Restaurants & Bars 1

North Lake Tahoe, Summer '11

Fine | Aug 21, 201106:55 PM

Ate much better than usual at North Shore Lake Tahoe this summer, I'm pleased to say, even though the delectable (based on one visit) Baxter's had already bitten the dust, to our palates' dismay.

Even old Spindleshank's in Tahoe Vista was trying harder--decent artichoke app and generous, fresh wild king salmon special, with lovely baby carrots, sauteed and lightly encased obviously fresh artichoke hearts, terrific wild mushrooms, and more; only misstep was the addition of a blah hollandaise, which, even if lemony enough for my taste, would have still qualified as intrusive rather than, what I assume the cook intended, "bringing it all together." I couldn't help thinking the cook felt folks expected that sauce with salmon and, no matter how inappropriate, threw it in.

Hadn't realized Jack Rabbit Moon had returned to Incline, but there it was, serving--if ours was typical--delicious food in an odd, barren little room. I had superb fresh head-on prawns (3) over a bed of Spanish chorizo and white beans, followed by delicious lamb chops (waiter, not menu, said "Niman Ranch, which I realize is no longer much of a rec, but at least they were American!). Spouse's vichyssoise next to gazpacho and tenderloin were both enjoyable but not as stellar as my choices.

As we arrived at Le Bistro, across from Hyatt-Incline--which remains the principal reason we go up to the lake each year--a Schwab wine-tasting dinner for 3 dozen was finishing up with glowing accolades. We soon settled down to order from what struck us as a larger-than-usual number of choices on the 5-course, prix-fixe, now-$50(!) meal. As always, the repast began with amuse-bouches of 3 different filled hot pastries. Soups--rich but first-rate vichyssoise w. asparagus and fresh porcini bisque en croute (4.75 additional), properly intense; Apps (8 choices)--my innard-loving BH indeed loved spicy braised honeycomb tripe w. Calvados & white wine, as I did blue crab cocktail w. avocado salad, Absinthe dressing; Salads (7 choices)--Hydroponic watercress salad w. honey-sherry vinaigrette, roasted pine nuts, Bartlett pear was delightfully refreshing, and, while not-one's everyday-def-of-salad, quail quenelle w. truffle and mashed turnip was pleasing the rich-food lover (regrets only later); in deference to American culinary language, what the menu terms Entrees (6)--fabulous duck confit, which the menu redundantly labeled "homemade," though only the Acme bread is not at this restaurant, w. caramelized onions and cranberry jelly, and almost as good noisette of fresh venison w. green peppercorn sauce & yam puree. With our main courses came the house special "pommes soufflees," air-filled, French-fry balloons; Desserts--choice between assorted cheeses w. raisins & glazed walnuts and "Le Grand Dessert," an array of miniature pastries and custards, which is always our choice, always different, always leaves us wishing for one more bite of our fave. We declined the postprandial offer of homemade chocolate truffles "for the road." In fairness, I must mention we have known and followed owner/chef Jean-Pierre Doignon since late, GREAT La Cheminee in King's Beach; Le Bistro may be the "poor man's La Cheminee," but few would know that. I know of no other restaurant where one person is always there, cooks or supervises every dish, starts before the rest of his crew, and leaves only after the last customer. J-P has a v. loyal following but I'm always amazed that I can get a reservation just a few days ahead at this totally remarkable establishment. BTW, the wine list is excellent, though it's been our practice to bring our own, so I don't give it that much attention.

Last year we had a highly disappointing experience at Moody'sin Truckee, though the management was gracious in accepting criticism and comping dishes that we found far from its usual standards. We were nervous as we sat down, but we needn't have been. My BH is still raving about a farm egg-cum-polenta app. My fresh beet salad was delightful as well. Both Hanger steak and Antelope were terrific, a cone of fries with the former, tasty broccoli raab (or rapini), cooked enough not to be too stringy, and a now-fading-from-memory further garnish.

My overall feeling at BITE, Incline, was this: When it first opened a few years back, the owners were enthusiastic about sustainability and organics; now, each and every question posed to the waiter required a trip to the kitchen for answers. The place was jumping and undoubtedly mostly filled with those who don't make those qualities a condition of choosing a restaurant. Sigh. It's difficult to find places to eat for 5 evenings, and this will continue to teeter on the rim of possibles--the food is generous, the flavors mostly good, but my confidence is sufficiently shaken in their continuing to adhere to their original commitments, I've lost considerable enthusiasm myself. Just the same, I must add that I enjoyed my Maine lob BLT (there must have been a recent shipment to the area; I noticed lobster on several menus.) I suppose it's futile to wish that kitchens would offer a choice of something other than cottony white bread/rolls.

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