Q&A With Cottonwood: The Best Fine Dining In Truckee

Planning a ski trip near Truckee, California? You’ve got to know Mike and Jennifer, owners of the most legendary fine dining restaurant and oldest ski lodge in the area: Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar!


Stop by and say hi to both Mike and Jennifer. But before you do that, Mike gave us the ultimate inside scoop on how their Cottonwood story began!

Tell us a little about Cottonwood. When was the restaurant opened?

Cottonwood opened for business on New Years’ Eve, 1989, and has been a fixture of the Truckee dining scene ever since. We are a dinner house only, featuring a diverse menu of steaks, pastas, seafood, and vegetarian dishes, complemented by a full bar and adventuresome wine list. We try using fresh organic produce and sustainable meats and seafood whenever possible. Cottonwood is home to a vibrant acoustic music scene and we feature free live music every Thursday and Friday night. We are also housed in one of the most historic buildings in Truckee, originally built by volunteers in 1928 out of salvaged railroad ties to serve as a warming hut for the town ski hill.


You mentioned your wife started to the restaurant. Are your families both Truckee natives? How did you come to this part of California? 

Jennifer was one of the original partners.  We like to say she upgraded about 18 years ago.  Jennifer is from Florida originally and came to Tahoe to visit a brother, and Mike is a Minnesota native who came to Truckee to take a job in the marketing department at Northstar.


What was the inspiration behind starting Cottonwood? 

It was actually my wife, Jennifer, that started Cottonwood after the restaurant where she and had closed down. The building, which houses Cottonwood, became available for lease. A small loan from her parents and a couple of coats of paint and they were in business, which isn’t exactly the model one should follow these days. The name “Cottonwood” came from a memorable meal at a restaurant of the same name in Boston and Jennifer harbored a dream to one day own her own version.

What are three reasons any Lake Tahoe traveler should dine at Cottonwood? 

One, the hearty, fresh food prepared by our chef of seventeen years, David Smith. Two, to experience a historic building, which was once the center of the ski scene in all of Lake Tahoe with wonderful views of Historical Downtown Truckee. Lastly, the free live acoustic music each weekend performed on the Deck during warm weather.


The perfect three-course meal sounds fantastic at Cottonwood. If it were up to you, what would be your ultimate, your dream meal? 

The perfect three-course meal would start off with the Cottonwood Caesar Salad. It has whole leaf romaine lettuce and you eat it with your hands! The New York Steak accompanied by Chef Dave’s Brussels Sprouts and Jennifer’s Fresh Berry Crisp with Haagen Daz Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert!

Check out more info on Cottonwood

Jocelyn Reist

Jocelyn was a contributor for Jetset Times for a year, and has continued to travel around the world. Her stories are often about food, as she's an avid foodie (and knows SO MUCH about it!)

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