Apologia for the non-food related material. There's not much of it, and it adds flavor to the text... and food is all about flavor... and...
Thanks in advance to Steve, Janet, and jlawrence01 for great feedback on short notice, and to everyone else whose posts provided me with information!
We left at 1:30 and arrived at Mr. Taco, our lunch stop in Dixon, an hour later. Going NE, it's the first of five Dixon exits, just on the right of the offramp. This Mexican spot was heartily recommended to us, and sounded like a lighter meal than our normal stop in Colfax. Besides, we were hungry. I ordered the carnitas (as recommended), which were good, but not amazing. The pork was both a bit greasy and a bit hardened from overcooking, and the rice and beans were disappointing. The flour tortillas, though, were incredible, as was the salsa selection. She ordered two tacos (pollo and carne asada), both of which I liked (she only thought they were okay, though). Next time I'll do the ala carte bit as well... but since my trip I've heard there are a lot more Mexican restaurants further into Dixon, so probably I will try a new place. $12+ ("+" for "plus tip").
We arrived in Reno, and spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out the parking lot around the Reno Hilton. Very bizarre; if you stay there, drive around it a few times and you'll find shortcuts out to the freeways. Checked in, were handed about two dozen coupons, and went up to our room (1984; easy to remember since we had listened to that album on the way!). A very quiet room (for the first night), but as with all casino hotels, it's a looong walk from the car to your room.
We had planned on having a larger Basque dinner tonight, but it was already a bit late to make it to the Santa Fe Basque (which would close in just one hour). Looked at our list, and decided on a quick hop over to BJ's BBQ out in Sparks. We drove back and forth, hunting for the elusive 754 N McCarran, not seeing it. After two stops and three passes, we were ready to give up, when she saw it. It's not visible from McCarran; it's in a plaza on the right (heading N) but it's around the far corner. Alas, as we pulled up we saw them putting chairs on top of the tables. Feh! It also looked kind of... well, kind of pure and corporate, more like a Togo's or Subway than a barbecue spot. I expect billows of smoke and that somehow "you just can't get the grease to stay off things" out of my barbecue restaurants, not polished tabletops and countertops. So it may have been for the best. Still -- closing at 8pm seems criminal.
So, not quite ready to give up and hit an Arby's we went to Bangkok Cuisine. Very friendly service. We ordered the curry pop appetizer (amazing), larb (quite good but too spicy), tom yum gai (listed as "hot'n'sour" soup, but it wasn't), and the Bangkok sizzling platter (a house specialty). The larb was too spicy because we asked for it to be very spicy, knowing that most Thai places down the spice level for gaijin gringos like us. Not here! The sizzling platter was quite good; meat choice in curry, stir-fried with spinach and vegetables, with a drizzle of peanut sauce. Amazingly good, although the first serving was best -- the spinach taste grew stronger and stronger as it cooled, leaving the last bites bitter and untouched. The tom yum was most disappointing. It was more of a vegetable soup with chicken and lemongrass than anything I recognize as tom yum. Stay away from that, but definitely give Bangkok Cuisine a try. $28+. Very attentive staff. With the larb so hot we were guzzling water as fast as we could, and our glasses were topped off every couple of minutes.
Darkness came, and we slept. On to Thursday:
Because of the coupons, we hit The Lodge (the Reno Hilton buffet) (Side note: be forewarned that they only accept one "bed and breakfast special" $5 off coupon per person, something that is not listed anywhere. If you stay two nights, you will need to dine twice at the hotel.) Most reviews claim that the Peppermill has the best breakfast buffet, but I would rate this one as just as good. It looked smaller, but I recall that the Peppermill just repeated the same items over and over (so there were six scrambled egg stations). A good selection, just what you would expect, with only a few "odd" items: an egg pizza (somewhere between an omelet, a quiche, and a pizza); a chili bar (good chili, too); and something called "beef fritters". I have no idea what these were, but they looked scary. When asked, she refused to tell me what they were. Ah, well. Prices at this buffet also do not skyrocket on weekends as they do at most casinos; it's more expensive, but the rise from $8 to $10 is not too bad (at some casinos it doubles!). $17+, although it was really $7+ with our coupons, and well worth that price.
