NevadaGram #96 – Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe

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We’ve been living high and low in Douglas County this week. That is, we went to the Carson Valley and to Lake Tahoe.

photo courtesy Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce & Convention Authority

The Carson Valley, enclosed by the Sierra Nevada on the west.

The Carson Valley has been known as one of the most beautiful places in America ever since Horace Greeley rode through it in a stagecoach with Hank Monk at the reins in 1858 and wrote about it in his New York newspaper afterward. We went for the food. The Carson Valley Inn has been a favorite of ours since we went for a goose dinner on a recent New Year’s Eve. So when we read that the Inn’s Director of Food & Beverage David Goodwin had been selected as a recipient of the 2009 Antonin Medal we decided to see how this prestigious award translated into lunch.

Image courtesy

The Antonin Carême Medal, presented by the Chefs Association of the Pacific Coast.

Marie Antoine “Antonin” Carême was born in Paris at the height of the French Revolution in 1784 and might be considered the first celebrity chef; he was called “the Chef of Kings and the King of Chefs”. Carême was the epitome of professionalism and demonstrated both culinary excellence and the highest compassionate, humane qualities and recipients of the Medal are chosen for meeting these standards. Chef Goodwin will be the 142nd recipient of the Medal, one of 96 living recipients across the nation. Julia Child held medal No. 28, former long-time White House Chef Henry Haller received No. 64 and media hero Chef Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) has No. 77.

photo by Max Winthrop

Chefs David Goodwin and Gary Oien.

We went to the buffet in Fiona’s Bar & Grill. It was a Thursday so in addition to the lavish salad bar and the daily beer-and-bean soup we feasted on an Italian herb and vegetable pizza, a smoked brisket panini with red onion, swiss cheese and horseradish mayonnaise, a grilled chicken penne

pasta in Alfredo sauce, and a garlic dijonaise prime rib sandwich, au jus. In the great Nevada buffet tradition we could go back for more, of course, and there was chocolate mousse for dessert, served in deep silver chalices. The price: $9.99.

If I’d known it would be this good and this great a bargain I’d have hung medals on everyone in the place, from Chef Goodwin to our smiling servers. We’ll be back — I’m looking at the Tuesday menu with the Hawaiian style pizza with Canadian bacon and grilled pineapple, prime rib panini with aged cheddar cheese and caramelized onions and more and more and — and I’ll bring a pocketful of medals with me next time.

photo by Max Winthrop

Mark Twain telling tall tales aboard the Tahoe Queen

From the Carson Valley we drove up the Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe, savoring the magnificent views out over the Carson Valley and beyond, and made our way to Tahoe Keys at the foot of Ski Run Boulevard, where the Tahoe Queen is moored. Here we enjoyed a feast of a different kind.

photo by Max Winthrop

Mark Twain and the celebrated actress Maud Adams, who made her debut in Virginia City at age 5.

The Queen (and the Dixie II, which sails from Zephyr Cove) offers lake cruises seven days a week, and in the summer months McAvoy Layne performs as Mark Twain on the 11 am and 2:30 pm cruises. McAvoy is in his seventh year entertaining the passengers on the Tahoe Queen, and he has proved so popular that he’s gone from one cruise per day to two, and from a solo performer to having an ensemble supporting cast. Now cruise passengers on the Queen also meet the famous lawman Bat Masterson, the actress Maude Adams, and Captain Dick Barter known as the “Hermit of Emerald Bay” who was shot down like a dog before the cruise was over.

The combination of a sunny day, the sparkling water, Mark Twain’s stories of Tahoe in the 1860s delivered by the incomparable McAvoy Layne and his fellow entertainers (and a bar on every deck) made for a beguiling afternoon. The Tahoe Queen threshed across the broad blue water to Emerald Bay, where it lingered for a while as a camera magnet for the tourists on shore visiting Vikingsholm.

photo by Max Winthrop

Mark Twain watched in pleased anticipation as Bat Masterson and Dick Barter prepared to slay one another for our entertainment.

On the return leg of our placid journey the actors presented a micro-drama in which Maud Adams was accused by the rascally hermit of cheating at cards. If Bat Masterson hadn’t been nearby to offer his protection there’s no telling what that low-down varmint might have done. As it was, he was reckless enough to draw his six-shooter on the famous lawman, and got a dose of lead poisoning for his trouble as the onlookers cheered.

We were were also entertained by a woman making her first voyage on a big surfboard, standing upright and propelling herself out from shore with a paddle like a big broom. We wondered what sort of sadist had rented her that outfit, but I’m sad to report that she had us in stitches as she fought to keep her balance while making minimal progress into the gentle breeze blowing across the lake, finally falling overboard with a big splash into two feet of water.

photo courtesy Harveys Lake Tahoe

The big stage in the Harveys parking lot.

Robin and I went back to the lake a few days later, to attend the concert of Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan in the parking lot at Harvey’s. We stayed at the pleasant (and pleasantly inexpensive) Seven Seas Motel, one of a dozen older family-run motels still surviving from Tahoe’s earlier days and a three-block walk from the outdoor stage.

