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Dinner at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite

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Ruby Louise Jul 17, 2006 10:10 PM

During the annual trip to Yosemite, my father in law treated us to dinner at the Wawona Hotel. The food is just above average; good but not exactly pushing the envelope. They do utilize sustainably raised or organic foods when possible. Entrees run from about $18 to $29. The wine list features the usual suspects, and is largely in the under $50 category. They have happily accommodated our group of 9 – 12, fulfilling requests ahead of time for special menu items and providing kid’s menus. The staff is always gracious, and we’ve been blessed to have Sharon wait on us year after year. Corkage is about $10, I think. I always bring bottles of wine and Sharon always handles them with ease.

While lack of air conditioning can make the dining room stuffy, breezes do come in through the screened windows. Overhead fans and reservations after 7PM (when the air starts to cool) help. Half of the very long front porch is still a casual place to lounge with drinks; the other half has tables for dining. The lobby also has spots to relax with drinks, with fun, live piano music in the evenings.

To start, I split a very good, pungent and not too creamy Caesar salad with my husband, and they provided anchovies upon request. For my main course, I had the flat iron steak. It was a tad past the requested medium, and came with an abundance of house made caramelized onion marmalade. I liked it in small bites with the steak; however my brother in law also had the flat iron and said the marmalade was too cloying and distracting. The mashed red potatoes with herbs were ok, but the herbs tasted like some sort of dried herb mix. The accompanying vegetable medley was fine, not overcooked. My husband’s poached sea bass with red pepper dill coulis was fresh, bright and moist, and the coulis was a nice accent without overpowering. My husband’s 11 year old nephew charmed me by ordering the cheese plate, which included Pt. Reyes blue and Marin French camembert, and a sheet with information about each of the cheeses.

For dessert, my husband and I split a hot fudge sundae, with generous pools of warm caramel fudge sauce that had a nice back note of burnt sugar. I’m not a big dessert fanatic, but this was probably my favorite part of the meal due to my fondness for a good caramel fudge sauce. It tasted homemade.

Overall, a good but not fantastic meal in a charming, old fashioned and slightly rustic setting.

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    Cheese Please Jul 17, 2006 10:50 PM

    Hi Ruby Louise,

    Your Wawona review truly resonates with me. My family also heads to Yosemite annually, and for years we reflexively ate at the Wawona dining room. We finally stopped that tradition because of the totally erratic quality of the food and service (at at constant high price). Yes there are some dishes that are well-conceived and that (usually) come out as intended. But with disturbing frequency the dishes are poorly conceived and/or poorly executed. And the staff often appears totally overwhelmed, delivering lukewarm entrees to the tables with advance apologies and blame to go around. The mediocrity of the food at the Wawona, such a special place, is truly a shame.

    There are other reasons to go to the Wawona Hotel: The Saturday night summer BBQ on the lawn is wonderful atmosphere and the food is reasonably priced and edible (no better than that, except for the special pork ribs which are more money but delicious). And in the hotel parlor pianist Tom Bopp holds forth at night, playing rags and other standards upon request. That scene is worth a trip in itself; just eat somewhere else first!

    1. m
      mudster Jul 17, 2006 11:53 PM

      At the risk of sounding cynical...

      One of the problems here is that like other Yosemite restaurants, the Wawona, and most (all?) other National Park sites, is managed by a big "hospitality" company -- Delaware North. The corporate structure sort of hampers the foodie's primo dining experience. I mean, Aramark -- provider of tasty school lunches from coast to coast -- manages a bunch of NP restaurants too.

      I'm not trying to be political or controversial. It's just that my expectations from National Park dining are waaaaay diminished. I don't trust the suckers to provide me with optimal dining -- they're just too corporate.

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