Take the chill out of winter with open-flame cooking in Reno/Tahoe.

By Rae Matthews, Elevation Eats

They say fire made us human. The ability to cook with fire is now believed to be the reason humans evolved from primates. The theory is simple: cooking food means less time chewing on fibrous plants and more time communicating with your neighbor. Our jaw muscles grew smaller as our brains grew bigger. Exactly when humans managed to harness fire is unknown, but every culture has an origin story about where fire came from. It’s that important. Maybe that’s why roasting marshmallows is so satisfying?

Yes, there are now myriad ways we heat food. But when the microwave just doesn’t cut it on a cold, snowy night in the Sierra, here are some great ways to warm up and reconnect with your primitive side.

Ichiban Steak House & Sushi Bar
Ichiban Steak House & Sushi Bar

Have some hibachi

A hibachi is a Japanese cooking device, which translates to “fire bowl,” but now the name has become synonymous with tableside cooking and dramatic flare (You know, the thing where they sometimes throw their knives around.). While we can’t guarantee dramatic knife tricks, there will most certainly be flames.

Ichiban Steak House & Sushi Bar
Ichiban Steak House & Sushi Bar

The well-known Ichiban Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar has a location right inside Harrah’s Reno. They’ve been cooking and entertaining from behind the stainless grilltop for over 30 years. ichibanreno.com

If you prefer a little more local flavor, IJJI 2 Sushi & Japanese Steakhouse in Reno offers knife-wielding chefs and mile-high flame bursts right before your eyes. It’s a great place to turn your dinner into a show. ijjisushiandhibachi.com

Fondue for you

Fondue hails from Switzerland and France. It is traditionally a communal pot of cheese melted over an open flame (‘Nuff said, right?) that one then dips various edible things into. In America the term has been generalized to include any type of melty goodness, such as chocolate and … um … chocolate, that one can use as a piping-hot dip. Let’s face it, cheese goes well on everything, and if it doesn’t, chocolate will.

Liberty Food & Wine Exchange
Liberty Food & Wine Exchange

Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno is a local staple with a big vision. They are true believers in using food for good. And, maybe just as importantly, they have fondue! You can start your meal with a flame-licked pot of cheese. libertyfoodandwine.com

If you’re in Carson City, head to Bella Vita Bistro for a simply amazing black truffle fondue. Yep, it’s like adding extravagance to a pot of bubbling luxury. It’s what dreams are made of. And, La Fondue in Incline Village offers fondue in fine-dining form. The grand fondue experience for two includes everything from prawns to bacon-wrapped dates to dip into bubbling cheese, and it comes with chocolate fondue for dessert. bellavitabistro.com; tahoefondue.com

Hot pot hits the spot

Hot pot is a Chinese style of cooking with a pot of boiling soup stock in the middle of the table that diners then use to cook their ingredients in as they eat. This can include all kinds of foodstuffs such as thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, dumplings or tofu. It’s like a customized, deconstructed soup that you share!

Tahoe Hot Pot is a recent addition to Stateline dining. Diners beginning by selecting their broth of choice, and then add various meats, seafood and/or vegetables. You then dip your food in the pot and it cooks right in front of you in only a few seconds. Next comes a selection of dipping sauces. You can have a different flavor combo in every bite.

Asian Noodles in Reno also offers “Asian hot pot fondue,” since fondue has become a catchall for any warm pot on the table. You can make your own pho with delicious meat, vegetables and noodles.

Sizzling Korean barbeque

Korean barbeque is a popular style of Korean cuisine where the food is grilled right at the table. Often the grill is built into the table, but if not a portable grill is usually provided. Diners can then cook to their heart’s content, even if it’s raining outside.

IJJI 4 Korean BBQ brings the fun of table-top grilling to Reno. Marinated bulgogi and galbi (thinly sliced marinated beef and short ribs, respectively) among many other things are brought out raw, so you can enjoy the pleasure as sizzling meat without having to get coals started. ijjisushiandhibachi.com

In Sparks, Siu Korean BBQ mixes things up with a little fusion flare. Next to your bulgogi you can grill Hawaiian steak, pork belly, or even octopus. Experiment like a true carnivore by throwing everything on the fire. siukoreanbbq.com

A good old-fashioned grill

Sometimes all you need is a grill and some flames. In America, we’ve made grilling so versatile that it can be casual, formal or anywhere in between. Around here, there are places to try tableside grilling at both ends of the spectrum.

The Sage Room
The Sage Room

A local favorite in Reno is Pignic Pub & Patio. This unusual spot is basically a community patio, should you find yourself without one. There is a full bar on site, but other than that, dinner is up to you. Grills, cookware and utensils are provided, but you bring home the bacon … so to speak. You’re welcome to cook anything you’d like! renoriver.org/pignic-pub-patio

On the fancy end is The Sage Room inside Harveys in Stateline. The Sage Room is an old-school steakhouse with a dramatic twist: most meals are prepped and cooked tableside, including dessert! With the mouth-watering thrill of a sizzling steak as it cooks within a fine dining atmosphere, you get the best of all worlds. caesars.com/harveys/lake-tahoe

Don’t let the chill of winter keep you indoors. Make Prometheus proud and go seek fire!