Wednesday, October 22, 2014

chef's table

GASTRONOMIC JOY

Trokay Café brings fresh fare to the fore.

WRITTEN BY SANDRA MACIAS
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS

Your first bite at Trokay Café may trigger a foodie moment. But you won't be alone. Glance around this diamond-in-the-rough Truckee bistro. Other faces are flush with gastronomic joy, too.

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See that woman dressed in the gray jacket over there? The one holding a spoonful of something tasty. Completely focused, her eyes closed, she savors.

"This is so good," she mouths to herself.

A foodie moment.

Trokay Café is small (30 seats max) and the interior is Truckee-casual: wooden plank floors, thick wood tables, and chunky chairs looking heavy (they are) and uncomfortable (they are not); whitewashed walls, bare except for a few posters and a framed mirror. Windows — one is a window box seat — add plenty of light; jazz background music and an occasional shrill train whistle add atmosphere.

Three Squares

The café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Menus change often. Breakfast and lunch choices change weekly while the dinner menu alters seasonally or on a whim. So it is hard to tell you what to expect, except this: Everything is fresh, creative, and full of surprises.

Other givens: In the morning, breakfast offers several entrées and fresh house-baked pastries (the palmiers are heavenly). Lunch may be anything from burgers (made with Durham Ranch wagyu beef) to a fabulous kabocha squash soup. The haute cuisine showstopper is dinner.

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That menu offers at least a dozen difficult choices ranging from salads and tasty small plates to entrées of beef, fish, and poultry. A winner of last season was ceviche like no other you've had. Precise cubes of super-fresh black kingfish hid in a pool of cucumber-based green gazpacho. The soup, tasting of summer and sea, deserves slow slurping.

Foodshed Picks

Ingredients are impeccably fresh.

"We buy local as much as possible or source from the best we know," says owner/executive chef John Weatherson.

His produce, delivered by Produce Plus, a family-owned distributor based in North Lake Tahoe, comes from farms, some organic-certified, no more than 150 miles from Truckee.

His food is French-influenced, but Weatherson uses a light hand, creating dishes with no more than four basic ingredients. His "minimalist" approach, as he calls it, allows the food to stand on its own.

Creative Marvels

"We like to coax surprises out of our dishes," Weatherson says.

Indeed he did with an heirloom baby beet salad this summer. Different shapes and colors of beets formed an architectural line on a white plate accented with a sweeping brushstroke of beet reduction. A Picasso-esque salad.

Contrasting tastes and textures matched the visual. The beets burst with sweetness and earthiness while tangy, creamy goat cheese and savory rosemary bavarois (a cream-based custard, also known as Bavarian cream) added contrasting textures and taste.

Thoughtful attention from food to service begins with Weatherson and his wife, Nyna (pronounced Nina). Their culinary training — he, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, with two years of cooking experience in New York City at Daniel Boulud's acclaimed French restaurant, Daniel; she, a lead affinier (one who tends to the maturation of cheese) at Murray's Cheese Shop, a NYC landmark since 1940 — set the high standards of their debuting café.

Key Attributes

For a little café in a Sierra railroad town, Trokay Café offers many big city amenities:

• Fifteen different artisanal cheeses ripen here under Nyna's experienced hands. The cheese plates are as good as it gets.

• A carefully selected, designer wine and beer list with great choices for connoisseurs of both grapes and hops.

• Quality coffee service — espresso to press coffee, plus siphon coffee, something new to this side of the Sierra — (no, I won't tell you; that's your discovery) — using organic beans from Blue Bottle Coffee Co., a Bay Area roaster.

All in all, quite impressive.

Veteran Reno food writer Sandra Macias savors all her foodie moments, collected through years of writing about food. But there's always room for more and Trokay Café's beet salad just joined the collection.

RESOURCES

Trokay Café

10115 Donner Pass Road, Truckee

530-582-1040, www.Facebook.com/TrokayCafe

Open for breakfast and lunch 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. Mon. – Tues. and Thurs. – Sun. and for dinner 5 – 10 p.m. Mon. – Tues. and Thurs. – Sun. Closed Wednesday.

To learn how Trokay Café got its name, visit www.Truckeehistory.org/historyArticles/history4.htm

For Trokay Café's recipe to create a Baby Heirloom Beet Salad with Redwood Hill Farm Chèvre, a Candied Walnut Vinaigrette, and Rosemary Bavarois, visit www.Ediblerenotahoe.com.

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