Reaching New Heights: Tahoe’s Big Water Grille

| July 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

Stellar food, views and service are on the menu at the Big Water Grille

Written by Susan D. Rock

A meal and view at Incline Village’s Big Water Grille. Photo by Jen Schmidt.

 Full disclosure. The Big Water Grille and I go way back. It is where my husband and I celebrated our engagement with a bottle of Moët White Star, where we tied the knot out on the lakeview deck, where we have since celebrated many anniversaries (13) and where we now take our boys for a big-deal dinner or meet up with friends for a drink. Best of all, John Cheney, who was behind the bar the day we popped our first Big Water cork, now owns the place.

Perched on the ridge just down the road from Diamond Peak Ski Resort, the Big Water Grille first opened in 1983 as Steven’s, an eatery owned by baseball’s Cy Young Award–winning pitcher Steven Stone. It changed name (to Spatz) and ownership, then sat vacant in the mid-1990s until restaurateur Noel Young, who had come to Tahoe to open the Hyatt’s Lone Eagle Grille, launched the Big Water Grille in 1998 with a pair of Hawaii-based partners.

Cheney, a Northern California native who had worked his way up the Big Water’s management ladder since the restaurant’s opening, gathered a group of local investors and bought the business in 2004; he is now the sole owner of the contemporary dining spot with the sweeping lake and mountain views.

“I’ve been able to live in Lake Tahoe and enjoy everything that it has to offer while fulfilling my lifelong dream of owning my own restaurant,” affirms Cheney.

The Big Water Grille seats 120 diners, plus 25 in the bar and another 30 on the deck, in season; the wine cellar downstairs can accommodate 18 for private events. Large-scale graphic canvases by artist Pam Krone hang on the back walls, bringing the outside in and adding a signature splash of blue to the clean modern interior.

Many notable chefs have left their mark here: Michael Plapp, Jakon Tolkhurst, Jay Veregge, Jayson Poe. Chef Chris Daniel has presided over the kitchen for the past two years, building his bill of fare around fresh and seasonal ingredients (North Tahoe–based purveyor Habeger Produce Plus is a go-to supplier). A recent menu featured appetizers like poached bosc pears and butter lettuce and pan-seared Dungeness crab cakes prepped with shiitakes and an aromatic ginger citrus aioli. Main course options included scallops seared to a caramelized golden brown atop Israeli couscous with baby bok choy and a dashi/miso broth. This summer, look for starring ingredients like heirloom tomatoes, white corn, peaches and figs, and seafood dishes such as pan-roasted halibut.

A native of Athens, Georgia, Daniel’s heritage comes through with his Southern fried chicken made from his grandmother’s recipe. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy, it is light and redolent of thyme. There’s also a braised pork belly with creamy grits and crispy fried onions.

Big Water Grille’s ahi poke, Photo by Jen Schmidt

Some longtime customer favorites will always have a place in the lineup: The ahi tuna poke and wonton chip appetizer, the “steak” burgers made with house-ground filet and prime rib, and the house-smoked rib eye steak, served with mashed potatoes, spinach, mushrooms and a sauce bourguignon. “That rib eye won’t come off the menu,” says Cheney, who also operates a barbecue catering operation called Traxx.

Several menu items can be ordered in a small portion, and the bar menu, which includes bites like smoked salmon mousse, a barbecued pulled pork sandwich and fish and chips, makes for an easy evening in the lounge.

The wide-ranging wine list is stocked with a good assortment of varietals, blends and lesser-known (read, value driven) labels in the “breakaways” section. More than 20 wines are available by the glass.

Do save room for the chocolate mousse cake with a pretzel crust and peanut butter–malt crème. Or the white-chocolate banana bread pudding with coconut curd and toasted pecans. Desserts are made by Cheney’s wife Christy.

Often diners must choose between a meal with a view and a great meal. Here, you can have both, with a spectacular sunset thrown in for good measure, and even better, an old friend greeting you at the door.


Come summer, TQ Food & Wine Editor Susan D. Rock can often be found enjoying food, friends and vino on the deck of the Big Water Grille.


Big Water Grille


341 Ski Way, Incline Village, NV

(775) 833-0606


Summer hours: Bar, lounge and deck open daily at 4:30 p.m., dining room open from 5:30 p.m. Reservations recommended.

For more from Jen Schmidt Photography, click here.


Category: Wine & Dine

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