Eat unique: Distinctive food experiences from around the basin

Lake Tahoe does not fall short on unique experiences. From trails in the summertime to slopes and backcountry in the winter, one can forge their own path with different excursions every day. But, if you’re looking for unique experiences on the food front, where do you start? Here, of course.

Sure, there are many great options when it comes to food and drink around the entire basin. You can get international fare, farm to fork specialties, and world famous cocktails, but if you’re looking for something truly unique, it probably has to strike a chord that is outside the normal dining experience.

So for this experience, I wanted to seek out some options that might be a bit off the radar. Whether it’s the food itself, or the overall experience, I wanted to explore those options that help those of you looking for something a little different – something that leaves you with a lasting impression and, hopefully, has you walking away with a full belly and a permanent smile.

The Paella Party

EATS Cooking Company’s Paella Party.

My very first paella experience came in the south of Spain. It was a dinner that had been prepared by a family-owned restaurant with that day’s catch from the Mediterranean Sea. To this day, that dish is by far the most memorable, and quite possibly the best tasting thing I have ever eaten. It was a celebration with family and friends on our last night in the country and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

So, when I learned that EATS Cooking Company, a food truck based in Truckee, was not only offering a similar paella experience, but that they were completely mobile and could come to you to be able to host a paella party of your own, I simply had to inquire.

At the core of all Chef Tommy Adkins’ menus is a deep passion for animal ethics and environmental sustainability. That passion translates with ease to not only the food he’s pumping out, but also the people he’s creating it for.

When I asked Chef Tommy Adkins what his favorite thing about doing this type of cooking event for people, he focused on the gathering.

“It’s soul nourishing,” said Adkins. “It brings people around the pan to talk and get together – a truly communal experience.”

Those pans he mentions are huge three-feet wide paella pans and a large component of the presentation that’s part food and part entertainment. They’re able to turn parties around fairly quickly by sourcing local seafood from Morgan’s Lobster Shack and prepping all the veggies ahead of time so they’re completely prepared for the addition of the white wine for the on-site sauté show.

“Paella is not fancy food. It’s really peasant food seasoned properly,” added Adkins. “A large part of what we shoot for is sustainability. We can meet people’s dietary needs and be vegetarian or vegan – it just depends on what we’re adding to the saffron rice.”

If you’re choosing proteins from items like scallops, sausage, crab legs, or shrimp, you know you’re getting the best of what’s around to help satisfy your foodie cravings while also being responsible on the food side.

And because of the mobility of the food truck, the very best part of this experience is being able to do it at the place you feel most comfortable: home. Yes, you can arrange for this to be done elsewhere, but there’s just something about the way things taste when you’re at your most comfortable surrounded by the people you care about.

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Bourbon and Barbeque

Ten Crows BBQ’s Heart Attack.
Rob Galloway/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

Sometimes you see a dish on a menu that looks and sounds so crazy, but has the potential to be amazingly delicious, that you have to live in the moment and just go for it. Enter the Heart Attack, stage left.

Before we dive into the burger, we need to set the stage – and how better to set a stage than to do it with an amazing whiskey selection. Ten Crows BBQ in South Lake Tahoe has, arguably, the best whiskey selection on the south shore. Heck, they even had their own Maker’s Mark Private Select made for them.

Anyone that can appreciate the smoke and style that comes from great barbecue, has to appreciate a good whiskey. Whatever you’re in the mood for, or dish you’d like to pair it with, they have the perfect option for you. They even have their own whiskey of the month club you can attend (no secret code word needed). Well, so long as there’s an open space because it’s pretty exclusive and seats go quick.

But, enough about the whiskey, let’s dive into the decadence. The Heart Attack is an experience like no other. What if I told you this monster of a burger came with sizzling bacon, melted cheddar cheese, tangy pickled peppers and pickles, topped with their signature Alabama white barbecue sauce – oh, and all of that was nestled between two pieces of sweet tea fried chicken that substituted for a bun. Would you be scared or thrilled? I, for one, took the thrill ride. How can you not, right?

The chicken breasts are butterflied before getting the soak in the sweet tea brine. Once they get battered and fried, and all the other ingredients piled in between, you have to come to the realization that this will not be a clean and dandy battle. And if you’ve come this far, you absolutely cannot knife and fork this dish – you have to go all the way and just smash it in your face. This is the only way to experience the flavor bliss that’s about to be bestowed upon you.