Drove out to the big mall (near Virginia and S McCarran), and had a decent time. The chain bookstores just north of there were not so amazing. The Borders had only a tiny selection. The Waldenbooks (in the mall) was not much better; they did had a huge scifi section, but all fifteen shelves represented maybe twenty authors. Row after row of identical books. A shame.
We did not have many "lunch" spots planned out, so decided to try the Dish, which only came with third-party recommendations (but it was also the closest restaurant, and the snow was starting to fall). I ordered the "Eat At Joe's" turkey sandwich, which was excellent, if a bit salty. She ordered the egg salad sandwich, which was great once we cut up the side pickle and added it in (we're used to pickle relish in our egg salad). I also ordered a side salad, which was incredible, if of unknown value: both of us had side salads of identical sizes. Either all sandwiches automatically come with it (and I was ripped off, not receiving my extra), or the cook gave her a free salad to balance out our plates (which would be amazingly cool). I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. It was somewhat small for a side salad, but well worth it. Homemade lemonade came with free refills; hot chocolate supposedly did but we couldn't see any. $20+.
Headed off from there on a used bookstore hunt, but couldn't find two of them. We did find Black and White, which had a great military history section, and row after row of older (1930-70) scifi. Great selection, if a bit on the expensive side. Then off to the hotel arcade, which was fun, if expensive. When did all video games (even pinball) jump up to $.5?
Dinner as planned at Beto's, a fave from our last trip. It was the same as last time (broken sign, tight parking lot). Remembering that the rice and beans were only okay, we went ala carte, starting with a taco, sopa, and enchilada each (with pollo, carne asada, and pastor), chips and salsa, and two margueritas that we had to ask after, as they hadn't shown up after ten minutes. We were still hungry, so finished with a taco for me, and tostada for her (the tostada costs more but is huge). The only things I did not like were the chips (flavorless and salty) and the pastor (which was also heavily salty). Not as amazing as our first trip, but I'll still return on my next trip. Left quite bloated at $20+.
Returning to the hotel, I confirmed what I had subconsciously noticed before: on every elevator trip we had only seen people going to the 19th and 21st floors. No wonder the hotel was seeming much noisier but not more crowded downstairs; they were putting most of the guests on a handful of floors! Sigh. But most of the noise was from the freaks who would go out into the hallway to chat on their cell phone. Apparently it's bad to annoy those you sleep with, but okay to annoy hundreds of strangers. People.
Yet again, darkness came. Next thing we knew, it was... Friday:
Breakfast at Deux Gros Nez, our absolute fave from the last trip. We ate there for two of our six Reno meals last year! We both ordered the eggs brutus and coffee, and a scone for her. Last year I asked to substitute tomatoes and mushrooms for the cream cheese (which they happily did), but this time they had no tomatoes. The waiter offered to toss in some salsa, though, which was fine by me. This is where the similarity with last year starts to break down. The decaf was empty, and it was a long time before they refilled it. Salsa was decidedly missing from my eggs, and our potatoes were oddly moist and undercooked (as versus crispy and delicious). The scone never arrived, but happily they even forgot to put it on the cheque, which we had to go up to the register for. Admittedly, the staff was different, and there was a huge influx of people just after us. One of the locals even went and helped with the food delivery! But the number of people wasn't any larger than our last two visits. So: it was still an okay breakfast, but it's moved down on my list. $16+.
On the way to Deux Gros Nez we happened to pass by Peg's Glorified Ham and Eggs, and I knew Newman's was nearby, so we drove around a bit (only to find they were both within a block or two -- but hey, it was snowing!). There were maybe two dozen folks waiting to get into Peg's (half of them outside in the snow), and the menu read like a standard breakfast spot, only about a dollar more expensive per item. Including coffee. I'm not paying $2 for coffee, so this dropped off our list. Newman's was closed for the holiday (Halloween or Nevada Day, take your pick), and the window sign indicated it was a weekday joint. Maybe next trip.