I can tell a trumpet from a drum, and that’s the extent of my knowledge about music, but I do have my preferences. I’ve been a casual fan of Willie Nelson since he first surfaced as a singer in the 1960s, and I’ve enjoyed Bob Dylan’s lyrics if not the music behind them. My daughter says that’s because he’s not Jelly Roll Morton, and maybe she’s right. But I was looking forward to getting a better fix on both of them in the pleasant setting of a summer evening at Lake Tahoe. We ate dinner beforehand at the Steak House in Harveys, and Robin pronounced her steak as the best of her life.

photo courtesy Harveys Lake Tahoe

They didn’t actually perform together at Harveys, but maintained separate crews, bands and decibel levels.

The concert wasn’t quite so fine. Willie was good, wandering down memory lane with one hallowed song after another, many of which he had written himself. His voice was sharp, clear and melodic, and it was hard not so sing along with him, at least internally.

Bob Dylan was harder to enjoy. For one thing, the sound was excruciatingly loud. Even some of his solid fans found it unbearable: “The kick drum was so loud it overshadowed everything. Are all of the sound guys ears blown out to the point they boost it just to hear it? My shirt would rustle on every use of the kick drum.” (More comments here.) Adding to the difficulty was the worshipful attitude of some of the spectators in front of us who stood, swayed and boogied-in-place during the entire Dylan performance, presenting a wall of bobble-heads between us and the stage. Even the lyrics were

unintelligible, delivered as ear-shattering mumbles but drowned out by the band.

We left halfway through the Dylan part of the show, joining a stream of early-departing spectators. Back at the motel three blocks away the volume level was almost acceptable, and inside our room with the door closed it was just right. Spectators weren’t the only ones to leave early: Willie Nelson’s bus high-tailed it down the street as the Dylan performance was still in full clamor, Willie waving enthusiastically as he disappeared into the night.

Quick notes from beyond the mountains: As McAvoy Layne says, quoting Mark Twain, “Here in the West we drink whiskey and fight over water.” The fight between the Southern Nevada Water Authority and ranchers from White Pine County and neighboring Utah over the water beneath Snake Valley is being conducted in hearing chambers in Clark County . . . The Las Vegas SUN reports that four- and five-star properties are going for two- and three-star rates in Las Vegas in these these difficult days. Hotel occupancy was still at 82 percent in June — compared to 64 percent nationally, but that’s down 7 percentage points, and the average daily room rate was $84.50, down 26 percent from 2008.

photo by Kris Vagner

I’d been hanging around in the sun all afternoon (hula-hooping at the NMA; they were giving free classes) and I decided to go jump in the river to cool off. It was a quintessential Reno Sunday: two festivals going on, the sound of a rock band covering a Roy Orbison song drifted all the way down Riverside Drive, the earthy smell of minerals coming from the river, and the sight of hundreds of people swimming and splashing and tubing on the river. I couldn’t think of a better place in the world to be at that moment. — Kris Vagner

In an effort to save the show, www.SaveReno911.com was launched by the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority less than 24 hours after actor/writer
Thomas Lennon (aka Officer Jim Dangle) announced the cancellation of the popular program. The site features a community billboard and links to Save Reno 911 pages on Twitter and Facebook. The purpose of the effort is to persuade another network to pick up the show, which hilariously mocks Reno and its law enforcement officers, and to film it in the actual city it lampoons “instead of the non-descript valleys of southern California.” . . . Lattin Farms, 1955 McLean Road in Fallon, has opened the Growers Market at Lattin Farms in the 2,000 square-foot covered facility built next to the original roadside stand last winter. Five Nevada farms, including four new farms, will sell produce alongside Lattin Farms from 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays. Pioneer Farms, Nanadew Herb Farm, Chickie Baby Blooms, Salisha’s Delicious, and Dawn’s Dream Acres will offer produce at the market: five varieties of cantaloupe (including Hearts O’ Gold), sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplant, herbs, fresh cut flowers and more. Customers will also find jams and jellies, honey, and fresh baked goods from the on-farm bakery . . .

photo by Amanda Pearce

A fund-raising celebration of the restoration of St. Augustine’s church in Austin brought the building back to life. Soup, Sin & Salvation was highly educational, highly social and highly successful in bringing the old structure back into productive use.

This year Virginia City celebrates the 50th anniversary of Camel Races with races from 1:30 pm to 5 pm September 11-13. Camels, Ostriches, and Emus FOR THE EVENT are coming from Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas. General Admission is $10; VIP tickets are $40; Family Pack is $25; Junior/Senior/Military $8 . . . A private tour of the historic town of Sutro and the Sutro Tunnel is being offerred on Saturday, September 19, from 10 am – 2 pm to benefit the Historic Fourth Ward School in Virginia City. Or you can climb Mt. Tallac at Lake Tahoe the next day, Sunday September 20, from 9 am to 3 pm. Your guides will take you to the summit of this peak, which dominates the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe and serve you a “high” tea when you get there. It’s a moderately difficult hike. Cost for either event is $80 for 4th Ward School members, $88 for non-members. Contact the Historic Fourth Ward School for more information and tickets: 847-0975 . . .

Overheard aboard The Tahoe Queen in Emerald Bay: “Build a man a fire and he’s warm for an hour. Set a man afire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll

 

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