I don’t know of a place that has a more breathtaking view of the Methow Valley than Sun Mountain Lodge. Half of the rooms face the mountains to the south, the other half overlooks the glacier-carved valley. The best view is reserved for the dining room, which is truly a distraction. On clear evenings, you can literally watch the setting sun pulling its golden light from the enormous fluted hills as the valley gradually sinks into shadow. Tonight during dinner, we caught a glimpse of this spectacular show in between periods of rain and also witnessed low-hanging clouds nestled in gaps between the hillsides one minute, then disappear altogether the next. Like I said, distracting. And awe-inspiring.
We had eaten in the Sun Mountain Lodge dining room over ten years ago and recalled what a fine meal it was. For over 30 years, the AAA has given it a Four Diamond Award for Dining. Tonight, we opted for the price-fixe option, a leisurely three-course meal that easily took two hours to complete.
Things started off with an amuse-bouche of duck confit (☆☆☆) lightly coated with coarse-grain mustard and minced sweet pickles. Three tasty butters were served with the housemade bread—lightly salted, basil and kalamata olive.
Our two starters consisted of Caprese salad and Soup du jour, which my wife and I swapped halfway through. The salad (☆☆☆) was an interesting variation. Rather than the traditional alternating layers of tomatoes and mozzarella, there were overlapping red and yellow heirloom tomatoes. Cheese slices were replaced by tiny mozzarella cubes and mozzarella foam, which I mistook for creme fraiche. Rimming the plate were cherry tomatoes and a lively balsamic vinaigrette, almost like a puree, that tied the flavors together.
Our waiter said that the soup du jour was a cucumber soup, but somehow arrived at our table a gazpacho. Not to worry, we said, we’ll take it. Undoubtedly, fresh tomatoes were a starting-off point, puréed with onion, garlic, bread and the perfect amount of vinegar. At the table, the waiter poured the soup over blanched baby carrots, a carrot curl and a mound of cucumber gelée, to make the best gazpacho (☆☆☆☆) I’d ever tasted. Self-consciousness prevented my licking it all off the bowl.
For the second time in a week, I ordered roasted chicken from a menu, prompted by the note that Crown ‘S’ Ranch Chicken (☆☆☆) was a house specialty. As at The Whale Wins, the bird was small and the skin generously seasoned with salt, intensely tasting of chicken, almost gamey, leaner and more muscular. The leg had the chewy texture of free-range chicken. The slice of breast was more manageable. Soft goat cheese, flavored with lavender and honey, lay underneath. Seasonal vegetables, crisp sautéed, came as a side, as well as a too salty, wilted spinach. What really impressed me were freshly made pasta, garganelli, dark purple from beets and almost leathery in a good, interesting way.
My wife’s Pacific Northwest Salmon (☆☆☆½) was perfectly roasted with nicely seasoned skin still attached, partnered with a terrific ragout of mushroom and cannellini beans. There was a squeeze of saffron vinaigrette on the plate which at first I thought was meant for the fish, but it turned out to be a much better companion for the same seasonal vegetables that came with my chicken.
The third course was dessert. Mine was Apple Pie (☆☆☆☆), one of the kitchen’s signature dishes. Rather than a slice, the pie was constructed like a mini galette, the crust flaky like puff pastry, its flavor intensified by an apple cider reduction, and served warm. The housemade vanilla ice cream was equally delicious.
It had been a long time since my wife had a creme brulée. Tonight’s Creme Brulée Duo was a big hit (☆☆☆☆), the other part of the duo being the finest mocha she can recall ever having had, highlighted by a bold espresso flavor.
The dining room of Sun Mountain Lodge remains one of the best fine restaurants in the state, but be prepared to pay top dollar for the pleasure of eating there.
Sun Mountain Lodge
604 Patterson Lake Rd
Winthrop, WA 98862