It was a bizarre weekend on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Four adventurous eaters gingerly descended the stairs to the wine cellar of Big Water Grille, in Incline Village. We had among us a chef, a writer, a commodity trader and a wine consultant. We wondered how bizarre the food would be and how weird the people attending. Some of the exotic items on the menu we had tried before in Asia, Australia and even sushi restaurants, but others were definitely out there.
Big Water Grill was presenting a “Bizarre” foods tasting adventure. This was inspired by the daughter of owner John Cheney, who loves the Bizarre Foods show by Andrew Zimmern. Lovely Taylor, a 9 year old budding foodie, joined us for dinner. Jay Veregge, the talented chef with a background in “molecular” cooking, took the ball and ran with it, scoring a touchdown.
We were relieved to see some very normal looking guests and even some friends from Incline, arriving at the charming private room that seats up to 14 people. Although the restaurant serves outstanding contemporary cuisine, Chef Jay will create a molecular menu for private parties in the cellar, with a byob policy so you can pair your favorite bottles with the food. The price of the dinner was an amazing $38pp for an 11 course meal.
Dinner began with spoons of bodega bay urchin with wasabi, onion oil, and rice vinegar. A saketini shot with a ginger straw was presented to wash it down. Sea urchin is generally too strong for my taste but this was thoroughly enjoyable.
Chilled monkfish liver with zuri, soy, cilantro, chili, and orange-sake foam was another tasty spoon. If you closed your eyes you could almost believe it was foie gras.
Our next course, not so bizarre, was crispy frog legs with green garlic puree, sweet butter, and parsley pesto. It was nicely fried, and of course, tasted like chicken!
The Bison tacos were good, tasting more like beef, than game.
This was followed by lamb tongue, braised with wild mache, red onion, and mustard. Lamb tastes very similar to beef these days and the tongue had a stronger flavor, which I enjoyed.
Sautéed veal sweetbreads with peppercorn-orange zest and demi glace was another dish I don’t consider bizarre but this was a satisfying, beautiful preparation topped with a potato checkerboard.
Sliced pig ears with wine vinegar, sea salt, and arugula pesto. It was like eating freshly fried chicharrons, food of the gods.
Stewed wild boar tripe with tomato, basil, and white grits. I was prepared to dislike this dish as I’ve always had a problem with its texture as featured in menudo. However, this had no slime and was enjoyable. The writer commented that it was the best tripe he had ever had.
Fried jungle python with chili aioli, lemon and dill was the only dish that didn’t work. The python was hard and difficult to eat, with a bite to it. It was very chewwwwy! Guess those contracting muscles are hard to break down.
Roasted leg of kangaroo with rosemary, thyme, and wine jus reminded me of venison. Stronger flavor than beef, but not too gamey. The only problem was I felt a bit jumpy and started calling everyone Joey!
Dessert was custard of durian fruit with crackers, sea salt, and figs. I enjoy durian and the custard was a creative interpretation of this fruit that worked quite well. It was rich, but not overly sweet. Durian is called smelly fruit and not allowed in high end hotels in the Orient. We loved it.
This walk on the wild side was a delightful surprise. The chef in our group commented that it was fun and everything was perfectly seasoned. We enjoyed the people, the food and the wines. I’m proud that not only was this dinner sold out, but there was enough interest in Tahoe for the restaurant to add a 2nd night. The best chefs love to cook offal because of the challenge of making it delectable. Jay Veregge proved himself “top chef.”