Tastes and textures are throwing haymakers at your taste buds like you’re standing in the middle of the ring with Mike Tyson. The peppered bacon adds smokiness, and the Alabama white sauce calms down the richness just enough to allow for the pickles to zing in and zing out. Perhaps the ingredient that brings everything together – and it’s one you might not think – is the peppers. They bring the balance to the force while giving everything else their time to shine.

It’s so juicy that if it starts to roll down the side of your hand, it’s ok to start licking – this is the ultimate indulgence.

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10-Course Carousel

Trokay’s 10-Course Carousel

This experience takes the typical four or five course meal experience and dials it up to 11. Well, 10, to be exact. Chef and owner of Trokay in Truckee, John Weatherson, has spent the past decade trying to define the flavors of Tahoe.

Everything from taking hikes in nature with friends who tout a PhD in botany to find ingredients like Manzanita berries or mountain gooseberries, to exclusively doing all their smoking with Tahoe juniper, Trokay works to give diners their perspective of place and sense – a chance to experience edible art.

“The experience has to play on all the senses,” said Weatherson. “We close for three weeks and scrap everything we did before to get two brand new menus twice a year. Then we rotate seasonal ingredients, but it’s not as simple as just swapping out a dish – it needs to have a holistic experience and the meal has to flow.”

Creating that menu is much like an author writing a novel – complete, at times, with writer’s block. Ultimately the end result typically consists of the first seven courses leaning towards the savory side, then a composed cheese course, followed by a beignet (flavored with sugar pine sap and pollen), finishing with a fancy scoop of ice cream flavored with woodruff. The woodruff adds a spicy and woodsy flavor, but yields an intense vanilla flavor. Ideally, you should end the meal feeling like you just walked through the Tahoe forest.

The 10-course experience typically lasts about two and half to three hours from start to finish. There is an option for a more condensed four-course option, which Weatherson says is more approachable, but you don’t get the full impressions of what they are trying to do.

Pricing of the meal fluctuates depending on each seasonal menu. However, you have the opportunity to further heighten the experience by including wine and/or caviar pairings.

“About three-quarters of our diners get the wine pairings,” added Weatherson. “We get a lot of comments that the pairings are exceptional but our caviar is off the charts, unbelievable. We go through about a kilo of caviar a week and they have the option of two different tiers – classic and reserve.”

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High Roller Experience

Joe’s Sports Bar and Grille’s High Roller.
Rob Galloway/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

Imagine sitting at a poker table playing Texas hold ’em. You’ve got four cards to a royal flush, waiting on the river, and you’ve just gone all-in on your opponent. They call and you flop the card you were hoping to get. You’ve just won a substantial pot and want to celebrate, but how?

Joe’s Sports Bar and Grille inside Harveys Casino in Stateline, Nevada, has the answer.

Their High Roller pairing gives you the opportunity to bask in all your new found glory; or, just your regular glory if you weren’t quite as successful on the casino floor.

Probably not what you’d expect from a sports bar and grille, but they’re dishing out any of their master pizzas coated in 24 karat gold and serving it with a bottle of ice cold Cristal – complete with Waterford crystal champagne flutes.

Wait, what? Yes, fresh out of the safe in the back, about 120 grams of gold flakes (six sheets) are dotted atop the pizza like a crown of royalty giving each pie it’s sparkly personal bling. And don’t be scared about eating the gold – you really can’t taste it and it digests just fine.

The bottle of Cristal eats up the main chunk of this $500 price tag. Created in limited bottles of production each year and cellar-aged for six years, it’s one of the most prestigious wines available. Cling that in some crystal glasses and you have yourself a show-stopping meal – literally.

Sitting underneath the gold is, of course, the pizza – each handcrafted and made with East Coast mozzarella – a slightly creamier and saltier version of the traditional version you know and love.

Be prepared if you do order this, to have people around the restaurant take notice. It’s not everyday people see a $500, gold plated pizza make an appearance in a restaurant. You might even need to wait a few minutes for people to snap photos and selfies before diving in. This is like a celebrity walking the red carpet. It looks like a million bucks and capturing the moment highlights this incredibly fun experience.

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Editor’s note: This story appears in the 2021-22 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine.

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