Part of the scenery in and around the Methow Valley is the spectacular arrangement of mountains and valleys. Looking westward from Sun Mountain Lodge, you can see the steepest peaks in the distance, eroded hillsides in the middle and glacial valleys in the foreground. Millions of years ago, volcanic eruptions covered this entire region with lava and ash. The westernmost area of the North Cascades were lifted higher and over time, water erosion, landslides and glacial action removed the volcanic layers to the south and southeast, leaving behind the smoothed hillsides we see near Winthrop today.
Sharing the same kitchen as the excellent dining room at Sun Mountain Lodge would seem to bode well for Wolf Creek Bar & Grill. But the chef who oversees the fine restaurant likely has nothing to do with the bar & grill. While the food we had here was not terrible, it was pretty much standard tavern fare.
To its credit, there were half a dozen beers on tap, including the fine Icicle Dirtyface Amber and the middling High 5 Hefeweizen.
The Mediterranean Plate (☆☆) was poorly executed, the components gathered together like an afterthought. It doesn’t take much to cut carrot and celery sticks, scoop out a few Kalamata olives from a jar and slice up some pita bread. The stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) were filled with mushy, bland rice. And the hummus was so thick, you could stick a spoon in it without the utensil falling over. That wasn’t all. The hummus had no detectable tahini paste or much lemon juice. I guarantee this would not pass muster on the dining room side.
The Caesar salad (☆☆½) fared better. The dressing only suffered from a light hand with the lemon juice. Otherwise, nice garlic croutons and restrained garlic and anchovy flavors were present.
Crispy chicken wings (☆☆☆½) were clearly the best thing we ordered—a crunchy batter, balanced sweet and savory barbecue sauce, and a tasty cilantro ranch dressing.
We did overhear another waitress informing her customer that the chicken curry soup was a lodge specialty and has been served for over 20 years. Next time.
Our experience and that of many other reviewers seem to indicate that an upgrade in the menu items is in order to equal the rest of the lodge experience. The wait staff, as is true of the entire Sun Mountain Lodge personnel, is very friendly.
While enjoying margaritas and chips & salsa at Carlos 1800 Mexican Grill in Winthrop, we noticed what looked like pine needles sitting in containers of soapy water. Surely the restaurant wasn’t using them for botanical decoration, was it? Our waiter informed us that it was their way of safely controlling the wasp population that had been getting out of hand, going so far as stinging customers. Rather than having harmful chemicals lying about or using bug zappers, they soak these bundles of needles in a solution of 7-Up and detergent. The sweet liquid gets absorbed by the needles and pine pollen. It’s all a wasp can do to avoid eating the pollen to which it is attracted. The deadly solution attacks the nervous system, so the waiter said. The bug either drops into the liquid on the spot and drowns or dies elsewhere if it flies away. Simple and natural. Anyone else here of this?
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