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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    Main | Not Rocket Science: 10 tips for a better wine experience »

    Twisted path back around to Twisted Fork

    When stomachs started rumbling around here today, I was determined that we weren’t heading out to the usual. As we got in the car, I started with “do ya remember that Twisted Fork place over on Steamboat Parkway?” He did. We had dropped in some months ago, very late in the afternoon … one of those days that simply got away from us with lunch ending up at three in the afternoon. It’s not a time when even the best restaurants tend to be shiny and at their best - and so it was at Twisted Fork on that day.

    I realized then that we had to give them a better chance to strut their stuff.

    When the hostess handed us the menus - and I saw ‘small plates’ and lots of them - my heart skipped a beat. I was born for small plates. Well, actually big white plates bearing smaller portions of delectable culinary artistry. The selection was diverse and well curated enough to take my attention off of the warehouse atmosphere (and not in a good way ) that the Twisted Fork space seems to evoke for me. More on that in a moment.

    Really, I almost couldn’t decide what to try first - but almost afraid to try anything for fear it wouldn’t live up to the wonderfully descriptive listings on the simple one-sheet/two-sided menu. I’m always so pleased to see this pared down style of menu. It makes it much simpler - eliminating the distractions that come with trying to be everything to every customer, focusing on what the chef and staff feel they do best. It tells me that the back of the house has it together, and knows exactly who they are and what they want to achieve. Sometimes the execution doesn’t live up to this lofty standard, but it’s always a damn good start.

    Ron went for the Teriyaki Pineapple burger special. No particular surprises there, but that’s exactly what my husband wouldn’t have wanted. He was slightly perturbed by the mound of lovely fresh arugula that came in place of iceberg - he’s just not a ‘foodie’ in any way, shape or form. As burgers go, he pronounced it ‘just fine’. When my husband describes food, that’s as good as it gets. I usually have to draw him out on the quality of the meat, the freshness of the bun … it was ‘just fine’. He’s a man of few words but a big heart.

    A Teriyaki Burger isn’t something that I would ever order, but it looked pretty tasty.

    The fries were double-fried and perfectly crisp and tasted of fresh potato - the only slip was that they were cold by the time he plowed through the large burger. We pointed this out to the waitress, and she whisked the offending fries away, and fresh, hot fries appeared in a matter of moments. I couldn’t keep my hands out of them.

    I opted for the Tiger Shrimp Tamal with some trepidation - not having a clue how this might translate here in Reno, Nevada. Kudos to the otherwise brusque waitress - she knew the menu and made a decent attempt to describe the dish. Shrimp in a Tamal sauce. Well …. sorta kinda. Might be an opportunity for some additional training in this regard.

    Since it sounded rather small, even for a small plate, I decided to have a go at a cup of the soup du jour: Chickpea and Chicken.

    I was a bit surprised to see nice chunks of chicken, elbow pasta and well … no actual chickpeas. And yet, the distinctive flavor of chickpeas was there in a nicely crafted broth. Stirring around as I slurped, I actually did run across tell-tale chickpea ‘skins’ and a kidney bean. Although there seemed to be a gap between the name and the reality, I have to say this was good soup. Well balanced, if subtle, flavors. Sodium was handled with a deft touch (thanks!). 

    The Tiger Shrimp Tamal arrived and I was really impressed with the presentation. Again, considering where this restaurant exists - not exactly in the fevered edge of the culinary universe, but a stupifyingly bland and inchoate suburban community center - damn… it was really nice.

    As I tucked into it, the good impressions continued to build. The grilled shrimp weren’t overcooked and, tucked artfully into an almost sculptural corn husk, still had a nicely fresh appeal. Hiding inside the corn husk wrapper was creamy, white masa that served as a welcome bit of comfort when drawn lazily through the silky, smooth puddle of garlic cream sauce and drizzle of chili oil.

    Restraint - the sort that comes of experience and skill - came to mind, both with the visual elements and the flavors. In lesser hands, it could’ve gone so wrong, but didn’t in this case. I really look forward to trying several other of their Small Plates in the future.

    Now, getting back to the space itself. Meh. Which is kind of a shame, as the menu has some real ‘date night’ offerings, but you’ll get them served up in a large, dark high-ceiling rather industrial room without the edgy chic … I keep thinking ‘suburban mall land’. Ron did make the comment that it wasn’t ‘cozy’ - which is something I think people might want in the evening while sipping wine and exploring exotic sounding entrees like Kurobuta Pork Shoulder. 

    It’s common to so many similarly located restaurants these days that the human scale gets overlooked in the design. Huge booths require a two-top to sit at the far end nearest servers - begging what the heck you do with the rest of it. Lighting design also seems to suffer - the thought being (maybe?) that dim cool sunlight being reflected off the adjacent large retail building is ‘enough’ to penetrate clear to the gloomy deeper reaches of the restaurant.  Actually, well … not. The large dining room looks hard to fill at lunchtime, so diners appear spread out in lonely islands of hushed conversation. The lively energy that we seek out for one of our most important social rituals - eating - is a fail here. It’s a real shame that the decidedly uninspired interior of Twisted Fork doesn’t live up to the food, instead seeking to reproduce the anonymity of suburbia.

    The prices aren’t bad at all considering the ambitious menu - for lunch we paid $10 to $12 each, which is pretty standard these days. As I hope I’ve said, the execution and portion sizes demand that price point. For us, that means we’ll be there, perhaps, once a week, deferring to other local spots where we can ease in and out for less than a $20 bill, finding a bit more sunny convivial energy and comraderie among familiar faces.



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