Tastes of Tahoe The Soule Domain – A Saucy Night Out November 13, 2008
by Joy Michiel
There is nothing more romantic than an intimate dinner for two and the Soule Domain provides the perfect setting. This cozy log cabin, decorated with plants and flowers, creates an atmosphere for sharing secrets and hand-holding across tables. And, if food is an aphrodisiac, then be prepared for a big turn-on.
Chef/owner Charlie Soule has been at the helm for the past 22½ years, while brother Steve runs the front part of the house. Charlie is a true artist, proving on a daily basis that he is not only imaginative and innovative, but accommodating, as well.
Weekly Production Director Abby Gallup and I start our evening off with a half bottle of Paraiso Pinot Noir, a fruity, smooth blend from the Central Coast, while our waiter, Andy Renard, expertly explains the specials. Each night the specials include two fresh fish entrées, and an additional two salads and two appetizers. We mull over our choices while munching on bread and rolls served with a creamy and delicious housemade hummus.
For starters I sample three appetizers: Lobster Wonton in broth with shiitake mushrooms, Lamb Ravioli, and Escargot. The wonton is flavorful with just the right amount of spice to get the taste buds going. The ravioli has a wonderful marinara sauce with kalamata olives, goat cheese, fresh oregano, and sun-dried tomatoes. The crown jewel for me was the escargot, sautéed with fresh rosemary, shiitake mushrooms, garlic and burgundy butter, and served untraditionally in a pastry shell. If you are a fan of escargot, this reinvention is a must-try.
For Abby Charlie modifies the Thai Curry Scallops appetizer to accommodate her vegetarian diet by substituting tofu for the scallops. Abby notes how flavorful the tofu is, complemented by the creamy coconut-infused sauce. “Charlie is willing to modify the menu to cater to the vegetarian,” Renard comments, “That’s something that doesn’t get addressed enough in fine dining.”
Charlie is known for great salads, so I order the special Spinach Salad with prosciutto and red pear topped with a black pepper, sour cream, and blue cheese dressing and housemade garlic croutons. The flavors are clean and fresh, and a nice segue from the appetizers. Abby orders the Spring Mix Salad tossed with various lettuces, raspberry/strawberry vinaigrette, green apples, raisins, walnuts, garbanzo beans, and Gorgonzola blue cheese. This salad looks like a work of art, with so many colors and textures, and the fruity sweet tastes are balanced by the walnuts, garbanzos, and blue cheese.
All entrées are served with soup and each evening Charlie creates a vegan bisque. Tonight’s fare is carrot fennel. Surprisingly creamy without the cream, the flavors are subtle and the soup is not heavy.
One thing is certain about Charlie Soule – when it comes to sauce-making, he is in a league of his own. All his dishes are adorned by saucy masterpieces and everything is made from fresh ingredients. “He’s kind of a Rembrandt that way,” Renard says.
On to the entrée, Abby chooses the Fresh Vegetables baked in a pastry shell with Swiss cheese, herbs, roasted garlic, tomato-cream sauce, grated Romano cheese, and green onion. This is a hearty meal, cheesy and creamy and quite generous in portion. Be prepared to take some of it home unless you have a mammoth appetite.
I have the Rack of Australian Lamb Chops, grilled with roasted garlic, cashews, and basil pesto butter. Once again, the generous portion is an explosion of tastes, the sauces off the chart, and an excellent pairing with the Pinot Noir.
The dessert options are plentiful and we regretfully pass up the Crème Caramel, Fresh Strawberries with white chocolate mousse served parfait style, and the cheesecake of the night, raspberry Grand Marnier. I order the house specialty, the Queen of Sheba Cake, a flourless chocolate cake made with milled almonds instead of flour. The cake has a pastry cream layer and is topped by a chocolate amaretto ganache frosting. One bite explains why it is such a house favorite. The cake is lighter than other flourless incarnations and melts in your mouth.
Abby opts for the Bread Pudding, a staff pick. It contains pears, pecans, and raisins topped with a whiskey sugar frosting. Both desserts are finished with housemade berry and caramel sauces and it is our recommendation that you definitely save room for one of their sweet finishers.
The entire menu at the Soule Domain is a love affair with food, and whether vegetarian, vegan, or carnivore, there is something to delight every palate.
Charlie sums it up nicely: “I want my guests to walk away feeling like they had a complete experience – full of good food at a good price, having had a good time.”
