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Gourmet Tahoe

Best Places to Eat in Tahoe


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Worshippers of sun and snow find a thriving dining scene in the mountains to our east

It used to be that dining in Tahoe was an afterthought: a stop at the grocery store for some pasta or an uninspired dinner out. But times have changed. These days, a big-city dining scene has indisputably hit North Lake Tahoe and Truckee, including a number of places you might even venture to during a blizzard. To survey the scene, we traveled through sleet, snow, and summer sun to check out the new places and visit our old haunts. The result? Diablo’s comprehensive list of innovative, inspirational, and purely delectable Best Places to Eat in Lake Tahoe.

SOUTH SHORE

Ciera Steak and Chophouse
Complete your first Black Diamond run without whipping out? Then you need to reward yourself, and Ciera steak house at the Montbleu Resort is your spot. The sound of slot machines tinkling outside and the plush, luxurious interior of the restaurant within will make you think you’re in Vegas. And indeed, *indulge *is the word of the night, from creative cocktails to crisp salads to the main event: meat. A small filet is anything but: Cooked and seasoned perfectly, this tender steak is a gem. Steak au poivre is a cowboy version of the French original, with a smooth, not-too-spicy sauce. Side dishes are just about perfect: From scalloped potatoes to truffled macaroni and cheese, one is tempted to make a meal of them. A huge wine list and unusual desserts, such an assortment of individual berries served on spoons with tiny dollops of whipped cream, round out a decadent evening. 55 Hwy. 50, South Lake Tahoe, (800) 648-3533, www.montbleuresort.com

Evans
Evans, a cozy little restaurant on South Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay Road, is the perfect setting for an elegant après ski feast. Dried flowers and soft lighting add to a cozy cottagelike feeling, and the luxurious food (takes on American and European classics) will warm your ski-weary body right to the bones. Delicate scallop quenelles are the perfect match for a starter glass of champagne, or begin with the exotic grilled prawns in mango chutney. Main courses include juicy pork tenderloin with rib-sticking potato cakes and apple chutney, and an Olympic Gold Medal–worthy portion of rack of lamb with risotto, braised chard, and a parsley salsa verde. Save room for huge, luscious desserts the friendly staff will insist you try. 536 Emerald Bay Rd., South Lake Tahoe, (530) 542-1990, www.evanstahoe.com

Kalani's
Stop by Kalani’s after checking out the boutiques at Heavenly Village: Right under the gondola and nestled among the galleries and shops is a taste of the tropics. Kalani’s colorful space provides welcome warmth from the chilly weather. Sit at the bar, sip well-made drinks, and enjoy such creative bar food as spicy ahi wraps. A refreshing way to shore up a Singapore Sling, the wraps marry cooled, rare ahi tuna slices with somen noodles and a garlic-ponzu dressing. A California summer roll is everything you want it to be: rich and clean, with avocado and cool cucumber. Sure, you could sit in the dining room, but why not chat with the cute bartenders, check out the ski bunnies, and feel like a local? 1001 Heavenly Village Way, Ste. 26, South Lake Tahoe, (530) 544-6100, www.kalanis.com

Mirabelle
One vision of heaven could involve sitting down to a rich yet rustic French meal after a day of skiing. Imagine an Alsatian onion tarte[tarte, with the “e,” OK? or s/b simply “tart”?], the flavor of its delicate, buttery pastry set off by sweet bits of onion and smoky ham and enough Gruyère to impart a little zing. Or sweetbreads in a classic cognac cream sauce studded with succulent chunks of mushroom served in light-as-air puff pastry. A simple pasta special made with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach had a cream sauce that gave us flashbacks of vacations abroad. Desserts are elegant and over the top, including soufflés and hard meringue creations. Don’t be put off by the restaurant’s beauty salon neighbors: Even the coffee is outstanding. 290 Kingsbury Grade, Stateline, (775) 586-1007, www.mirabelletahoe.com

NORTH SHORE

Christy Hill
Something of a Tahoe institution, this clapboard house with a stunning lake view has been serving California cuisine for two decades (FC: Please find out what year it opened to check.). On an end-of-summer visit, ripe peach, a flurry of Gorgonzola, candied pecans, and a subtle champagne vinaigrette enlivened an inventive mix of pristine greens. A rich and succulent, if somewhat unadorned, rack of lamb was accompanied by golden potato gratin with just the right cheese sharpness. The specialty of the house, smoked chicken–stuffed chiles rellenos in a delicate egg-batter crust and roasty tomato sauce, were shockingly delicious. The wine list includes exciting half bottles and bottles, and house-made desserts add to the fun of dining at this welcoming spot. 115 Grove St., Tahoe City, (530) 583-8551, www.christyhill.com

Sol y Lago
This Nuevo Latino supper club showcases chef Johnny Alamilla, from San Francisco’s much-missed Alma, who brought his brilliant mambo moves to ski country in December 2005. The result is as exciting as a ski trip to Barriloche. Never before have Tahoe ski heads been treated to such dishes as “ceviche *caliente*”: delicately fried black bass, fresh and bright from a quick swim in lime and orange juice, set off by a tart, spicy, sweet, smoked-jalapeño tartar sauce. Special wine flights served on Wednesdays[CQ] allow you to taste from a wine list whose bottles hail from Chile, Argentina, and Spain. Service can be shaky, but just sit back and enjoy the five-star lake view and the low-light drama of the restaurant, as well as the high-end salsa music and pan-Latin pop. 760 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, (530) 583-0358, www.solylago.com

