Adventures in eating
It’s no mystery that Reno has had it’s share of challenges over the last few years. A walk through downtown Reno wasn’t quite what it used to be. Casino after casino just as it has been for a while. That is, until this weekend…..
CommRow is the brainchild of Fernando Leal. It’s an adventure inspired hotel with attractions that no one in Nevada, hardly the west coast, has seen before. The world’s tallest climbing wall, indoor walls, a green hotel and more. But, we’re here to talk about food!
Dining at CommRow
Simply opening one restaurant wasn’t enough to please Fernando. He wanted something more, a little different. His answer to that was to create an indoor extravaganza inspired by the great street food stands around the world. Aptly named “The Row”, no less than five different eateries will fill the bottom floor, along with a handful of quaint bars to grab a drink.
Upon entering for the first time you will be overwhelmed by the choices. Take a minute to walk around and check out the various menus that are each very well thought out and very well executed from what I’ve tasted so far.
Below is a run down of the restaurants serving at the site’s opening. They’re doing things the smart way and keeping it just to their signature items for now. This ensures that they can blow you away with great food and invite you back soon to try the new grub.
Qué- northern style Mexican tacos
Al pastor, chicken and veggie will be on the opening menu. More choices may be added as they build on the menus but after a taste of these you may not want a change. Fresh grilled tortillas filled with your choice and topped with house made salsas. Simple, tasty and quick. You can order them one at a time or a plate of three.
A great play on words reveals itself in this Chicago style sandwich spot. Two items are available, each with their own unique options.
The Chicago beef sandwich is perfectly classic with slow cooked top round and giardiniere, either spicy or regular. They pile it up on bread flown in from Chicago to make it perfectly authentic. Order it up dry (no extra jus), wet (a ladle full on top) or dipped (they dunk the whole sandwich in the juices). For your first, you have to get dipped!
Their second offering is an Italian sausage sandwich. They split the same bread and fill it with a natural casing sausage from The Sausage Factory. It then gets it’s share of grilled peppers and up to you to dress it if you wish.
Tar Tar Bar
Instead of jumping on the sushi bandwagon, the team decided to offer up something unique to Reno. The Tar Tar Bar will serve a selection of tartars, including beef, beet, salmon, tuna and more. All tossed to order from super fresh ingredients. It’s a refreshing change to the cookie cutter sushi shops around.
The chef says this will be the busiest spot in the room. After hearing about the creations I can’t say I would disagree. Classic lamb gyros, fillafel, and Greek inspired sandwiches and fries will fill you up and please the palate. By the way, we’re not talking pre-packaged gyro meat here, the vertical rotisserie stands proud in the open kitchen. Order it up and they slice you order right there, hard to beat!
Tucked in a quaint corner of the first floor lies the requisite coffee shop. I hear it won’t be a “skinny vanilla with an extra shot and no foam” kind of place. But, they will be the only place offering La Colombe, an independently-owned coffee company whose free-trade grown and harvested beans will have less than 48-hours between roaster and coffee cup. The case will also be filled with fresh baked pastries from 5th Street Bakehouse and other local specialties. And, one wall is devoted to the “Honor Library”. Grab a book or a movie and bring it back when you’re done, or donate your own and let someone else enjoy them.
What good would all this food be without dessert? Hit up Twisted for soft serve and candy by the pound to create your favorite mix of sugary goodness.
Over one hundred artisan and small producer tequilas fill the walls in this homage to the agave plant. Seasonal margaritas made from fresh fruits and a selection of imported Mexican beers will quench the heat of your tacos from Qué.
This will be my hangout no doubt. A tribute to pre-prohibition cocktails and Reno’s early gambling days, Lucky Lane will offer up a great selection of whiskey and bourbon. Order it neat or in a classic sidecar, old fashioned, or any other expertly mixed classic.
An intimate cabaret style lounge featuring local music acts on stage every day. The full bar offers up your favorite poison and food can come from any of the eateries in the building.
Moving on up
The second floor of the property, properly dubbed “Base Camp”, is mostly occupied by the two huge climbing structures in the middle of the room. The entrance to the soon to be famous exterior wall is at the East end of the room, just past the two foodie destinations.
In my opinion, Reno lacks places that offer up a good drink along with a great view of the city. Not anymore…… V15 on the second floor has an outside deck that overlooks Virginia Street and the covered train tracks. I’m guessing the lines for the deck will be long during any downtown event. It will be the place to be during next summer’s activities. Or, hang out inside and watch the climbers hit the wall, race to the top and drop to the floor. Either choice is sure to be a great way to spend a little time with friends.
The climbers that visit Base Camp will undoubtedly be in need of a pick me up. This juice bar will serve all of your requisite juice blends with energy infusions, parfaits, snacks and more to keep you fueled up for the day. Smoothies, fruit and healthy snacks are the name of the game here.
Reno’s newest venue for live music and performances can fit about 500 people. It has it’s own bar and is set up to serve food as well. This space will be multipurpose and house fitness classes and more when the lights are up during the day. It’s also available to rent out for your own private function.
As luck would have it, a man I’ve known for many years is taking the reigns of the food operations at CommRow. Richard LaCounte and I met back in our first culinary school at Glenn Hare. As I stayed back in Reno, he traveled the country working with restaurant legends and honing his skills. Years ago he told me that his dream was to come back to Reno and use his experiences to deliver something that changes the food world in his hometown. Welcome back Richie!
I stopped by the other day to chat with him about his vision for the place. His first comment was how happy he was to be back home and working on a new project. He’s brought in people from his past to help make it happen. The foodservice consulting group is lead by Tony, who has worked with Richie in a few places back east. Richard’s brother is second in charge as Sous Chef and a majority of the crew have been gathered from the chef’s past kitchens. That means they are starting with a solid team that will work hard together to deliver and amazing experience.
Many plans are in the works, and some things may change. But, I have to share a few of the future visions that I’ve been privy to in the last couple of weeks. Richie tells me that by next summer, he will be adding between 3 and 4 new food outlets. He talked of a breakfast house that will emulate the variety and flavors found in the main floor’s eclectic eateries. He was excited about a German style beer garden that may go on the top of the parking garage across the street. With his long background in fine dining (JG’s in NY, Charlie Palmer’s in Reno, and many more) his heart will go into every detail of the dinner house they are talking of opening in the next few years.
Outside of food….. zip lines, bouldering parks, BMX parks, a boutique dog friendly hotel, outdoor events, the list goes on (and on…..). These guys are very well positioned in the future. They are building something unique and different to offer the locals and visitors of Reno. To me, it’s a welcome change to downtown.
That’s the one word I have heard consistently from the folks behind this project. From Fernando to the service staff, they’re working on building a community. Chef Richie is buying as much as he can from local sources. The small intimate seating areas encourage you to group up with new people. The open floor plan promotes movement and serendipity. The honor library relies on people being a part of the system.
Opening this weekend!
The grand opening starts at 11AM on October 1st. Head down and grab a Chicago beef sandwich. Order it dipped and practice your stance at the bar. Have them slice you off a bit of Al Pastor, grab a tequila at Oralé and head upstairs to check out the climbing wall. At least, that’s my plan!
Next time you’re walking near the Reno arch, stop and take a look around. Reno is looking up!