So, this is embarrassing: Despite having lived in Northern Nevada for more than two decades, it was only a few months ago that I found out about The Soule Domain - a restaurant that has existed in the same north Lake Tahoe location since 1985.
It's easy to see why the restaurant, named for chef-owner Charlie Soule, flies under the radar, though. Located just a few yards over the California state line, it's tucked around a corner behind the Tahoe Biltmore, where you won't easily notice it from California 28.
The restaurant itself is a vintage, multi-level log cabin, one apparently built when people were shorter - most people will have to duck slightly to get through the front door. Inside, though, the ceilings are lofty, giving the dining room a woodsy, cozy, yet comfortable atmosphere.
Soule's cuisine spans continents, with influences ranging from New American to French to Mediterranean to Asian. Rack of Australian lamb with roasted garlic and basil pesto butter? Filet mignon with shiitakes, gorgonzola, brandy and burgundy butter? What about the fresh vegetables baked in a pastry shell with tomato cream and Swiss and Romano cheeses?
To complicate matters, there also were a half-dozen equally delicious-sounding specials. Our server was polished and professional and recited them in impressively exhaustive detail.
My ears immediately perked up at her description of a special appetizer, steamed wontons stuffed with lobster and minced ginger, jalapeño onion, cilantro and red bell peppers, served in an Asian shiitake broth with a Chinese mustard and red chile dip. It turned out to be a wonderful choice: The wontons delicately savory with a spicy punch and light, succulent texture. The lobster flavor was barely discernible, though, which was a bit disappointing, but it was otherwise an excellent dish.
We followed up by splitting that evening's salad special, spinach tossed in a lemon, pepper, Shaft's blue cheese and sour cream dressing with sliced red pears, prosciutto and red onions, which was a piquant and satisfyingly rich departure from the ubiquitous vinaigrette or bacon dressings found elsewhere.
For an entrée, I settled on the pan-roasted duck breast finished with orange, raspberry and Grand Marnier. It arrived tender and caramelized and enveloped in a tangy, deeply fruity glaze that well complemented the meat.
The undisputed star of the evening, though, was my friend's sea scallops poached in champagne with kiwi and mango cream sauce. They were possibly the best scallops I've tasted, meltingly tender and infused so gracefully with the flavors of Champagne and fruit, I found myself wishing I could trade in my duck.
We chose to skip dessert, having already satisfied every possible tastebud, but I hope to head back up the hill for those scallops soon. A meal at Soule Domain is well worth the hour's drive from Reno. What a culinary tragedy to have missed it for all these years!
Classically trained chef Charlie Soule travels in search of new and interesting flavor combinations to bring home to his dining room at Soule Domain in Crystal Bay. From every viewpoint, this authentic peeled log cabin from the earlier part of last century is quaint and charming. The rustic feel is downplayed, contrasted by tables set with fresh linen, fresh flowers, oil lamps; and log walls adorned with romantic atmosphere--evoked with touches of fresh flowers, crisp linens, oil lamps and watercolor scenes by local artist Cheri’ Guerrette.
Server Lauren Speath welcomed us upon our arrival and took my date and I to a booth with a view of the stone fireplace. We then listened to the many enticing evening’s specials from Steve Soule, the headwaiter and brother of chef Charlie. We were brought warm house-baked French bread and wheat Parker House rolls with ramekins of hummus
The menu has a number of selections featuring wild salmon, natural, grass fed beef and free-range chicken, but Soule Domain is known for their specials. We started with a seared ahi appetizer. A fresh, raw filet was rolled in sesame and barely grilled. The resulting grill flavor was divine and enhanced by a chipotle and lime cream on the attractively arranged plate. A cucumber salad with onion and bell pepper finished the presentation.
Our next dish was the lobster wonton special. The lightly steamed dumplings were bathing in a broth with ginger and fresh shitake mushrooms. The dish possessed subtle flavors and the lobster flavored the broth nicely. Next we tasted my favorite, the Thai curried sea scallops. Perfectly cooked scallops were placed on crispy grilled angel hair pasta and placed in a sauce made with a coconut milk, ginger, jalapeño, cilantro, peanuts, and soy. All of the appetizers went wonderfully with a blush wine, a ’03 Nevada City Winery Alpenglow.