Wolfdale’s
Douglas Dale opened Wolfdale’s 28 years ago, and he’s still at the stoves every night applying his studied, attentive approach. A plate of “teasers” includes earthy, sharp Asian-style red beets, seared scallops paired with divine house-made mayonnaise, and smoked trout whose flavor evokes the freshness of Tahoe’s waters. Japanese touches, such as toasted sesame seeds and wasabi, season but never overpower the seafood. Dale serves pheasant breast, which he pan-sears to a heavenly crispness, atop a bed of silky black lentils. Eager waitstaff works the softly lit dining room, where every table has a glimpse of the lake. Cocktails are well made, the wine list offers only hits, and Dale even makes his own desserts, such as a crisp-crusted apple pie bursting with firm-fleshed Fujis and the right hint of cinnamon. 640 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, (530) 583-5700, www.wolfdales.com

SQUAW VALLEY

Fireside Pizza
This family pizza joint, decorated with a moose motif, snowshoes, and fishing tackle, offers a standout pear and gorgonzola pizza—one that could hold its own in some of the temples of food snobbery right here in the East Bay. The crust is on the thin side, with fresh-bread flavor and just a bit of elasticity. Ripe pear and wisps of roasted red onion lie beneath a crumble of almost-pungent Gorgonzola; the lightly browned pizza is then topped with a tangle of arugula tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette that makes all the flavors of the dish sing. With a glass of wine, it’s a perfect meal. Also try the surprisingly wholesome and satisfying grilled chicken salad with greens, roasted peppers and onions, and goat cheese. 1985 Squaw Valley Rd., Ste. 25, Olympic Valley, (530) 584-6150, www.firesidepizza.com

Plumpjack
This comfortable, upscale venue, opened in TKyear, offers soft, upholstered chairs and banquettes for you to sink into after a long day on the slopes while you are lovingly lavished with good food. Ahi tuna cones with ponzu, pickled ginger, avocado, wasabi, *tobiko,* and sesame seeds are a chorus of soprano voices, the different flavors bright and distinct. Perfectly pan-seared scallops come wrapped in strips of lightly browned pancetta, although the spicy beet sprouts thrown on top didn’t seem to jibe—nor did the accompanying sweet pea puree and fennel salad. An entrée of black cod was crisp-skinned and meltingly tender inside. A New York steak was also perfectly cooked, and its risotto side was nicely seasoned and not overly rich—a nice counterbalance to the steak. The Plumpjack empire is as much about wine as food, and that shows in the wine list here. Desserts are creative, luscious, and more seasonal than the other courses. *1920 Squaw Valley Rd., Olympic Valley, (530) 583-1578, www.plumpjack.com*

TRUCKEE

Dragonfly
The melding of California ingredients and Asian flavors on the ever-changing menu at Dragonfly—a relative newcomer to the Truckee dining scene—is a smashing success. The satay, for example, is as good as any you’ll find in a Thai restaurant; its deep grilled flavor belies the moist tenderness of the meat, and its peanut sauce is alive with bits of peanut, fresh green onion, and red chili flakes. The Maple Leaf duck breast almost evokes Thanksgiving turkey with its sweet berry sauce, but even here there’s a twist: a ginger-citrus marinade gives the succulent meat some bright, spicy flavors of its own. Indulge in the banana chocolate wontons, their soft-centers surrounded by a crust that is delicately blistered by a quick dip in the fryer. Served with coconut ice cream, these are ecstasy. 10118 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee, (530) 587-0557, www.dragonflycuisine.com

Moody’s Bistro & Lounge
If you pay close attention to the seasons in Truckee, chances are you’re a skier, not a chef. One welcome exception is Mark Estee, who brought a Chez Panisse sensibility to the mountains when he opened Moody’s Bistro & Lounge in July 2002. Estee keeps his eye on French traditions and his menu focused on whatever’s fresh: Wild mushroom and fennel soup might give way to seared foie gras with pineapple relish or a steak *frites* of Niman Ranch beef. The restaurant, in the historic Truckee Hotel, walks a line between elegant and easygoing, with its formal dining room and a leather booth–filled lounge offering jazz four nights a week. It’s a flexible setting for a versatile chef whose cooking can be hearty and warming in winter or light and bright in the flush of spring. 10007 Bridge St., Truckee, (530) 587-8688, www.moodysbistro.com

WEST SHORE

West Shore Café
The West Shore Café, a restaurant known for its sprawling patio, was reborn last June after four years of being closed (FC: Check that it was closed during that time.). The new establishment is breathtaking: Light glimmers off the copper-topped roof, and the sumptuous gentleman’s parlor-style dining room boasts flagstone floors, Persian rugs, and a lounge with a huge hearth. Chef TK (FC: Please get chef’s name), a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, came from San Francisco, and his cooking shows city finesse. A roasted chestnut soup arrives bearing a decadent cube of *kurabata* bacon and a subtle waft of cardamom. Foie gras is roasted to perfection and served with a trio of precisely prepared apple accompaniments. The young, good-looking waitstaff clearly loves the place. This month, several elegant guest rooms are scheduled to open upstairs. 5160 W. Lake Blvd., Homewood, (530) 525-5200

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