Winter Menu Tasting

Pre-Season Training

I’ve been doubling up on workouts at the gym—not really to get my ski legs on, because we all know the only real way to do that is to ski. For me, these workouts are insurance—that I can eat lunch with impunity. (And by “impunity” I mean taking a no-holds-barred approach to toppings on my Turkey Chili.) I make no secret of the fact that I ski for lunch—and that I’m ever-grateful that Deer Valley turns ski cuisine into high art. But, friends, I think they have outdone themselves.

A few weeks ago, I had the great good fortune to attend a sneak preview menu tasting for the Deer Valley restaurants. The first surprise (and there were many) was that the restaurant in Snow Park Lodge underwent a significant remodel in the off-season. Most noticeably, the beverage stations—once located at center stage in the middle of the buffet lines—have been relocated to a wall, skier’s left as you enter the buffet area. It’s easy to use during the ski day, and easy to hide behind a curtain when the restaurant is transformed, four evenings a week, to the Seafood Buffet.

At center stage is an expansive Natural Buffet station, which will double as a raw-bar/chef’s station for the Seafood Buffet. Oh, and speaking of bars—there is a beautiful new bar just to the right of the stairs to the second level of dining. By day, it’s a full-service espresso bar, where you can order your caffeine fix in any number of combinations. By night, at Seafood Buffet, it’s there for the graceful service of cocktails. Naturally, I I started my evening here,  with a glass of Reederer Estate, Brut, sparkling wine from Anderson Valley, California, poured by Mariposa manager Scott Myers.

Chefs from each restaurant at Deer Valley, presented the new menu items they’d spent the summer perfecting. (I know, I know, I have a very rough job.) I tried everything—and now I will present your restaurant-by-restaurant guide to the best-bet bites.

Seafood Buffet

If you haven’t tried this restaurant, this is your year. Two standout dishes were added to the menu, one as a “bite,” the other as an entrée.

The bite: Seared Wagyu Beef on a duck-fried Yukon gold potato chip with bacon and caramelized onion jam. Abandon all hope of stopping at just one. There is something about the duck fat in this dish that makes the rest of the ingredients pop.

Garithes me Domato Kai Feta. It would have never occurred to me to prepare shrimp with Feta cheese. Which is why I am not a chef. The broth is light—lemon, chives and fennel. The heirloom cherry tomatoes (from Copper Moose Farm and from farms in Wyoming) are cooked just enough to enhance their natural sweetness. The feta provides a tart measure that plays against the sweetness of the tomatoes and the shrimp.

Royal Street Café

The full-service restaurant in Silver Lake Lodge is one of my favorite stops. From the cocktails to the menu that’s so delightfully varied that it almost demands we order in concert so no dish goes untasted. If you must choose, take a break from your usual edamame appetizer and bite into the Tomatillo and Jalapeno crusted Calamari Frito. I had to try several, as I was trying to decide whether I preferred dipping them in the poblano aioli or the red chili cocktail dipping sauce. Jury’s still out. I’ll have to go to RSC post-haste for further research.

Known for inventive sandwiches, Royal Street won’t disappoint meat lovers—aside from the fact that they have to choose between three new and delicious sandwiches:  the Maple Bacon BBQ Bison Burger (the bacon is cured and smoked in-house, the bison is ground fresh, daily) the House-smoked Pulled-Pork sandwich, and the Bulgogi and Bao Bun. This Korean-seasoned beef cheek is probably my favorite—plenty of heat, with an undertone of sweetness. And you can order it in a lettuce wrap, too.

Deer Valley Grocery Café

Sous Chef Adam has been at the Grocery Café for just a few months, but he’s already upped the ante on the menu, by adding some excellent après ski options. Roasted Pepper Fondito, Salmon Rillette and Smoked Tomato Blue Crab Dip. Here’s a tip—try them all, and ask the team at the café to heat a few take-home entrees for you while you enjoy appetizers on the deck. You won’t be sorry.

Fireside Dining

For a restaurant that cooks all of its food directly from the hearths in the dining rooms, you would not expect fish. But Chef Shane Symes presented a Juniper Berry Crusted Walleye with a house-made thyme ricotta cheese, balsamic pearls and a lemon-whey sauce that I might have happily enjoyed as a dessert if it didn’t pair so nicely with the fish.

Mariposa

I’ll find any excuse to dine at Mariposa—but I’ve often found it hard to choose between dishes, then over-ordering and then feeling that I’ve overindulged by meal’s end. In fact, once, we took our friends Florida Keys Girl and Guy to dinner there, and Keys Girl found herself so stuffed that she retreated to an empty booth to lie down. Well, I’m happy to report that we can sample the menu with impunity, as Executive Chef Clark Norris and Sous Chef Tim Carpenter have transformed the entire menu into small-plate style—you can still order entrée-sized portions, if you wish, but choosing a variety of bites is encouraged. Don’t miss the Niman Ranch Beef Short Rib with Pontack Sauce and chevre mashed potatoes. The hidden gem of the dish was the fried smoked shallot—which had been smoked on oak from Chef Norris’s property. And since you asked, I’ll tell you about Pontack sauce: It’s an English elderberry sauce with a slightly sharp sweetness that plays beautifully against the beef. Executive Chef Norris harvests the berries off the slopes of Deer Valley. I defy you to find a more local dish.

At this point the meal, having enjoyed more than a bite of everything—plus some lovely paired wines—I learned a delightful new phrase: Cheese Course Slider. Seriously.

Executive Pastry Chef Letty Flatt, and Snow Park Pastry Chef Debby Swenerton  did not disappoint, serving up the Brown Butter Pineapple Upside Down Cake with coconut-lime mascarpone cream. You’ll find this dessert at Seafood Buffet—and you’ll taste the influence of Swenerton’s Hawaiian vacations.

Believe it or not, we had more dessert: Chai gianduja ice cream, hibiscus sorbet and carmelized pear ice cream from Pastry Chef Steve Harty at The Mariposa.

I left the tasting confident in two things: I won’t have any shortage of amazing dining options this winter—and I’m going to have to ski harder for lunch.  Bon Appetit!

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