Counter Culture: Truckee's Trokay exceeds high expectations

04/05/2013 12:00 AM

04/06/2013 9:03 AM

One summer day in 2011, we stopped in Truckee on a roundabout trip to Lake Tahoe and noticed a tiny bakery-cafe called Trokay. We went inside for breakfast, but nothing was being cooked on the stovetop that day, as the new hood fan hadn't arrived. However, if we liked baked goods

We chose a bunch of pastries and made lunch of them later. They were incredibly good, so we made a note to stop by the next time we passed through. When we did, the cafe was closed during staff vacation. We returned months later, but again our timing was off.

Then, just a few weeks ago, we got word that Trokay had moved into larger quarters along Commercial Row, the tourist-heavy stretch of Historic Downtown Truckee, and had opened Feb. 10. We made it a destination one recent Saturday and got a big surprise.

Husband-wife owners John and Nyna Weatherson have renovated the space once occupied by O.B.'s restaurant – a Truckee tradition since 1969 – and turned it into a chic and welcoming showplace that's also a mini-homage to Truckee's past. Now those wonderful baked goods are overshadowed by the four-star dishes on the lunch and dinner menus, though an upstairs kitchen is dedicated to pastry-making.

Trokay's concept is "French-inspired New American cuisine," Nyna said during a mini-tour. "The exposed wood-beam ceiling and the rock wall are the only original parts of the (interior) that are left, though we used all the reclaimed wood we could."

In so many ways, it's a far piece between Truckee and Manhattan, where the Weathersons worked before their move west.

John Weatherson graduated from the Culinary Academy of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and worked for Michelin star-winning French chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud and Christian Delouvrier in New York.

For two years, Nyna Weatherson was the head cheesemonger at Murray's, the famous cheese shop in Greenwich Village that opened in 1940. At any given time, Murray's offers 250 cheeses, as well as charcuterie from around the world (www.murrayscheese.com). No surprise that she sources Trokay's cheeses from Murray's.

So why leave one of the world's meccas of cuisine for a Sierra outpost that still vibrates with its 19th century past as a railroad-and-lumber town?

"Because it's beautiful, and we wanted to live in a mountain town," Nyna said simply.

We were looking for an early lunch and found it; the menu shows a hefty burger, croque monsieur, smoked turkey club, pulled pork, salads, soups and breakfast items ($9-$18; children's menu is $7-$14).

But check it: The beef is Wagyu (American Kobe), the salmon on the bagel is house-cured gravlax, the turkey is nitrite-free and applewood-smoked. Think of the foodie farm-to-fork mantra: seasonal, fresh, sustainable, artisanal and local when you can get it.

We just wanted a taste of simple stuff to get an idea of what's going on, so we ordered coffee, biscuits and a lobster roll.

Turned out the coffee is "organic, shade-grown, single-origin from artisan roaster Blue Bottle Coffee Company." Our server suggested Nekisse from Ethiopia, and prepared it at our table in a BonMac siphon brewer, which looks like a cross between a Bunsen burner and a bong. The coffee tasted of blueberries and lemon; don't ruin it with sugar and cream.

Nyna has experimented for 20 years to perfect her remarkably light and flavor-filled buttermilk biscuits, complemented with wild honey and housemade strawberry jam. A half-dozen would not have been enough.

The lobster roll is so ubiquitous in New England that it's almost a street food. Lore has it the sandwich originated at a restaurant in Milford, Conn., in 1929. Trokay's version is luscious lobster salad (Maine lobster meat, house-made mayo, celery, chervil) on a soft roll from the Truckee Sourdough Baking Co. How did it disappear so quickly?

During lunch, we looked at the three dinner menus: One is divided into starters (cuttlefish and linguica hash; $12-$15); seafood entrees (pan-roasted Japanese sea bream; $24-$28); and meat/fowl entrees (rack of wild boar; $27-$45).

A second is the four-course spring prix fixe menu for $80 (add $40 for wine pairing), and includes a choice between two entrees – aged Wagyu rib-eye or seared Maine diver scallops.

The third is the 10-course chef's tasting menu for $110 (add $90 for wine pairing). Among the dishes are sea urchin, pork belly, quail and veal.

Beers and wines abound; dessert and cheese selections are well conceived.

Though Truckee isn't a place you would quickly associate with fine dining, here's Trokay joining the area's other serious destinations – Pianeta a few doors down; Stella at the Cedar House Hotel in nearby Martis Valley; Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton, overlooking Northstar at Tahoe; and PlumpJack in Squaw Valley. Their clientele includes tourists and locals, of course, but much of it is from the monied second-home crowd. Remember that the Truckee area is populated with a wealth of multimillion-dollar developments (Martis Camp, Schaffer's Mill) and ski resorts (Tahoe Donner, Alpine Meadows).

"Our cafe was our way of introducing ourselves to the town, but the restaurant has been embraced by the community," Nyna said.

Caution: Trokay has already become a destination, so make reservations early.

One last thing: We got a box of those pastries to go. Deja vu.


TROKAY

Where: 10046 Donner Pass Road, Truckee

Hours: Lunch (with a few breakfast items) is 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner is 5-10 p.m., Thursdays-Tuesdays (closed Wednesdays)

Food: Four stars

Ambience: Four stars

How much: $-$$$

Information: (530) 582-1040, www.restauranttrokay.com


Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

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