For some Reno restaurants, there’s a new, new now.
These are places that opened in the past 15 months, but because of pandemic concerns and restrictions, they couldn’t make a typical debut.
But following the return to full capacity on June 1, “it’s like another grand opening for them,” said Cheree Boteler of Hungry in Reno, who spoke with folks from nearly 100 restaurants to organize the recent Reno Food & Drink Week.
“They can finally have the experience of operating completely. It’s like they’re new again.”
We’re adopting this definition of new to file these latest dispatches from the Reno restaurant front. Among the reconnaissance highlights: fast casual Thai, family cooking from South India and a table that’s yours for the evening.
Some would say the cupcake trend has had its day. Amy Adams, owner of Basic Batch, concurs — and dissents.
“Basic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes? They have had their day. But that’s why we say we do anything but basic cupcake flavors. You can’t go just anywhere and get Mexican jalapeño cupcakes or churro cupcakes,” two Basic Batch signatures.
The bakery, online only for now, offers build-your-own cupcakes fashioned from various cakes, fillings and frostings, as well as a host of custom flavors like chocolate cherry nutmeg, blackberry carrot and hundreds and thousands candy sprinkles.
For Father’s Day, June 20, Adams is creating a confectionery box that includes red velvet cheesecake cupcakes and chicken and waffle cupcakes crowned with a homemade chicken nugget dipped in syrup, for that breakfast effect. A portion of the proceeds benefits a local nonprofit.
Basic Batch was new and just hitting its stride when the pandemic arrived, but its online ordering model and lack of a physical shop proved to be a benefit during the COVID-19 shutdown, Adams said.
These days, the Basic Batch owner cooks orders from the kitchen of Cantina Los Tres Hombres in the Legends Center in Sparks. A Basic Batch food truck is “currently in the works, (we’re) getting it outfitted,” Adams said. Look for the cupcakes to hit the road next summer.
BOUCHÉE CONFECTIONS, 940 W. Moana Lane, suite 102, (775) 384-1455
Here is Natalie Landsinger’s idea of a gluten-free dessert: a domed lollapalooza mingling coconut mousse, pineapple coulis, coconut dacquoise, Italian meringue and white chocolate tinted goldenrod.
“I didn’t want to do the flourless chocolate cake every gluten-free person has had a thousand times,” said Landsinger, the Paris-trained pastry chef and chocolatier who launched Bouchée Confections during Thanksgiving week 2020.
The headliners at the shop aren’t gluten-free, though. The marquee roles fall to Landsinger’s chocolates and her petits gâteaux (“little cakes”) desserts.
The chocolates, crafted from single-origin stock, perform in more than two dozen flavors, including lavender or chai tea, saffron or pistachio praline. The malted milk chocolate bonbon resembles a turquoise hemisphere; the salted butter caramel bonbon is shaped into a polyhedron, an edible geometry lesson. Customers can mix and match their chocolates.
Landsinger’s desserts variously layer mousses, creams, cakes, crunch and other ingredients. “I get a lot of questions about the desserts,” she said. “I’m working to have eight or 10 different desserts every day. The desserts are something I really want Reno people to enjoy.”
Summer is slow season for chocolates (think: melting in the car), so Landsinger is adding tables and chairs to create a café experience, she said. “Come in, meet a friend, have a coffee and dessert.”
Wherever Landsinger has worked, she always returned home to Lake Tahoe to see her family. Reno, down mountain, was “a great and growing market, so I said, ‘Let’s go in there.’ “
EMPIENADA, 3683 Kings Row, in Viewcrest Center, (775) 468-7437
Empanada doughs both ways.
A sturdier style of dough for empanadas, a flakier style of dough for pot pies — with both dishes celebrated in the stylized name of the restaurant: emPIEnada.
Like its name and menu, the restaurant itself is a combination deal, launching two months ago as a food truck and a takeout-only spot. Kevin Warren, an attorney and Creole food truck owner in Los Angeles, returned to his native Reno in 2018. He and his business partner opened Empienada.
“We didn’t want to do tacos. There are way too many taco trucks out there, way too many fusions out there,” Warren said. “I’ve been a fan of empanadas for a long time, so Empienada came out of that.”
The outfit offers fresh empanadas you break open to reveal stuffing like Nutella banana, smoked ham and cheese, and pork and sweet potatoes with Peruvian spices. For pot pies, sold fresh or frozen, you fork through golden lids to excavate fillings like hearty vegetables, beef and Guinness, and chicken miso with boiled egg (like ramen re-imagined in pastry).
“We aren’t trying to do something you can get in the freezer in the supermarket,” Warren said of the pot pies.
Besides pot pie flavors, this philosophy is amply communicated by Empienada’s takeaway boxes: “Open your pie hole!” they urge. Also on the menu: fried spicy risotto and mac and cheese balls.
FOURK KITCHEN, 4991 S. Virginia St., suite B, in Redfield Promenade, (775) 870-1000
No, he doesn’t still have stock. (Alas.)
That’s what Paul Jansen, owner of Fourk Kitchen, laughingly tells people when they learn he was once an executive with GameStop, the electronics retailer whose shares famously soared earlier this year after coordinated purchasing by day traders.
Jansen, also a former Marine and current member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, opened Fourk Kitchen two months ago in the space once occupied by We Olive & Wine Bar. The concept is distinctive in Reno, with the restaurant offering a single reserved dinner seating for a four-course $49 prix fixe menu that changes monthly.
