Solitude, in the time of Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones and laptops, can be hard to find—solitude with a small “s,” that is. Solitude Resort, on the other hand, is easy to find—just a few miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon from Salt Lake City. And it’s where you can also find … well, solitude.
The missus, my son, Hank, and I took the scenic drive up to Solitude recently to enjoy the August installment of the resort’s monthly Wasatch Mountain Table Dinner Series. More about that in a bit. But, as I say, the scenery on the drive to Solitude itself is simultaneously breathtaking and super relaxing, and leaving the haze of the city behind is a big bonus. We decided to make a weekend outing of our Solitude getaway (there are significant bargains to be had for off-season lodging there) and began with a lunch at the Stone Haus Pizzeria & Creamery, located in The Village at Solitude.
The Stone Haus is an eco-friendly spot with a sloped grass roof. “Do they have to mow the roof?” I wondered. Inside, there’s an über-friendly vibe provided by a couple of guys named Cody and Brian. In an era when the young folks get hammered for being jaded and entitled, the enthusiasm and friendly service these kids provided was especially welcome.
The food at Stone Haus is solid: excellent handmade pizzas with a delicious light, crisp crust and high-quality toppings. The grilled-cheese sandwich I enjoyed ($5.95) wasn’t fancy, but it was outstanding: thick grilled slices of sourdough bread oozing melted cheddar. And my wife, who is very picky about tuna salad, loved her tuna-salad sammy ($7.95)—wholesome wheat-berry bread stuffed with copious amounts of housemade tuna salad with fresh dill, butter leaf lettuce and provolone. Beverage options at Stone Haus range from espressos, lattes and cappuccinos to Smartwater, sodas, juices, organic chocolate milk and craft-brewed beers.
After checking into our room at Solitude—which included an amenity I’ve never seen before: a set of poker chips and playing cards—we decided to work off some of those lunch calories with a hike. You can hike to your heart’s content for free at Solitude Resort, or you can take the lazy way out (my choice) and buy a lift ticket for $7. You’ll ride the Sunrise chairlift and then cruise down the hiking trails past lakes, ponds, wildlife and, at this time of year, gorgeous wildflowers. We wound up turning the hike into a 4 1/2-mile outing; by the time we reached The Village at Solitude, I was more than ready for a cool glass of vino at Kimi’s Mountainside Bistro.
The Wasatch Mountain Table Dinner Series, hosted by Solitude Resort, is the brainchild of Wasatch Urban Table business partners Lisa McCune and Chantelle Bourdeaux. Each month, Chef Michael Richey (St. Bernard’s at Solitude) cooks up a multicourse dinner that Solitude’s Scott DeSeelhorst pairs with premium wines, including sometimes his own Snake River Winery selections. Richey composes the meals based around local artisan food products from folks like Christiansen Farm, Amano Artisan Chocolate, Creminelli Fine Meats, Drake Family Farms, Slide Ridge Honey, Clifford Family Farm, Beehive Cheese Company and many more. Artisan producers also attend the dinners and are on hand to chat with about their food products. But the best part of these dinners is the setting. A long communal table is set up right next to Big Cottonwood Creek, which runs alongside St. Bernard’s restaurant, making for about as serene a dining atmosphere as you could wish for.
The Wasatch Mountain Table Dinners begin with an hour of schmoozing and passed hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and wine. Unique to the event we attended was a very different spin on the meet-and-greet “cocktail.” Wasatch Pops makes vegan-friendly, locally crafted popsicles. And, in this case, they created a rum-spiked watermelon mojito cocktail pop. I suppose you’d call it a cock-sicle ... if you worked blue. Anyway, it was yummy: fresh watermelon juice with hints of mint and a splash of imported rum. Also served with passed appetizers were A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir and Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand.
Among the scrumptious hors d’oeuvres were golden potato “pillows” with sour cream and salmon roe; house ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms with lemon; foie gras mousse with spiced Bing cherry gastrique and micro greens on brioche; and my favorite: small Pacific Miyagi oysters with a zippy roasted-wax-pepper mignonette. It was hard to discipline myself not to fill up too much on those awesome appetizers.
The first dinner course, paired with Kenwood Sonoma County Chardonnay, was a chopped salad of cucumber, iceberg lettuce and bacon lardons with a “throwback” green goddess dressing. Next up was a perfect pan-seared scallop with English peas and a pea, peppermint and sweet bell-pepper “pesto,” of sorts, topped with thinly sliced Italian summer truffles. This course was sensational with glasses of Kuentz-Bas Alsace Blanc alongside.
As the sun set, a slight chill rolled in and the folks from Solitude rolled out blankets, fleece and jackets for a few underdressed guests (like my wife), and tables were lit solely by candlelight, creating a magical ambiance for a magical dish of white-wine-braised rabbit with thick, handmade pappardelle pasta ribbons, porcelain garlic cream, mirepoix, corn, heirloom tomato and sage, paired with Snake River Malbec. Trying to “sell” the rabbit to my 12-year-old son, Hank, as “tasting like chicken,” the response after his first-ever bite of rabbit: “Dad, this is better than chicken.” Sure was.
To round out a perfect evening, there was an exquisite, but simple, dessert of fresh Utah peach tart with vanilla ice cream and a heavenly Amano chocolate sauce (Amano’s Art Pollard was in attendance at the dinner), which was lovely with Snake River’s Late-Harvest Riesling 2009.
The next Wasatch Mountain Table Dinner takes place Sept. 15. The cost is $95 per person for dinner or $125 for dinner plus the optional wine pairings. Phone 801-536-5722 for reservations or email firstname.lastname@example.org.