It’s Friday night. You’re a Tahoe City local. You’re going to Za’s for dinner. Enough said.
Okay, so what if you’re not a Tahoe City local? Allow me to preview your Za’s experience:
It’s Friday night. You chatted with the locals all day and they recommended you go to Za’s for dinner. “Long-time favorite,” “Great all-American food,” “Can’t go wrong,” they say. You’re driving along Tahoe City’s main drag and - does that sign say “Za’s”? You hope it does as you pull into the tiny parking lot and find a spot. You walk past local hard workers getting their after-work special on at Pete & Peter’s, past Wanda closing up her flower shop and finally, reach the entrance to Za’s. The first thing you notice is the pile-up of people near the hostess stand and the measly ten or so tables in the entire restaurant. The patient couples converse with each other as if they were all family. This makes you feel unwanted until each person squeezes out a smile toward you in salutation. They are amiable, small-town people, after all.
You sigh in relief when you realize most of the standing people await their takeout orders. Yes, Za’s restaurant does takeout as well as dine-in (keep that in your back pocket for those lazy days!). The hostess, frantic but far from flighty, asks in complete composure, “How many for dinner?” and seats you right away. Once seated, you chomp on a few chickpeas and an olive from your table’s complimentary snack plate and take a look around. Old photographs, new paintings, ancient snowshoes, just-dim-enough lighting and background conversation create Za’s cozy environment. You take note of the drink list: standard draft and bottled beer selections from Budweiser to Racer 5 IPA; the option to order a stiff mixed drink from Pete & Peter’s next door - but really, Za’s is about the wine.
Za’s wine lists extends from reds from Napa, California to whites from the country of Italy. If you had a sweet tooth you might order the Portacinco dessert wine from the vintner-swarmed regions of Lodi, California. Alas, your taste buds were trained at a young age and long for a smooth Cabernet, so you order Hogue’s Genesis Cab: silky and rich with tones of berry. The server, great gal that she is, pours a hefty glassful and slides Za’s complimentary homemade bread onto your table alongside a saucer of abso-freaking-lutely delicious, secret balsamic-something sauce. Tonight, the bread smells of tomato, basil and garlic and possesses the texture of pillows. If their free bread proves to be this tasty, you can imagine how the menu food will turn out.
Za’s advertises its “Tasty Bites” (appetizers) as its main act. The longest section of the menu, “Tasty Bites” stretch from pepper crusted duck breast with sundried cherries, hazelnuts, goat cheese and Frangelico demi-glace to Pat’s jalapeno poppers stuffed with shrimp-wrapped bacon and topped with easy cheese. I will take a paragraph break to allow that to sink in.
You’re a wing-lover (who isn’t?) so you go for the wings with spicy, sweet, chili garlic sauce and bleu cheese dip. Usually, you love wings for the buffalo sauce, but Za’s puts spicy-sweet-chili-garlic sauce on the map with this one. Not too sugary like most bottled spicy/sweet sauces, and the bleu cheese dip contains some special ingredients that beat plain bleu cheese. So far, Za’s is two-for-two.
For the main course, choose from pesto or gorgonzola pizzas, sausage or smoked chicken calzones, rotini or linguini pasta with clams, a burger marsala contadina, etc. American, Italian, whateva. For a lighter dinner, how about a smoked chicken salad or classic caesar? Za’s even has an “Extra Stuff” section that offers roasted garlic broccoli, chili honey carrots, fresh cut fries and more. While the menu only covers one (large) page, it’s not too long that you have to think about what you’ll order for thirty minutes. Less is more, especially for those indecisive foodies who love everything. Good thing about Za’s, though, is that basically everything on the menu tastes magnifique. “Magnificent” deserves to be written in French when speaking of Za’s.
I’ll save dessert for later - for you to find out for yourself.