For lunch, we were cheap, and used our remaining "bed and breakfast" coupons at the hotel cafe, Cafe Espresso. One ham and swiss croissant, one roasted beast and cheddar on cioppini, both with potato salad and pickle. As expected, not amazing. The croissant was a much better value volumewise, and the potato salad was a very creamy one. Still, it was $10.54 before coupons, so $0.54 for *two* lunches. For that price they were truly amazing!
We had been planning to dine Basque (at Santa Fe Basque, again), but weren't all that hungry when the time arrived. Breakfast hadn't settled well with her, and our lunch had been on the late side. So we went through her list of Japanese places (along with one we drove by on the used bookstore hunts), and picked out three possibilities that were all in the same general area. We searched for Aloha, but it seemed to not exist, so we headed to the second choice, the random find near Black and White books. After the usual "I'd swear it was right here!", we found it, and went into...
Kyoto. If you go here, the lunch menu is much cheaper. We split a kappa maki (cucumber; she doesn't eat fish), I had chicken teriyaki, she had vegetable tempura, and we traded off, as usual. The vegetable tempura is probably seasonal, but we had mushrooms, green peppers, potatoes, green beans, and a wonderous mixture of shredded carrot and onion -- think tiny onion rings and fried, breaded carrot shreds. Quite tasty. The chicken teriyaki was better than I've ever had in the SF bay area, and the kappa maki was... well, kappa maki, but very well prepared. The only odd/bad part was that the side that came with the teriyaki was... potato salad? Not even a good one. Strange and creepy, given all the text on the menu that suggests that only complete authenticity is tolerated in the kitchen. Still, it was an unexpected side, so I just skipped it; no harm, no foul. $24+, and we've added this to our "lunch" list for the next trip.
Returned to the hotel for the "Halloween Party". I'm not a big partygoer, but this was lame beyond belief. The cover band in the bar upstairs was better than the techno-wannabes on stage. The tickets were free (from the hotel deal we got); I would have been quite distraught to have actually paid $25 for a ticket to see a dead band and a hundred people standing around (ordering as many drinks as they could, even though it was $5 for a domestic bottle of beer!).
Darkness came again. Actually, it came during the snow flurries on the way to find Kyoto, but darkness is always a great segue. On to Saturday:
We consulted our lists, and found only one breakfast spot remained that had not been visited or nixed: the Pneumatic Diner. A tricky spot to find. We drove past the address several times, and confirmed that the only building it *could* be in was a hotel. Not wanting to go away empty -stomached, we bravely entered, told the guy about the address dilemma, and asked him if he knew where the Diner was. He did. It was up a flight of stairs built into the back of the hotel... oh, and it wouldn't open until 9am. It was freezing cold (I've acclimated to the SF bay area climate), and only 8am, so we left. "Where do we go now?", we wondered. Took the long way back down Virginia, hoping to just see some place, until we passed Mill's street, when a random thought struck me: one of the places we'd been had been pretty good, and they had a few interesting breakfast items. Aha! Saved! So we broke our fast at:
Dish. Completely empty when we arrived, but locals slowly started arriving. We were disappointed to hear that they weren't carrying most of the Saturday specials (as it was kind of a holiday), but they were making french toast, which she had (and raved about). I tried the Dish Breakfast Sandwich (toasted ciabatta roll with two eggs, bacon, and cheese), which was only okay. We split an order of oven roasted potatoes, and I made the mistake of specifying "extra crispy" and moaning out my tale of woe from Deux Gros Nez. Alas, they took me at my word, and fried them a bit first, then baked them extra, so most of them were hard and chewy. Mea culpa. Still, the ones that weren't over crisped were quite good. Oh, and their coffee was quite good, although they tend towards the darker roasts. There's not a lot of variety on their non-Saturday-special breakfast menu, though, so it has little repeat value unless you really loved something. $20+ (seems to be our average).
