Reno: Chowdown at Santa Fe Hotel
The Greater Reno Grape and Gripe Group gathered at the Santa Fe Hotel for too much food and too much wine and met both objectives.
Dinner at the Santa Fe is modeled on the old style of Basque hotels. In fact when you walk through the door there on the floor is the lettering Eskualdun Etchea, which stands for House of Basque. It used to be that the tables were lined up next to each other and you stood a good chance of sitting next to strangers in the family-style dining. Now the tables are pretty much segregated. Our group of 10 got our own table.
The idea of the Basque hotel dinners is that there’s a lot of food because the Basque sheepherders (a shepherd is a character in the Bible, by the way; a sheepherder is an occupation) and other people who stayed there worked hard and burned a lot of calories. And they serve plenty of food at the Santa Fe. You pick the entrée you want and they bring out several other dishes. Most entrees are $20. I went with the lamb chops, which were $24 and well worth it. If you’re thinking of gourmet Basque food like Piperade serves in San Francisco, this isn’t the place for you.
The first dish was the noodle bean soup and it was a great start. There was obviously some garlic in the soup. This was a strongly flavored dish. We couldn’t figure out the other ingredients. It was quickly consumed. Next up was the standard beans and salad. I of course had to eat the beans by putting the Tasbasco sauce on the clean plate and then ladling the beans on top of it. This is how all the Baskos do this. The beans were simple and tasty. The salad was just iceberg lettuce with vinegar and oil. Nothing fancy but it worked.
Then came the side dishes. We got one plate of spaghetti and one plate of oxtails. The spaghetti was nothing fancy. Just store bought noodles with a simple red meat sauce. Probably like they served back in the 1940s. But I loved it. The oxtails were especially well prepared and tasty. Sadly, there were not a lot of them. It shows the cooking skills are pretty serious here.
Ladies and gentlemen, what came next was something that may be unique to the Santa Fe Hotel in Reno: Lard-cooked French fries. Screw political correctness. Worried about polyunsaturated fats? HAH! These are cooked in animal fat. And they’re delicious. The potatoes are just a vehicle to deliver all that wonderful salty, fat flavor to your taste buds.
Then the entrees arrived. Dale got a ribeye steak and it looked great. I was having second thoughts about the lamb chops. They brought out the other entrees, including lomo and New York strip steak. The lamp chops arrived last and they brought them out all stacked on a plate. We each got two. They were excellent. Tender and great lamb flavor. One flaw was that they were pretty fatty. In fact, I was told one way to keep the gaminess out of lamb is to trim all the fat. This dish proved that wrong. You can count on the Basques to cook lamb properly. I don’t think anyone disliked the lamb chops.
I was able to try some of the lomo and that was just okay. All the other entrees looked good.
The choices for dessert were vanilla ice cream or cheese. I took ice cream. It was pretty much standard vanilla ice cream.
I’m not going to be able to list all the wines, but this is what I can document: I brought a 1996 López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia but sadly it was over the hill, I think. It didn’t show well. I also brought two Basque roses: 2009 Bodegas Gurrutxaga Bizkaiko Txakolina and a 2009 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis. These are high-acid, love-it-or-hate it wines. I loved them. I also brought a 2005 Unti syrah that was showing well.
Dale and Erica brought a 2007 Rosenblum England-Shaw syrah, a 2004 Mount Aukum syrah and a 2007 Miro Cuvée Sasha Monte Lago Vineyard. I especially liked the latter. Glenn brought a Marqués de Aldaz rose from Navarra. Robin brought a Twisted Oak wine I was not able to try.
Chowhound won't take my photos. I'll post them later
Santa Fe Hotel
235 Lake St, Reno, NV 89501
It was a lovely evening with terrific folks - the food wasn't too shabby either. Nice finally meeting people and matching faces with online screen names. I also posted a review of the evening / restaurant on Yelp. I was a fan, but a little less enthusiastic with a final rating of 3.5 stars. Soup was not my favorite, otherwise everything else was quite good.