The Maven

Can life get any better than a sunny day at a tiny restaurant in an obscure  Northern Italian town? Perhaps. I could be cooking. Or browsing the local markets. Or talking history, culture and the price of tea in China with the locals.

Join me as I explore what the world has to offer where food meets culture.


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    « What's Up Doc? Carrots! | Main | When is too little just too much? Cafe DeLuxe. »

    So-So SoDo in Reno?

    It has, hands down, one of the best locations in Reno - that isn’t on the river. The wraparound patio dining - on a quiet downtown side street - is something that a lot of other more established restaurants would kill for. The interior is stylish, welcoming and comfortable. The staff is friendly and seems fully engaged and ready to serve. Gee, lots of other people love SoDo - short, I believe, for South of Downtown? They rave about it. Five star ratings on Yelp are like fleas on a dog.

    So, why aren’t we going back?

    Our history with SoDo extends back to its previous incarnation as Hill Street Grill. As problematic as that got toward the end (with one truly “WTF?” moment that we’ll never forget - read about it here ),  I was looking forward to any and all improvements with some anticipation. But repeated visits just haven’t lived up.

    The SoDo menu is pretty solid and nicely balanced, actually. It ranges from Classics - like steak - to European, Latin American and Asian offerings like Coconut Curry Chicken. There’s pretty much something for everybody - which is surely part of their success. While not priced to appeal to budget concious diners, I don’t think their prices are particularly out of line for a fine dining restaurant. Entrees range from a $12 burger to $29 Filet. And, SoDo is one of those places where you can order the burger while your friends order something more swank, without feeling awkward.

    I love to try Pork Belly whenever I see it on menus - and I’ve had some iterations around that were da bomb. 

    When this beautiful plate came out, I was set to rock and roll. And, it came soooo close. But when the menu says ‘Crispy Pork Belly’, forgive me if that’s what I expect. No ‘Crispy’ to be found. No actual pork flavor either. The meat was tender and moist - just completely flavorless. The best parts of this meal were the accompaniments - the polenta was really good, but sorta like going home with the Miss Congeniality sash.

    Ron asked the waiter about the Jerk Chicken, and to his credit, the waiter seemed quite knowledgeable and eager to explain the preparation and portion size, and that it might be a bit on the spicy side. No faults with the waitstaff. They were on top of it. I even went on to expound on the wonders of Jerk seasoning in more detail. When Jerk is good, it’s heavenly. So when Ron later started tucking into his entree, I waited to see if extra mouth-cooling sips of wine or water were happening. It looked pretty darn yummy from where I sat - and being sort of disappointed with my own meal, I was wondering how I could gracefully snag some of this.

    “How is it? Spicy? Too spicy?”

    “Actually, not spicy at all. I can’t really figure out what makes this different from any other chicken with BBQ sauce.

    We seemed to be developing a theme that night. Flavor : missing in action. The chicken was perfectly cooked - juicy and tender but it’s like they forgot to season it. You can’t not season meat and then hope to make up the deficit with strategically drizzled sauce. It doesn’t work like that. The whole has to be greater than the sum of the parts. Layers of flavor that work together harmoniously. I just love good Red Beans and Rice - it’s one of the comfort foods I grew up on in Miami. But again, I began to hear the strains of “I ain’t got nuthin …” when it comes to flavor.

    Great venue. Great menu. Decent staff. Nice wine selection. Beautiful plating. No flavor. “There’s no ‘there’ there” came to mind.


    I wish that I could just say that this might have been an ‘off night’, but I’ve had three ‘off night’ experiences in a row at this place. And it’s getting to me. And my wallet. If we’re going to spend $50 to $75 for a dinner out, I’d like some sort of reasonable expectation of liking it. Most of the time.

    Maybe some diners can be content with the atmosphere, their companions, the wine or whatever. But some of us are there for the food. Food first. A lovely, well appointed restaurant without food that is flavorful - whatever the price - could just as well be my kitchen, which is more convenient and nice to look at too.

    At least the wine was good.

    Sodo Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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