Springtime in blossom…
We really left SF on March 30, but who is counting. March in Reno sounds kind of harsh, just not poetic. So why did we go anyway?
- We hadn’t been since last July for Brian and Natasza’s wedding. That’s one good reason.
- I have a pile of Sports Book tickets to cash in (plus more that I can’t cash), reason number two.
- It is actual spring in Reno, a condition that comes and goes in San Francisco at various times of year. In Reno, spring is here. Cool, crisp nights and warm green days; reason three if you need it.
- And finally, there is food in Reno and environs that we haven’t yet experienced.
A huge storm raged in the Sierras for nearly a week, ending only on Sunday, 3 days ago. Reportedly, the Tahoe area received over 15 feet of snow. At one point on Friday or Saturday, I-80 was closed simply because there was no place to put the snow. We were eager to see what it looked like up there.
As you can see, we were traveling on a simply beautiful day; the snow glistened and wasn’t too dirty yet. Here we are at Donner Summit, but the sign is buried in the snow.
Before we reached Auburn on I-80, a halfway lunch stop, Brian called to say that we should not have a big lunch; we’re going to a place for dinner that is an institution in Reno.
At Brian’s house, Natasza greeted us and offered a “flower cookie.” They actually taste good. And she was busy preparing cured salmon for Friday’s dinner.
After checking into Brian’s guest room and having a drink, we headed off for dinner. Casale’s is located on Fourth Street – the axel of Reno – it opened in 1937 – before even I was born – and still has the same cook that opened the joint; she’s 84.
We arrived at Casale’s Halfway Club a bit after 7pm. We were seated at a large, square wooden table covered with the ubiquitous red and white checked tablecloth. We checked the menu, ordered a half-liter of red wine, a small antipasto plate and our separate entrees.
Nice place, with high ceilings, generously spaced tables and a pleasant buzz of conversation from the other diners, about half occupied at this hour. Our waitress was very nice and a little chippy – in a good way – to keep our light mood going. The food portions were more than large, but just short of huge, about what one would expect from a neighborhood restaurant in business more than 70 years.
I had a starter of minestrone soup; the others had the salads. That’s the antipasto plate in the background.
My spaghetti was good — ok, a little beyond al dente — the meatballs moist and flavorful.
Carol’s lasagna; “Careful, the plate is VERY hot.” (Has lasagna ever been served without that accompanying phrase?
Our waitress, Sandy, noticed I was taking pictures of the food. I explained eatsforone. She said, “Will we be appearing?”
“For sure,” I responded. She repeated the URL to everyone around and said she would look for it tomorrow. I said, “Probably not that fast,” but realized she would be disappointed if I waited until we returned to San Francisco, so I wrote this first installment on my laptop and posted it the next day.
We were soon very full and had plenty left for tomorrow and tomorrow. Sandy came out with the expected Styrofoam containers and – surprise – a bread wrapper, into which they fit perfectly. (Don’t like Styrofoam, but do like repurposing bread wrappers.) It’s even a local bakery: Franco Baking Company, Sparks NV.
All in all a nice dining experience. I hope all are as delightful. We shall see.
Thursday, we went to Pyramid Lake and since we went at lunchtime, this qualifies as a lunch story rather than a travel story — and what a lunch it was. Brian lives not far off Pyramid Way in Sparks. Turn right on Disk Drive to get to his house. On this day, we continued north on Pyramid Way headed for Pyramid Lake. After Disk Drive, Sparks sprawls on for about 4 more stoplights. After that Spanish Springs continues on the west side of the road over hill and dale, finally giving way to the desert and Pyramid Way becomes NV 445. Carol remarked that those house covered hills are what West Marin might have looked like had the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) not been formed just after WWII. Now they are preserved as agricultural land, mostly pasture.
NV 445 narrows from 4 lanes to 2 and the speed limit increases from 55mph to 65mph. I am loving this drive through the desert. About 30 minutes into the 40 minute drive, the land begins to roll and the road bend to follow the valleys. As we crest a rise and bend left, suddenly a shimmering sheet of robin’s egg blue water stretches before us on the horizon. It’s a truly beautiful sight. The lake is fed by water from Lake Tahoe which flows through the Truckee River to here.
We’re on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. At the general store we dutifully stop to pay our $7 for a sightseeing permit. We could also get fishing, camping, boating and hunting permits, but we’re not so inclined. We proceed south along the lake for our sightseeing. Every little once in a while we see a small brown sign marking an entrance to the beach, but when we tried to get there we were thwarted by a rather steep, sandy incline; so our toes never touched lake water. But we saw water and it was good.
We went to the south end of the lake and back to “the action” just north of the NV 445 intersection in the town of Suitcliff. There are a few houses, a hatchery, marina and the Crosby Lodge. We stopped for lunch.