After breakfast we headed down towards the "reason" for the trip: the World Beard Championship in Carson City. Initially we were going to stay two days in Reno, two in Carson City, but all the hotels had been sold out due to the duelling events (Nevada Day and beard thing). So we were down to maybe two meals in Carson City. So of course, lunch had to be at the place we loved last year:
La Villa Basque Deli and Cafe. Much more crowded than last time, but it was a weekend near the lunch hour, instead of a weekday at 2:30pm. Alas, we were not as impressed by the food. I had the Basque style beef stew, which was great last time, but this time it didn't seem to have sat in the pot long enough. The chunks of meat were a bit hard, and the carrots crunchy. Still good, but not as good. She didn't feel like a chorizo sandwich (one of their other specialties), so tried #4, chicken enchilada and chorizo tamale. Those were okay, but the tamale was covered with cheese (???), the enchilada sauce had a distinct red bell pepper taste, and the rice and beans uneventful. Maybe our feelings towards rice and beans have changed a lot since we started cooking our own, but there are very few restaurants that seem to put any effort into them anymore. $18+.
On to the beard contest, where we spent most of our time waiting. The organizer was one of those people who has to be in direct control, constantly plugs himself, and... did a really poor job. We were there literally from 2pm until just before 10pm, when we fled from starvation -- and the judging wasn't even over! This for an event that (two weeks prior) was supposed to be from 1-5pm. Even the revised schedules from the day of the event said the final judging would run from 7-9pm -- and that did not start until 8:30 because they had "problems at the copiers". No announcements, or even acknowledgments, of the delay until it started. Half the time we were there the sub-organizers were running around looking for him and paging him. Sorry for the rant, but if he organizes something again, I'm either not going, or bringing a sleeping bag.
I was a finalist in the "freestyle goatee" category, so I guess I'm glad we stuck it out, but we had to leave early, because everything is closed by 10pm (and we were starved already). We pulled into an Arby's out of desperation, only to be yelled at by the woman behind the counter that "we're closed, we've been closed for an hour". Sorry, miss, if you don't lock your door and turn the sign off, people are going to assume you're open. Stomachs growling, we head north towards Reno, hoping we don't faint of hunger on the way... only to see a Wendy's as we reach the edge of town. We slip in just before they lock the door (they lock it as we're ordering). I have no idea what we ordered, and you probably don't care, but we stuffed ourselves on something that was filling for about $9 (no plus, fast food places don't get tips). Headachy, exhausted, but no longer hungry, we headed back to the hotel.
Darkness had already come, so we hit the sack^H^H^H^Hbed, after setting the alarm early. So on to Sunday:
We were tired and ready to go home (hence the alarm), so figured we'd just hit the hotel buffet again. It was pretty good, and not too much more expensive on weekends. But they were packed, and had a line that didn't move, so we just headed back to the small cafe and got ham'n'cheese stuffed criossants and coffee. $10, but it was fast.
Then we checked out and zoomed home. Snow had started to fall (with a blatant disregard for the local weather forecasters), and signs were on saying "expect to need chains". We didn't have any, so instead we revved the car up and zoomed over the quickly accumulating snow on Donner Pass. Probably not the safest thing in the world, but it probably beats getting stuck in Truckee, or having to buy chains that we're never going to use again. We debated trying the Pizza Factory in Loomis or Colfax (since the original one south of Yosemite was amazing), but we weren't hungry by then. Ditto as Dixon went by. So instead we just came home and steamed up some frozen dumplings from Shan Dong in Oakland. They're $12.50 for 50, and five make a huge lunch, so it was about $2.50.
In order of appearance:
6134 Dixon Ave W
(second location: 819A Davis St, Vacaville, 707/448-9505)
serves breakfast, probably open all day most days
55 Mt. Rose St (just off Virginia)
Mon-Sat 11a-4p (lunch), 4p-10p (dinner)
2500 E 2nd St
Mon-Fri 7a-10:30a (breakfast), 11:30a-2p (lunch), 5p-9p (dinner)
Sat-Sun 7a-3p (brunch)
855 Mill St
575 W 5th (between Keystone and Arlington)
Deux Gros Nex
249 California, near Liberty
915 W Moana Lane
Mon-Sat 11:30a-2:30p (lunch), 5-9:30p (dinner)
La Villa Basque
730 Basque Way (just S Hot Springs and Roop)
Carson City, NV