I was invited to preview the steakhouse at the J Resort: J Paul's Italian Steakhouse in downtown Reno, Nevada. While this was a media preview and not a full dining experience, it was clear that the space, staff, and concept have been thoughtfully curated and will hopefully be an asset to the Reno dining scene.
TL;DR : I'm excited to return to J Paul's Steakhouse, pay for my meal, and get the full experience because I believe it'll be worth it.
Photo courtesy of the Abbi Agency
The lounge area by the bar
Wow, the J Resort has come a long way since it was The Sands. The casino is clean, has a great layout, and the short walk from the hotel entrance to the steakhouse was without much cigarette-smoke interference. Perhaps that's because we're in the early days of the resort, but still, it felt worth noting.
The interior design of the steakhouse is surprisingly luxe. Guests enter the steakhouse through a large door separating the space from the casino, and are immediately met with beautiful wall art, soft lighting, and forest green velvet lounge chairs—it's a bar/lounge area, and makes a great space to wait for a table or grab a drink without having to be on the casino floor. Swanky, moody, clean, and a great introduction to a steakhouse experience. Heck, the bar is so beautiful it feels like an art installation too.
The dining area maintains the aspects of what you'd expect (and desire) from a steakhouse, but is modernized to feel intimate and sumptuous with merlot-red leather booths and stunning art spotlighted around the room. While clean and modern, the space is still reminiscent of an old-school steakhouse, where tablecloths would feel at home. Perhaps they're going with the new school no-tablecloth model of restaurants these days, but I personally feel tablecloths would have added to the experience, softening hard surfaces and adding a touch of timeless elegance to an otherwise modernized space.
Shane Munis mixing cocktails during the media event
Like any good Reno steakhouse, the bar is prominent at J Paul's. Bar manager Shane Munis will likely be one of the first faces guests see, shaking cocktails and buzzing around behind the sprawling bar space. On either side of the bar are, what I assume to be, Yama Cold Drip towers, traditionally used for cold brew but instead are being used for house-made almond liquor and limoncello. Aside from the mechanisms simply looking cool, they're clearly showcasing craft and intentionality which was evident in the food as well.
Pictured, clockwise: steak, shrimp cocktail, bruschetta, panzanella, meatball, crab cake and lobster mac and cheese.
The food was served buffet appetizer-style for the media preview, which can make it tricky to ascertain what the full dish might be like; however, what was clear is that Chef Scotty Bournival knows flavor. Not a single bite was under-seasoned. One of my favorite dishes of the night was the JP panzanella (torn ciabatta, greens, heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, onion, cucumber, herbs, and lambrusco emulsion), which was so unexpectedly balanced with acidity that I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed it. It's a good measure of a chef if they can make vegetables sing.
As Chef Bournival described his dishes, I often heard "clarified butter," which explains the depth of flavor and delicate richness of the menu items. It was noted as a point of pride, amongst other details, which were explained with excitement and humility. Bournival clearly knows a lot about food, having trained at the CIA and spent time at Travail Kitchen and Amusements, a renown 27-course tasting menu experience in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. The J Paul menu is evidence that he's exploring technique-driven cuisine within the confines of a Reno steakhouse, and I'm excited to see what he does with that.
The steak dish for preview was a grilled 50-day wet-aged NY Strip, sliced thinly and topped with a delicious demi-glace and roasted mushrooms. The mushrooms, a mix of oyster, beech, lobster, and shiitake, were cooked in a chicken jus which made them morish. The mushrooms are available as a side dish on the menu, which is smart, because they were so good they could stand on their own or complement any dish.
Since J Paul's is an Italian steakhouse, I was excited to try the JP meatball, which uses a mix of ground beef, veal, and pork and is paired with a sweet and acidic San Marzano tomato sauce. It might be because I ate it cold (the joys of being a food blogger), but the meatball was denser than I expected. Not that it was unenjoyable—the flavor was great—but again, this spoke to the nature of the event versus being able to eat as most guests would. I personally love spaghetti and meatballs and will be ordering that when I return to give it a real taste test.
When it came to the desserts, I had very low expectations. Usually, desserts are a throwaway at a steakhouse, simply on the menu as a vehicle for a candle or a chocolate-scribed, "Happy Anniversary." I was delighted by both the cheesecake and the "chocolate roll," which I believe were just small tastes of the on-menu cheesecake and "after-dinner-cigar," a hand-rolled chocolate cigar with praline and chantilly filling served with a chocolate raspberry match box and snifter of Godiva chocolate milk. I'm very particular with my cheesecake, and the bite I had was essentially perfect in both flavor and texture. The chocolate roll, my goodness, I could have eaten 5 of them—rich chocolate flavor with so many textures in one bite it was fun to eat.
The Italian element to J Paul's Steakhouse is unique and lends a fun element to a steakhouse vibe. Unlike many of the steakhouses in town, you won't find mushroom ravioli on the menu; as Chef Bournival said, "if you can get something on the menu from another steakhouse, why would you come here?"
Ultimately, my expectations were exceeded by my experience and I look forward to returning. A consistently pleasurable steakhouse with some new-school energy—a special occasion spot that won't break the bank—may be exactly what Reno needs.