In the midst of all manner of outdoor supplies a counter marks the place to order lunch. Behind the counter, built into the wall are a microwave oven, convection oven and deep fry machine. A nice women took my order and prepared one item at a time. This can take a while. The menu on the wall lists chicken wings, chili chicken wings, hot dog, corn dog, chili dog, cheeseburger, chili cheeseburger, french fries and chili fries. A bowl of chili might be nice, but that’s not on the menu. I ordered the Chili Cheeseburger.
Next to the counter is a bar where one can get a beer and sit and eat when the food comes (our cook is in the background in the red shirt). I don’t know why I was surprised when my Chili Cheeseburger arrived. I presumed that the cheeseburger part formed the lump in the center. Carol’s Cheeseburger and Natasza’s Corn Dog were more conventional looking.
Back in reality land, we reverted to tasty, wholesome food; Brian grilled roast beef, Natasza made corn bread and Carol roasted asparagus. I opened the wine and enjoyed.
Friday, we had some errands to do and got on with that. One can’t spend much time in Reno without cruising Virginia Avenue. Downtown, that’s where most of the casinos are… South Virginia is a strip of many wonders. Around lunchtime, we happened to pass European Food Emporium on South Virginia Avenue, a place we hadn’t seen before. It’s a large, newish building which sits rather alone mid-block.
Inside, it seems even larger. On the left is a huge meat and fish market — Butcher Boys. To the rear is a deli counter and freestanding fixtures with prepared specialty foods. (They have my favorite canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes.) One of the soups of the day is cabbage soup; I can’t pass that up. Over to the right, coolers and shelves are built in for a generous and careful selection of wines and beers from — guess where — Europe. So one orders and goes around and gets stuff from various places and takes it to the counter. Once everything is ready, it ends up on your table. A concept not unlike that at Pyramid Lake’s Crosby Lodge, but the execution couldn’t be more different.
It was a spectacularly beautiful day and I spent the balance of the afternoon reading on the back porch. About 5, I got hungry and went to Scolari’s Supermarket for some deli meat and cheese to make an antipasto plate – mortadella, pepperoni, jalapeno havarti and Swiss cheeses. I do enjoy getting meat and cheese at a deli counter; you get as much as you want, sliced the way you like it, and each new thing requires a sample taste, an antipasto antipasto if you will.
Dinner was all Ukrainian all the time. While I was reading on the porch, Natasza was busy making salads, and of course she had started the cured salmon the previous day.
Clockwise from the left: Cabbage Cucumber Salad, Shredded Carrot Salad, Cured Salmon, Natasza Salad (on the plate). (recipes at the end) What we had here was a really good day for eating.
Saturday brought the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament and the CalNeva Sports Book figured prominently in Brian’s and my plans. After Brian moved to Reno, it became convenient for he and I to wager on certain games of interest. When I wasn’t in town, he would call me from the sports book and place my bets as well as his. We eventually learned that you can get the same thrill of victory betting 5 to 20 dollars as betting 50 to 100 dollars — without the agony of defeat. One can consider the smaller amount an entertainment fee if its a loss, and hey, if its a win, you’ve got a nice return and a stake for the next game. I bet Butler, giving 3 points to VCU… didn’t bet on the 2nd game, didn’t like either team. I took the opportunity to select some players to win the upcoming Masters Golf tournament, as well, at what I deemed attractive odds. (The winner, Charl Schwartzel was 75 to 1. I should have bet him, but I’d never heard of him.)
We decided to go to a sports bar to watch the Butler VCU game, and Brian picked Joe Bob’s Chicken Joint. Gotta give ‘em props for the name, as well as the quality and proliferation of signs.
The fries were damn good, the wings were nice and spicy and you can’t go wrong with Fat Tire draft.
For dinner, Brian was back on the grill for roast chicken, accompanied by pickled red cabbage and buttered noodles. Yum.
2 beets cubed – slightly more than a cup
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced Carola potatoes
1 cup diced celeriac or celery
10 cornichons sliced thick
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 head lil gem lettuce, leaves separated
Steam carrots, potatoes, celeriac for 5 minutes. While hot, toss with beets. Fold in cornichons. Dress with vinaigrette – 1 part vinegar, 1 part cornichon juice, 3 parts oil.
Arrange lil gem leaves on a plate and spoon salad on to the leaves.
I have also seen Natasza make a version of this salad with potato, onion, beet, pickles, cucumber, cabbage.
Cabbage Cucumber Salad
Cabbage, rough chopped but not shredded
vinaigrette of choice
Shredded Carrot Salad
shredded carrots, garlic, walnuts, salt, vinegar, oil, honey or sugar, black pepper
Pickled Red Cabbage and Carrots
Shredded red cabbage, about half a head
liquid mixture –
2 cups water
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup vinegar
3 cloves garlic
Layer cabbage and carrot in a jar, packed.
Boil liquid mixture and pour into jar. Put lid on jar and let sit overnight on the counter. (I think she used a pint jar… maybe larger, but not a quart.