The Inquisitive Traveler
A Taste of Tahoe
By Patty Burness
Photos by Bo Links
Tahoe is a great destination no matter what time of year. And if September is the target, you’re in luck. The 24th Annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival will be in full swing, and you’re invited. For last year’s event, my husband and I left at noon Friday to beat the traffic, and we arrived at Northstar in about three hours. Our quest for a weekend of good food and wine in the great outdoors began in earnest.
September is an ideal time in the Sierra. Tranquil. Picturesque. Northstar is a sprawling development built on over 2,000 acres of varied terrain. At this time of the year, trails are open for hiking and mountain biking. Condominiums are clustered around the mountain: Our condo was in the Aspen Grove area right next to the village (shops and restaurants). Perched on the third floor, we felt like we were in a tree house. Relaxing on the porch, nestled among the pines and under the shadows of the surrounding peaks, we took it all in. The great room layout of the rustically designed condo fit our needs to kick back and enjoy, but only for a moment — we weren’t there to stay in the room.
The best way to jumpstart any weekend at Tahoe is to head straight to Moody’s Bistro in Truckee. Located in the historic Truckee Hotel, you’ll find great jazz, seriously delicious food and an energetic local vibe. Moody’s is a casual and happening place that you will return to often. The influence of co-owner and executive chef Mark Estee and his partner J.J. Morgan permeates the experience. Estee knows every local farmer, fishmonger, rancher, and purveyor. And Morgan has the music and the cocktails covered. Translation: You’re guaranteed the best. And we got it.
Seated in the lounge area, we had all the views — the bar, the jazz trio and the people coming and going. But it was the food that captured our attention. Starting with ciabatta from the Truckee Sourdough Bakery, we were smitten with the warm, crusty Italian bread. The bakery sends the bread half baked, and then Moody’s finishes it just before serving. And in September, you’re sure to find Heidi’s Heirloom Tomato Cart on the menu: garden-ripe heirlooms with basil, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, and sea salts. Splurge and order it with burrata. The chef’s assortment of charcuterie offers house-made salamis like toscano and crespone. The menu changes daily and that night we picked pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin. Estee’s “whole hog” philosophy promises unique dishes. A varied list and smart sommelier deliver wines to complement the food.
Desserts are equally as enticing — cobbler with just-picked fruit or warm cake made with a rich, dark Venezuelan chocolate. Our dinner was finished, but not Estee’s cuisine. He participates in the Food & Wine Festival with his latest creations; this September he’ll roast a whole hog and offer tastings and wine.
The Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival takes over the Village at Northstar to showcase the best of the locals. The skating rink turned stage and other unique venues around the area feature demonstrations, panel discussions, marketplaces, grape stomps, grand tastings, competitions, and winery dinners with topnotch chefs and wine and food experts. The warm outdoor environment together with the amazing food and wine makes this a perfect weekend event for the whole family. And this year, San Francisco’s own Traci Des Jardin (Jardinière) will have a starring role. More good news: About 50 percent of the net proceeds from the event benefit the Community Fund of North Lake Tahoe.
During the weekend, we learned about cheese and wine pairings from the Bay Area’s cheese queen, Laura Werlin and wine connoisseur Bob Bath. It was difficult to wait for Laura’s description before trying the soft-ripened goat’s milk, triple-crème and clothbound cheddar cheeses while sipping luscious Burgundies. We strolled through the village, sampled our way in the festival’s marketplace, and participated in a sushi-rolling, sake-pairing workshop. From there we managed a front-row seat at the Blazing Pans Mountain Chef Cook-Off — rabbit was last year’s secret ingredient. Leave it to a cast of local chefs and their fans to create quite the party atmosphere.
Not wanting to ignore the magnificent mountain surroundings, we climbed aboard a gondola with a host of mountain bikers and headed up. As the ski runs morph into bike runs, free lift rides are available during the summer. Lots of trails are open, but don’t regret not bringing your bike or even your hiking shoes. Sit back, enjoy the ride and watch the bikers roar down the mountain. Or walk a short distance from the lifts for a knockout view of Lake Tahoe.
When Sunday rolled around, it was time for the Culinary Competition and Grand Tasting — food and wine pairings of more than 30 of the area’s best restaurants, caterers and premium wineries. Food and wine professionals taste and rate each pairing in a double-blind judging. Visitors also have the chance to vote for their favorite pairing in the esteemed People’s Choice Award. Drum roll: The gold in the Best Food & Wine Pairing category went to the Sunnyside Restaurant and its seared diver scallop stuffed with crab and herb pesto on a mushroom risotto cake served with a 2007 Rombauer Chardonnay. The best overall food went to the pulled pork sliders from the Montreaux Golf and Country Club. The best white wine was the Gold Note 2007 reserve Chardonnay from Fair Play and the red went to the 2005 Anomaly Cabernet. The winners of the People’s Choice Awards didn’t differ too much from the professional foodies — best food and wine went to Sunnyside, Rombauer got best white, Anomaly scored for the reds, and the lobster corndog from Frederick’s Fusion Bistro pulled down Best Food.
What a treat to enjoy the best local food and wine in a spectacular setting. Help set the bar high by joining in and judging your favorites. Learn from some of the most talented folks around. And it’s all at Tahoe, which is always great for an adventure, but this time, it’s especially yummy.
Northstar: About a three-hour drive from San Francisco east on Interstate 80 to Highway 267, Exit #188B, just after the last Truckee exit. Stay on Highway 267 for about six miles. Turn right onto Northstar Drive.
Tourist Information: 877-949-3296, www.gotahoenorth.com, www.visitinglaketahoe.com.
Where to Stay
Northstar-At-Tahoe: 888-298-3156, www.northstarattahoe.com. Condos from $150.
What to Do
24th Annual Lake Tahoe Food & Wine Festival: 888-229-2193, www.tahoefoodandwine.com. September 11–13, tickets $10–$150, available online July 1.
Where to Eat
Moody’s Bistro & Lounge: 10007 Bridge Street, Truckee; 530-587-8688, www.moodysbistro.com. Starters, salads, soups, and house-made charcuterie and offal from $8; entrees from $18; desserts from $6; wines by the glass from $5.
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org