My image of fireside dining used to be a cozy table for two warmed by a gas lit fireplace, a tasty meal, and a glass of red wine – sounds wonderful but pretty typical. Fireside dining at the Empire Lodge is definitely not typical. When my husband and I walked in, we knew we were in store for something special. A roaring wood burning fire in the huge stone fireplace greeted us. The fireplace housed three pots of steaming chocolate and a pan of berry cobbler! I immediately made a note to self – save room for dessert.
Fireside dining at Empire Lodge is distinct in that you are certainly warmed by the fire but the food is also. Inside the fireplaces, you’ll see wrought iron stands holding melting cheeses, steaming stews and potatoes, and racks of lamb. The atmosphere of warmth with the aroma of the wood fires and the juices dripping relaxes everyone immediately.
We were seated by the fireplace with two huge blocks of cheese melting onto individual plates. My husband had the view of the snow and mountain with the tall dark pine trees paired with aspen trees. Every twenty minutes or so, a horse drawn sleigh slowly passed by and I’d turn to watch the sight. I chose to sit so I could watch not just the fire and those mesmerizing blocks of cheese melting, but also the other guests and their reaction to this unusual sight.
To me, the guests seemed to fall into two distinct categories: eager or curious. The eager folks took the direct approach. They stepped right up snapping photos and proceeded directly to the middle of the fireplace and didn’t even wait for the attendant to hand them a plate. They grabbed one straight out and the host placed the hot melted cheese plate on top (using tongs!) They took the same approach with the accoutrement table. They topped the melted cheese with potatoes, meats and mustards with wild abandon appearing that they wanted to try absolutely everything. (I fell into this camp.)
The curious guests seemed like they were almost thinking, “For me?” They approached from the side allowing the host to serve them. They stood back and took in the accoutrement table first scanning the options and delicacies before making their choices. I observed many pairing up different meats, mustards and chutneys selectively as if they were choosing wine pairings with courses. This group was probably thinking to themselves, “I better pace myself so I am going to make the perfect combination.” (My husband fell into this camp.)
I don’t know which I enjoyed more – my meal or observing others enjoying the experience. The duck, the veal and mushroom stew, roasted potatoes and the roast lamb with apple basil jelly were amazing but both my husband and I kept that dessert table in the back of our minds as we took our time and enjoyed the meal, wine and relaxation.
When we did make it to the dessert fireplace, I noticed the other diners had changed camps. Well, it is probably better said that they joined camps – everyone was eager. There was no apprehension or hesitation at this accoutrement table. I heard someone say, “This is great. They have the largest plates for dessert.”
Everyone filled their plates with combinations of strawberries, bananas, pineapples, cookies, dried fruit, and nuts then chose their personal cup of steaming hot fondue. Of course, my husband and I both chose all three—dark chocolate, caramel, and white chocolate with Grand Marnier! Our favorites ended up being: dark chocolate for pineapple and bananas, caramel with the sugar cookies and white chocolate with the strawberries. With the ski lodge, the horse drawn sleigh, the roaring wood fires, hearty flavorful stews and meats and the playful desserts – can’t think of a more extraordinary dinner no matter what camp you fall in.