Smoke Door’s exterior is clad in Japanese style shou sugi ban siding, a traditional technique that chars the wood

Top Spot to Try Live-Fire Cooking

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. New North Shore restaurant Smoke Door Saryo comes in hot


Smoke Door’s lemon sour cocktail features smoke-infused vodka and a brûléed lemon

For several years, the dark wood-paneled, Asian-inspired building at the state line in Crystal Bay sat swirled in mystery, seemingly finished, but unsigned, empty and unoccupied, questions about its provenance and purpose unanswered.

The space that was last home to the Mellow Fellow brewpub is now Smoke Door–Lake Tahoe Saryo, and many serious foodies, adventurous eaters and followers of top-ranked chefs have been fascinated by the big reveal.

The 26-seat restaurant, which opened in July 2023, is a sophisticated Japanese-themed eatery (literally “small tea house”) serving a 10-course tasting menu featuring primitive wildfire methods and seasonal ingredients from Japan and the Tahoe region. Also known as live-fire cooking, food prepared in this style leans on flavoring from flame and embers, and is presented in an innovative and authentic experience that is a mix of both culinary theater and art.

San Francisco architectural firm Studio Terpeluk, which oversaw the building’s renovations, set the tone by cladding the still anonymous exterior in shou sugi ban siding, a traditional Japanese technique that preserves wood by charring it with fire. The interior is finished with Japanese plaster, polished concrete and Monterey Cypress wooden booths, tables and windows; one wall is stacked nearly ceiling high with split almond, a hot-burning hardwood that’s plentiful in California—and a sign of things to come.

A next-level restaurant requires a well-seasoned chef. Enter Tyler Burges, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and veteran of several multi-Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco. Burges served as executive sous chef at Michael Mina alongside Ron Siegel, as well as at Saison with founder Joshua Skenes and at Saison Hospitality Group’s Angler. He also did a stint at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

The restaurant’s interior is finished with Japanese plaster, polished concrete and Monterey Cyprus wood booths, tables and window trim

Burges and restaurateur Ryu Amemiya, whom he met in Wajima, Japan, at a pop-up dinner called Dining Out, opened Smoke Door in Yokohama in April 2022. How did a modest little mountain town in Tahoe land a second location of such a unique concept?

“It was actually a mutual friend of the building owner that found us in Yokohama,” says Burges, a San Diego native who grew up visiting Tahoe on family vacations. “He was looking for someone to occupy the vacant space (originally built as a sushi restaurant) and thought we would be a good match for each other. After meeting and seeing the space and location, we fell in love with the area and felt a huge potential for providing a different dining experience that isn’t what you would normally find here. Before opening the restaurant, we spent about eight months visiting frequently, getting to know the area and the restaurants.”

Burges’ menu is inspired by the interesting ingredients he encounters in his travels to Japan: “I have a lot of opportunities to see places that have such distinct history and methods of treating both vegetables and proteins.” He plans to update the offerings seasonally but prefers to make changes “whenever we feel that we made something that deserves to be showcased and that fits the menu.”

Phillip Mireles, a veteran of Michael Mina, Saison and Rich Table in San Francisco, serves as chef de cuisine for Smoke Door Saryo Lake Tahoe, along with chef Brionna Morrison

Everything is made in-house. “We source unique ingredients via connections in Japan and from people that I have worked with in the past,” says Burges. “For local ingredients we typically turn to Tahoe Food Hub, as they have a good connection with farmers in the area.”

Burges drew on his relationships working for Saison Hospitality to assemble an A-team to run the Lake Tahoe location, installing Ria Kim, who was a pastry cook at Angler LA and events director for Angler SF and Saison, as maître d’. Kim advises on wine, spirits and the cocktail list and creates the drink pairings.

For chef de cuisines (or head chefs), Burges tapped Phillip Mireles, an alum of Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles and a colleague from Michael Mina and Saison. Mireles is also a veteran of Canlis in Seattle, Rich Table in San Francisco and Angler LA. Burges also brought in Damari Grant, who graduated from UC Berkeley and was a fellow colleague at Michael Mina. Grant also worked at Mourad and Coqueta in
San Francisco and Selby’s in Atherton.

Guests are greeted at their table with a personalized welcome card and a menu rolled and tied with ribbon; the only decision left is whether to opt for the beverage pairing, which includes signature cocktails, sake and wine.

