf, skiing and snowboarding, with 18 ski resorts in nearby Lake Tahoe, kayaking (right) and white water rafting--there's an annual Reno River Fest--even, since 2005, its own ice skating rink. The city has become the home of the National Bowling Stadium, called the "Taj Mahal of tenpins."
Reno has by far a more low-key atmosphere than Vegas, at least outside of the casinos, which have long been a tourist attraction and money maker, although in recent years nearby Indian casinos in California have siphoned off a good part of that business.
So now the city, which enjoyed an earlier, highly profitable run upon the discovery in 1859 of the Comstock Lode, is now putting its silver into changing its image from a second-tier gambling town to a modern metropolis of enormous diversity, not least by upgrading the international airport (with very easy, sensible access to a rental car right by the gate). And then there's one of those attractions that has a regional, all-American appeal all its own--Reno Aces Baseball Stadium, where you can drop in on a summer's day, buy an inexpensive ticket, and watch players not yet ready for prime time play their hearts out before a crowd that knows them like nephews and neighbors.
was a beautiful blue-sky day with scudding
clouds over the stadium when I attended a
game--the Aces, a Triple A affiliate of the
Arizona Diamondbacks were in a four-game series
with the fearsome-sounding Sacramento River
Cats--sitting smack up behind the protective
chain link fence, where I could watch players in
their livery, many of whom were just big kids,
go intently through all the motions American
boys have for more than a century--the pulls,
the tugs, the nervous hat touches, the signals
that look like tics, the practice swings and
pitches, eyeballing the catcher's
fingers, the nod of the pitcher's head, then the
slider or fast ball and and either the exultant
crack the wooden bat or the solid thunk into the
mitt. All up close. There
as more purity to enterprise, more a game than a
business, far less commercial, but dead
serious to these players just aching to move up
to the majors. More than any overproduced
Major League game could ever be, the Aces game
in Reno seemed
more like a scene out of "Fields of Dreams," in
which James Earl Jones's character says, "The one constant through
all the years has
been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of
steamrollers. It's been
erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.
But baseball has marked
the time. This field, this game, is a part of our
past. It reminds us of all
that once was good, and what could be again."
The streets are lined, if not every fifteen feet, with saloons, very old ones like the Bucket of Blood and Red Dog Saloon, along with the usual t-shirt and souvenir shops. The millionaires of that earlier era would assemble to toast themselves at the still extant Washoe Club. A contemporary attraction is Barrels O Candy, which is just that, a big room with scores of barrels brimming with every candy you have ever heard of; every one I remember from my own childhood has found a home here, from Turkish taffy to Nik-L-Nips in little wax bottles. Red Hots, Caramello, Walnettos, Dots, HeatH bars, even candy cigarettes.
Then, if you haven't been dazzled enough by all that packaged candy, there's the charming Grandma's Fudge, where the aroma of chocolate, vanilla and butter cream can put the receptive visitor in a stupor. We drove back to Reno, and that night, I had sweet dreams.
PART TWO of this article, on where to eat in Reno, will appear next week.
The Bull & Bear has been around since the beginning (right), and it still wears its historic posh well, with acres of mahogany and fine game paintings, well-draped tables and very comfortable chairs, its bi-level arrangement from a day when the idea of Siberia seating ruled, as overseen by the notorious maître d' Oscar Tschirky, who ruled over NYC Society with a flick of his chin.
Today service is far more egalitarian, and getting a table overlooking Lexington Avenue is not as hard as it might once have been. The menu has long been geared to steaks and chops, but there's a good deal more on the menu to choose from, done with a more refinement than at some of the brusque independent steakhouses in the neighborhood.
The Bull & Bear seems entirely right for the kind of dinner that 19th century Gotham tycoons would tuck into night after night, and many of those same items they would have gorged on are still here for your delectation. That means appetizers of fat shrimp cocktail and, of course, the Waldorf salad, with candied walnuts, sweet and sour apples, celeriac and truffle. There is a first-rate onion soup gratinée here, thick, not too much bread, gobs of Gruyère, and the right steaming temperature. Yellowfin tuna tartare is a stand-out dish here, but the Maine peekytoe crabcake with fines herbes aïoli has disappointingly too much filler rather than large lump crab.