Next came the lamb ravioli. Plump pillows were cooked al dente and served in a marinara sauce with Kalamata olives, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The meat was tender and well seasoned and combined well with the ingredients. We then tried the dinner salad and the special spinach salad with proscuitto and a Gorgonzola and sour cream dressing. Their simple dinner salad was a gourmet blend of mixed greens, hearts of palm, goat cheese, olives, artichoke hearts and a light herbed Italian vinaigrette. All dinners come with the soup du jour and we enjoyed carrot with thyme. Created without cream or butter, it was a prime example of Charlie’s ability to serve real food that tastes rich and flavorful. Steve then opened a bottle of the ’02 Willakenzie Estate Pinot Noir from Oregon, a luscious wine with cherries and plums on the fruit end.
Next, Steve brought our entrées and made his usual unique and interesting comment. The special opakapaka, or Hawaiian red snapper, was coated with panko crumbs, pan-roasted and topped with a savory blend of sun-dried tomato, green olives, feta cheese and roasted red bell pepper. A rice pilaf was served alongside the fish. My date was very pleased with her chicken entrée: Natural, free-range chicken thighs breaded and pan browned in a forestiere style and finished with mushrooms and pan gravy with whole grain mustard. Creamy mashed potatoes provided an irresistible combination. The vegetable du jour was a seasonal blend of turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers.
Backwaiter Matt Grandy came and told us about the evening’s seven desserts. We ordered the queen of Sheba cake, a house specialty. As we relaxed over Italian roast coffee, the house desserts were brought to us. The Sheba cake was a nut-filled flourless chocolate cake with a pastry cream filling and a ganache of amaretto and almonds blended with chocolate. It was a very pretty presentation with a pool of vanilla sauce with raspberry swirls. The cake was moist and delicious and the ganache was rich with the flavor of almond. We were bid good night by Steve and Lauren and left to savor the memory of our wonderful meal.
Charlie Soule's journey into the culinary arts started out with a stint battling dishpan hands and continues as he celebrates the 20th year of his Crystal Bay restaurant Soule Domain.
A graduate of North Tahoe High School, Soule went from bottle washer to lunch cook at Tahoe City eatery Tomfoolery.
"I tried college for a year, that didn't work out so I became a lunch cook, then dinner," Soule said. "I liked the lifestyle of being a dinner cook, because I was able to spend my days at the beach or skiing."
Soule then went into construction work but the gig wasn't very steady, so it was back to cooking, this time at the Hyatt.
"I also did a stint at Christy Hill in Squaw Valley but I wasn't really going anywhere," Soule said. "And then my uncle called and asked if I wanted to have my own restaurant."
Soule said he wasn't ready, but figured he could make up for inexperience by focusing on other areas.
"I had just enough knowledge, but I had a lot of drive to succeed," Soule said. "That and the fact we served breakfast, lunch and dinner got us through the first two years."
A self proclaimed chef, Soule said his menu, which started out as country French, is constantly evolving, incorporating Asian, Mediterranean and Mexican influences.
"Everything is a learning experience and I think that's what keeps us unique," Soule said.
Soule is also learning about the ingredients that are becoming part of his creations, accepting new knowledge about what is and what isn't healthy.
"Years ago, we weren't really educated on the processing of ingredients or additives we were buying," Soule said. "Now, if my suppliers can't give me fresh, organically grown products, I search for them. It may cost more, but that's what I want to serve my guests."
The restaurant has been rated as "the best place to take a date" 13 years running by the Action Guide.
Soule, along with his brother Steve, have been offering guests, many of whom are regulars, the culinary fruits of his experience, starting from dishwasher to college dropout, to owning his own well-known, 20-year-old restaurant.
Since a business doesn't turn 20 every day, Soule and his staff have about a week's worth of celebrating planned.
The party kicks off on June 14, the actual anniversary, with hors d'oeuvres and partying.
"It will be pretty unstructured and we'll have a lot of the regulars here. Everyone will get something free," Soule said.
The next day will feature a benefit for the North Tahoe Lakers Booster Club of NTHS.
"I graduated from there and this is to help out the sports program," Soule said.
June 17 will feature a wine maker dinner, with wines from the Sierra Foothills.
The whole celebration will culminate in a family gathering on Father's Day.
"We'll have all the uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces over for a big dinner and it should be a great way to cap it all off," Soule said.
Soule Domain is open for dinner seven days a week and located one-half block up Stateline Drive next to the Tahoe Biltmore.
For reservations call (530) 546-7529
"Every dish is a specialty of the house." —Charles Soule, Head Chef/Proprietor