I’m quite fond, especially in the midst of drab gray winters like this one, of eateries with an ocean view. Not long ago, I supped at The Chart House and Gladstone’s on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu thinking, “Why can’t life always be like this?” But then, watching the rolling surf, I was reminded how much I also love the mountains and all four seasons, not just one. After all, you can’t sit in the sun eating oysters 365 days a year, can you?
The antithesis, I suppose—about as far as you could possibly get from beachfront dining—is the yurt experience. Three local ski resorts—Park City, The Canyons and Solitude—feature yurt dining. You still have a few winter months left to enjoy that unique dinner experience before they all close up for the season.
In case you’ve never encountered one, a yurt is a traditional Mongolian dwelling: a dome-shaped, wood-framed structure with a cover made from canvas, felt from sheep or even leopard skins for monarchs of years past. The word yurt itself derives from the Turkic word for “dwelling place.” Yurts traditionally have no windows or accoutrements of any other kind but for a wood stove and a door.
There’s only one yurt I know of on the planet that boasts a baby grand piano: The Viking Yurt at The Canyons. You get to the Viking Yurt via a cozy (don’t forget the flask of Goldschläger) blanket-wrapped ride in a snow cat-pulled sleigh. It’s a 1,000 foot ascent that takes about half an hour—just long enough for some serious snuggling. Or, for those less lazy than I, you also can snowshoe or cross-country ski to the Viking Yurt from the Canyons’ Red Pine Lodge. On arrival, you’ll often be greeted by the Viking Yurt’s owners—Norway’s Joy and Geir Vik—and treated to a hot mug of glögg, a nonalcoholic berry-based drink steeped with fragrant nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. The Viking Yurt seats up to 33 people, so unless you’ve booked the place for a private party, chances are you’ll make new friends while you sip your glögg.
Then, to the sounds of a tinkling piano, you’ll be treated to a six-course meal that would be tough to prepare at sea level, never mind at 8,000 feet with not much more than a rudimentary kitchen. The current Viking Yurt menu includes winter squash soup and truffle gougeres, followed by a green-cabbage and apple salad with toasted almonds and crisp sweetbreads; any Utah chef or restaurant with the balls to serve sweetbreads gets bonus points from me! Next comes a sorbet interlude, and then the entrée: Snake River Farms Kobe beef with black truffle risotto and red wine butter—a decadent main course at any elevation. The entrée is followed by a cheese and fruit platter. In this case, the “platter” is actually a slab of aspen. And, finally, there’s a dessert of vanilla chiffon cake with espresso French press coffee and tea. With advance notice, the Viking Yurt will also accommodate vegetarians and those with particular food allergies. The price per person ranges from $100 to $175 per person plus tax and tip, depending on the date.
Down the road apiece at Park City Mountain Resort, a 25-minute snow-cat ride delivers you to the resort’s mountaintop Silver Fissure Yurt at an altitude of 8,725 feet. The Silver Fissure Yurt is a tad cozier than The Canyons’ Viking Yurt, seating a maximum of 15 people, with a 10-person minimum required for each dinner. Dinner at Park City Mountain Resort yurt is served family-style, fomenting camaraderie and communal breaking of bread. Once inside, guests are greeted with a cheese platter and a steaming cup of wassail followed by a buffet-style dinner. The menu varies but often features Caesar salad and corn chowder, poached salmon and prime rib, and tempting desserts like warm bread pudding. When the weather cooperates, you can enjoy stunning mountain views outside on the heated patio. The cost for dinner at the Silver Fissure Yurt is $125 plus tax; wine and beer are available on request.
Priced at a mere $100 plus tax per person, The Yurt at Solitude is a relative bargain—especially since that price includes dinner, service (no tip required), wine corkage (you can bring your own), Nordic skis or snowshoe rental and a living, breathing guide. The family-style dinner at Solitude’s Yurt seats up to 20 people, intimately. And getting there is half the fun, since you do so by skiing or snowshoeing your way up a moderately strenuous (work up that appetite!) three-quarter-mile cross-country ski trail. Solitude provides headlamps so you can find your way in the dark.
Chef Matt Barrigar’s yurt menu varies, but frequently includes an asparagus and lobster crepe appetizer; Granny Smith apple and Stilton salad; white bean and Kalamata olive soup; or roasted tomato and crab salad. Sample entrees like braised lamb shank with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and pan-seared Long Island duck breast with sweet balsamic mashed yams pair beautifully with a bottle of Pinot. For dessert, you’ll often find Barrigar’s luscious white-chocolate bread pudding and Cabernet-poached pear frangipane tart. As much fun as dining at the Solitude Yurt is, maybe the most exciting part of the evening—depending on how much wine you’ve consumed—is the trip back downhill on cross-country skis!
And you thought dinner in a tent meant freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini and gorp.
Viking Yurt @ The Canyons Resort, Park City, 435-615-YURT
Silver Fissure Yurt @ Park City Mountain Resort, 435-658-5523
The Yurt at Solitude @ Big Cottonwood Canyon, 801-536-5709