My favorite appetizer was an old favorite indeed--the Bull & Bear Wedge, a large slice of really crisp, cold Iceberg lettuce with that wonderful loud crunch, served with ripe tomatoes, tangy red onion, Maytag blue cheese, bacon and egg--almost a meal in itself.
Beef is obviously the draw here, but I'm sorry to say that while of good Prime quality, the dry-aged NY strip did not have the marbling so desirable in this cut of beef. A Black Angus filet mignon (left) was thick and good. There is a choice of various sauces to go with the beef, but they will cost you extra, and at these prices, you'd think they'd throw in a spoonful or two of Béarnaise.
I do applaud the caliber of B&B's Colorado rack of lamb, succulent, nicely trimmed yet retaining all the right fat in the right places on a generous rack. Dover sole meunière was also of top quality in terms of the fish's fattiness and the lemon brown butter used.
Two side dishes missed, especially not-cooked-through au gratin potatoes we sent back in favor of fine buttery mashed potatoes; creamed baby spinach could have used a good shot more of cream and butter.
Desserts are not out of the ordinary but, like the crème brûlée and cheesecake, well rendered. The wine list is hefty with high-end items, and needs a lot more bottles under $50.
Open for dinner nightly. Appetizers $14-$24, main courses $46-$95.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune
Château de Maison Neuve 2009
($16)—This wine is from Montagne-Saint Emilion,
where merlot dominates, so this had a bold body
whose tannins are softened for balance. If you close
your eyes and don’t look at the label, you may taste
a hint of the illustrious Cheval Blanc and Ausone
from the same region of Saint Émilion.
Chateâu Jouanin 2009 ($14)—From
Castillon, on the right bank of the Dordogne River,
where the wines are known for their structure, this
is a blend of 70 percent merlot, the rest cabernet
sauvignon and cabernet franc that shows a fine
equilibrium between its fruits and acids and robust
tannins buoyed it. It was a terrific match with
charcoal-broiled porterhouse steak and corn on the
Château Labatut-Bouchard 2009
($13)—Made in a region called Cadillac better known
for its sweet wines, this remarkably priced red is a
juicy glory, full flavored, deep in color and
bouquet, and certainly worth its label proclamation
as a “Grand Vin de Bordeaux.”
Château Le Bonnat 2008 ($17)—Made
from wines that average 30-40 years old and owned
since 1997 by the Lesgourgues family, Le Bonnat is a
good example of modern French winemaking that brings
out the best from a clay and limestone soil in the
Graves region, known for the silkiness of its wines.
It’s not Haut-Brion but it has complex density and a
lovely smoky quality.
Château Mayne-Vieil 2009 ($16)—This big blend of mostly merlot and cabernet franc from the Fronsac region in eastern Bordeaux may take a few years to show all its virtues, for its tannins are still firm and its character hearty. Although modern winemaking has softened up Fronsac reds in recent years, one can still taste its traditional rustic charm, which makes it a good choice for a lamb stew or cassoulet this fall. The city of Bordeaux
Thébot 2009 ($14)—Though it has a simple
Bordeaux appellation, the wine is made from 75
percent merlot, and the first sip is impressive for
its fist of fruit and tannins—it’s 14.5 percent
alcohol—but the wine keeps revealing more fruit
character as you drink it with food.
Château Haut Maginet 2009
($11)—For eleven bucks, this is a real winner and
has the true taste of Bordeaux—brick, dark cherries
and spices, with a delicious peppery component and
an admirable 13.5 percent alcohol. Slog it back with
anything from a hamburger to roast chicken and
Château Tour Léognan (left) 2008 ($20)—This is the second-tier wine from Grave’s Château Carbonnieux, better known for its white wine. Cabernet sauvignon makes up 55 percent of the blend, but it’s mellowed out now and shows the kind of breeding such a respected estate can bring. It’s the kind of wine I’d bring to a friend’s house to surprise him with its high quality.
Redzepi, chef-owner of Copenhagen's Noma,
"I’m face to face with a magnificent, giant slab of rosy prime rib. At 28 ounces,
and standing at least 3 inches tall, it has to be the biggest one I’ve ever met."
--Leslie Brenner, "Al Biernat's," Dallas Morning News
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