In June, that menu included cream of asparagus soup with arugula microgreens, like spring in a bowl, and beef Wellington, a grand old classic, bedded in potato purée. In July, look for chipotle watermelon gazpacho with cucumbers jabbed by chile-lime seasoning, and tri-tip slices with gusts of chimichurri.
Serving one seating of a set menu allows Jansen to control costs and portion size because he knows how much food to order. This approach also significantly reduces food waste, “which is great when you think about sustainability and respecting food,” the owner said.
The Fourk Kitchen concept fuels creativity, too. “We don’t have to follow a traditional cuisine order,” Jansen said. “We can mix an Indian course with an Italian course. We might do Asian and then Italian and the next course French.”
Jansen got his start in the business with Citizen Vine wine bar and the original Fourk Kitchen, both of which he still owns in Lincoln, Calif., outside Sacramento.
MAYA’S SOUTH INDIAN CUISINE, 8175 S. Virginia St., suite 800, SW Pavilion, 775-391-6262
Strike while the idli is hot. A dosa a day keeps the doctor away.
At Maya’s, these classic sayings with a tasty twist are stenciled on one wall. The sayings celebrate two essentials of South Indian cooking: spongy idli cakes and thin dosa pancakes, both fashioned from fermented lentils and rice.
Maya’s opened in late November 2020 after moving from its original West Street Market storefront in downtown Reno.
Owner Anitha Chiranjivi prepares idli, dosa, stews, curries and other dishes she learned growing up in Chennai in South India. Most menu items are organic, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan, and most cannot be found at any other Indian restaurant in Northern Nevada.
In other words, there’s nary a chicken tikka or vindaloo in sight.
“Those Indian dishes that many people are familiar with, I explain they are from other parts of India,” Chiranjivi said. “Maya’s menu is all dishes that I make at home for my family. It’s typical home cooking.”
Among the menu standouts: masala dosa pancakes stuffed with potatoes and onions; lentil balls in tangy tamarind gravy; and sambar vegetable stew served with rice, sides and dessert in a silver cafeteria tray. There are also daily specials and a half-dozen Indian beers.
Unlike the downtown Maya’s, Chiranjivi doesn’t have to share space. “Now that I have my own kitchen, I can explore a lot of other South Indian dishes,” she said.
Maya’s takes its name from Chiranjivi’s 4-year-old daughter, Maya.
RED BLOOM ASIAN KITCHEN, 3800 S. Virginia St., in Atlantis Casino Resort, (775) 824-4431
This isn’t your takeout fried rice.
At Red Bloom, the pan-Asian restaurant that debuted in late December 2020 in the Atlantis casino, fried rice becomes a wok of art. The dish begins with jasmine rice flavored by chicken seasoning, a bit of dark soy sauce, a jot of sugar. Chicken, pork or shrimp and egg are layered in, along with baubles like micro parsnips and orange and purple cauliflower.
The dish arrives mounded on a black plate, finished by a tangle of pea shoots and a topknot of thin fried carrot curls.
This modern version of fried rice is joined on the menu by dishes like lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice, siu mai, Sichuan chicken, pho stocked with tendon and beef balls, pork belly ramen, Korean beef short ribs and whole Peking duck. Chef Michael Dancer helms the kitchen.
“This has been a three-year process for me, studying various techniques and working with many Asian chefs” Dancer said, as Red Bloom approaches its six-month anniversary. “We make a huge effort to be truly authentic and true to the various cultures. Several dishes we have worked on over and over and over.”
As the team hones the menu, Dancer said, he’s looking forward to adding dishes from Asian countries like the Philippines that aren’t currently represented at the restaurant.
A moon gate, taken from traditional Japanese and Chinese garden design, marks the entrance to Red Bloom, which features a circular dining room garnished with decorative steamers and brightened by the image of a woman dramatically gazing across the space.
To accompany the fried rice (and other dishes), there are Asian beers and spirits, sakes, and Asian-inspired craft cocktails, like a lemon drop accented by a hollowed lemon wedge filled with boba pearls.
RICE BOX KITCHEN, 555 S. Virginia St., suite 103, Great Full Gardens center, (775) 384-3401
A black-and-white mural covers the east wall of Rice Box Kitchen in Midtown. The mural depicts two versions of owner Perapol Damnernpholkul, one version whispering in the ear of the other. This double-take, the owner said, celebrates the notion of eat-drink-gossip: the tagline of the restaurant and the name of his former underground kitchen in San Francisco.
For many years, Damnernpholkul owned an interior design staging company in the city. “During COVID,” he said, “San Francisco was all shut down, so I didn’t really have a direction to cook, and I didn’t want to do design anymore, so I moved here for the restaurant.”
Rice Box launched in April. Damnernpholkul cooks a deliberately modest menu of six dishes from his Thai heritage, like a winning khao mun gai: poached chicken slices atop rice graced by coconut and ginger, with soy chili sauce lending a hum of heat.
“It’s nothing too complicated or pretentious,” the owner said. “This is a family business — my sister and brother-in-law help out. You come to Rice Box Kitchen, we put it in a box and here you go.”
On weekends, Rice Box offers dim sum like steamer-hot har gow or tamales draped in Thai red curry sauce or savory char siu bao made with pastry-style dough instead of traditional flour and wheat starch dough. Business is split 50-50, Damnernpholkul said, between takeout and sit-down dining (either inside or out).
Another location is possible, he said, “but for now, I’m content and want to focus on this one and do the best that I can to make sure my food is consistent.”