Fish fresh from the Toyosu fish market in Tokyo is served in a bright purple umeboshi sauce made from a Japanese pickled plum

Meal service starts with oshibori, the custom of offering a hot damp cloth for wiping hands before eating. In the open kitchen, chefs seemingly move silently amid their stations, coaxing flames with large red fans and handing off courses to professional and knowledgeable servers. Dishware and cutlery too appear as though they emerged straight from the forge.

The 10-course Harvest Tasting Menu kicks off with golden osetra caviar procured from Tsar Nicoulai, a sustainable sturgeon farm in Wilton, California. A tiny jar layered with tofu, leek gelee, seaweed oil and caviar arrives atop a bed of smoking charcoal, with a mother of pearl spoon and paired with an Argyle brut sparkling wine from the Willamette Valley.

Smoke Door’s avocado toast can change hearts and minds about the ubiquitous millennial-favored dish and demonstrates that a restaurant with roots in Yokohama can be connected locally. Organic, naturally leavened whole wheat sourdough comes from Perenn Bakery (locations in Midtown and Rancharrah in Reno), whose owners Aubrey and Tyler O’Laskey were classmates and friends with Burges at CIA in New York. Rectangles cut from the country loaf are slow roasted over the fire, one side soaked in brown butter tamari. Thin slices of cold-smoked avocado are fanned across the crispy top deck and garnished with microgreens, edible flowers and a spritz of dashi-citronette.

This avocado toast is partnered with a smoked lemon sour, made with smoke-infused Haku Vodka adorned with a lemon soaked in light simple syrup sprinkled with Japanese brown sugar and then brûléed.

Japanese A4 wagyu beef benefits from both flame and embers

Another menu highlight is the bluefin tuna or hamachi flown in fresh from Tokyo’s world-famous Toyosu fish market: An employee from the Smoke Door Yokohama restaurant assists with the procurement and shipping, and a local Smoke Door employee retrieves the pescetarian package from the Reno airport and gets it to the restaurant. The fish is carefully sliced, rolled and placed upright in purple umeboshi sauce made from a Japanese pickled plum, topped with julienned shiso with the lipped bowled plate encouraging sipping every last drop of the translucent purple sauce.

“The sauce is made from whole umeboshi,” says Mireles. “We utilize every part of the fruit. The meat is used for the base and the seeds are infused with many other aromatics to season the base.”

Also flown in from Japan: wagyu beef from Kagoshima Prefecture, complete with authenticity papers that include the animal’s nose print. Considered the rarest of the breed with a full-bodied and buttery flavor profile and just the right amount of marbling, the seared slice of meat is served with wasabi root brought to the table in a cut crystal bowl and grated onto the plate with a sharkskin paddle. A special “haiboshi” wagyu, which is ash-crusted, is available by pre-order only, by 2 p.m. the day before dining. For something truly different, try the A4 Wagyu fat-washed Boulevardier.

Smoke Door delivers a whole new and delicious version of avocado toast

Another course of note: Dangling over the hearth, a whole head of “Sky-Grilled” cauliflower can take three full days to cook, depending on the size of the fire and its proximity to the heat. Brown butter is applied to the umami-laden dish just before serving atop a bed of crispy shallots.

The last of the savory dishes, donabe rice cooked at 800 degrees in a traditional Japanese earthenware domed pot is dished tableside into a small bowl; a chicken and mushroom dashi is poured over and is finished with embered oil and green onions.

For a sweet finish, pecan pie based on Burges’ grandmother’s recipe is topped with cherry blossom-tinged whipped cream. It pairs well with the 10-year Broadbent Boal Madeira.

The Smoke Door dining experience concludes with tableside tea service. Matcha sourced from Uji, Japan, is hand-frothed in a shallow bowl; loose-leaf hibiscus and chamomile tea from the Spice & Tea Shoppe in Reno gets steeped in an elegant glass pot.

Arrive curious and with a clear calendar. This exceptional immersive evening runs some three hours—and is one you won’t soon forget.

Lake Tahoe Saryo is located at 9980 North Lake Tahoe Blvd, Kings Beach, CA, (530) 553-1064;

The 10-course Harvest Menu is priced at $198; beverage pairing is $98; reserve beverage pairing is $128. A service fee of 22 percent is added to the check. Snacks and a la carte dining only available at the bar. Reservations strongly recommended.

No Comments

Post A Comment

error: Content is protected !!