There's been a couple of threads on the Chowhound board about Basque food in Reno. One poster pointed out Louis' Basque Corner was recently voted the best Basque restaurant in Nevada in a Nevada Magazine poll.
If you come to Reno and eat at Louis' I'm sure you'll get a decent meal. But as I've said before on Chowhound, I think Louis' is coasting more on reputation that providing the good meals it did 20 years ago. The Santa Fe is the best Basque restaurant in Reno, in my opinion, but it doesn't seem to be as good as it used to be.
The talk in Reno is that Gardnerville south of Carson City has the area's best Basque restaurant. I recently found out it has not one but three Basque Restaurants. I tried one, J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room, and I'm here to tell you, this is a *really good* Basque restaurant. In fact, a Chowhounder named Sarah lauded it in an earlier thread.
I had to go through Gardnerville with a co-worker, Lisa, so I offered to buy her lunch at a Basque restaurant. Besides the J.T., there's the Overland, which is across the street from the J.T., and the Country Club at a golf course. Lisa said the Country Club recently changed hands to the menu may have changed.
We got there for lunch, when you can order the full Basque meal like they serve for dinner, or plates and side orders. Dinner is a full Basque meal only. The full Basque meal is $18.50 for both lunch and dinner.
They have family-style seating, which means long tables where you'll likely end up sitting next to strangers. I don't mind that. But Lisa and I got a table to ourselves. Lisa wasn't hungry enough to order the full Basque meal, but the waitress agreed to do it for one. You have a pick of entrees plus side dishes. I thought about the lamb shoulder steak or the lamb chops -- the only people I trust to cook lamb or mutton are the Basques and Greeks, although Asian Indians seem to do a pretty good job too -- but decided on a sirloin steak. You can also get Basque chicken or sweetbread. Lisa got vegetable soup.
Right away they started me off with good bread. I'm a bread lover. So giving me fresh bread and good butter puts me in the right mood.
The vegetable soup was great. Fresh and tasty. Didn't seem like it sat in a pot for weeks. Next was the salad, the weakest part of the meal. It was iceberg lettuce with some sort of vinegar and oil dressing. No carrots or tomatoes or anything else to dress it up. It served its purpose of providing greens. If the weakest part of the meal is fresh lettuce and a good dressing, you've had a pretty good meal.
Then came the beans and stew. I grabbed the bottle of Tabasco and sprinkled the red sauce on my plate, then scooped several spoons of beans on top of it. That's how every Basque sheepherder I've ever seen eat beans do it. You put the Tabasco on the plate, then scoop the beans on top of it. I looked up. No applause, no smiles of acknowledgement. Everybody else just continued talking amongst themselves and eating. I explained to Lisa how authentic I was, but she didn't seem impressed either.
Then came for me what was the highlight of the meal. The stew. It looked good sitting in the tureen. Lisa tasted a piece of stew meat and gave an "Mmmmmm" of approval.
Now on Chowhound we talk about gourmet foods and exotic foods. Maybe it's hard to rave about something as simple as stew. But this was wonderful. The beef was tender and flavorful. The potatoes and other vegetables were cooked perfectly and delicious. And the gravy was just right on. Thick and flavorful. This is the kind of stew your mother always tried to make.
Another wonderful Basque restaurant is Villa Basque Deli in Carson City. Last month I paid $8.50 for a tasty but small bowl of lamb stew. With the Basque meal at J.T., you can get all the stew you can eat (same with the beans and soup). In fact, for lunch you can order stew of the day for $6 and eat all you want.
With stew this good, I could see myself going in there some day at 11:30 a.m. when it opens, ordering stew and by 1:30 p.m. have a waitress come out stew kettle in hand, walk up to my table and say, "See? It's all gone. Go home."
"The menu says all I could eat," I'd whimper in reply. "Could I at least lick the pot?"
Then my steak came. Big. I'm guessing 12 oz to 14 oz. Maybe bigger. Blackened on the outside. Tender on the inside. I got it covered with garlic. Tasted great. I loved every bite. I also got a plate of French fries. I only tried a couple because I was saving room after the steak to finish the stew. They were tasty, bright gold and closer to shoe string fries than normal fries.
By the time I finished the stew I was completely stuffed. They offer coffee and ice cream afterwards. I found room for the ice cream and Lisa had my coffee.
So again, I'm not going to rap Louis' Basque Corner or the Santa Fe too hard. If you come to Reno and want to try Basque, they're an option. But for a real Basque family style dinner, it's hard to beat J.T., about 70 south of Reno.
My dilemma next time is whether I try one of the other restaurants or go back to J.T., which I know is a winner.
J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room
1426 Highway 395
Gardnerville, NV 89410