chef’s table

Porcini-dusted and seared sea scallops
Porcini-dusted and seared sea scallops with
mushroom and pea risotto and white truffle oil.

Au Naturale

Reno’s 4th St. Bistro
paved a new way to dine.

WRITTEN BY KAY FAHEY
PHOTOS BY CHRIS STOWELL

These days, as owners of fine restaurants brag about using local, organic, sustainable, and natural ingredients, it’s hard to remember how it was here a decade ago. But Chef Natalie Sellers and partner CarolWilson were two of our area’s first local food purveyors when they opened 4th St. Bistro in Reno 10 years ago.

Back then almost everything a restaurant needed was supplied by a corporation, delivered in a gas-guzzling truck. The notion of seeking out artisanal cheeses or sustainable seafood was heresy, much less asking local growers to supply organic produce.

FOOD VALUES

ButWilson grew up on an Ohio farm and to her, natural was as normal as breathing. Sellers had worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Stars in San Francisco, both leaders in introducing a new level of food consciousness to America.When they opened dinner-only 4th St. Bistro in 2000, they were determined to bring that ethos here.

Drop by their restaurant these days and you might find folks such as Bill and Korena Mewaldt of Mewaldt Organics and Marcia and Steve Litsinger of Churchill Butte Organics delivering padrón peppers, chervil, gooseberries, and heirloom tomatoes. Sellers uses the gorgeous produce supplied by these and other area growers in her seasonal Mediterranean cuisine.

GOOD, CLEAN, SIMPLE

On one evening, the menu features a delicious salad of local beets, arugula, fresh goat cheese, toasted pistachios with a red wine vinaigrette (photo below, top). There also is an appetizer of intriguing artisanal cheeses with golden honeycomb from Hidden Valley Ranch of Reno. There also are meltingly tender Niman Ranch braised beef ribs flanked by a rainbow of local carrots, as well as succulent halibut with seasonal, organic, and fragrant saffron basmati rice. Sellers lets these outstanding ingredients shine, creating what she calls good, clean, simple food.

“I’m not going for any molecular gastronomy,” she says.

PERFECT PAIRINGS

Sellers’ food is complemented byWilson’s attention to wines and spirits. The restaurant serves its own house-made limoncello, and has lately taken to making red dye-free maraschino cherries for cocktails such as Manhattans and the Corpse Reviver No. 2. The gin-based Reviver is one of the traditional New Orleans cocktails 4th St. currently offers, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to support folks affected by the Gulf oil spill. (Sellers is a native New Orleanian.)

Wilson’s notion of the eatery she wanted was formed during her years at a little French restaurant, L’Auberge. At this family-run concern she learned how appealing fresh flowers and lovely paintings can be, and how a small restaurant can build success with a group of devoted regulars. Later at the popular San Francisco jazz supper club Bix, she studied liquors and wines.

CELEBRATING THE SOURCE

“I learned how important it is to know where things come from, who makes them,”Wilson says.

She and her staff have continued to study, with delectable results. Wilson ensures that her staff knows from experience which wines complement which dishes. She also makes sure they know which best afterdinner drink to recommend with, say, the chocolate ganache torte.

At every turn,Wilson and Sellers seek out new ways to celebrate and encourage local, organic, natural growers. They’ve developed firm partnerships, sometimes literally spreading seeds to encourage farmers to try something new, something that you’ll discover on your plate or in your glass the next time you visit 4th St. Bistro.

RECIPE

4TH STREET BISTRO HOUSE-CURED WILD SALMON GRAVLAX

Reno resident Kay Fahey is one of those nuts who thinks making pasta is fun. She’s written about cooking and restaurants for numerous publications, and has enjoyed every minute of it.

4th St. Bistro is at 3065 W. Fourth St. in Reno. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For reservations, call 775-323-3200. For details, visit 4thstbistro.com.

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