Big Sky, MT and Yellowstone eats
Well, since my pre-trip request was met with a resounding chorus of crickets, now that I'm back from our family vacation, let me instead share my own thoughts on several dinners and a few other scattered notes from Big Sky, Montana and surrounds, after having spent a weekend in Big Sky Resort and another week at 320 Guest Ranch a bit further south.
FRI - Carabiner (Big Sky Mountain Village) - I was perhaps unduly excited by this place, having read a glowing puff-piece in our in-condo magazine about the chef at Peaks, who moved into the smaller confines of this space in the summer. From the writeup I was led to expect French and Asian influences using local ingredients, instead got a pretty generic ski-resort-type menu. What was most disappointing was an almost complete lack of attention to local ingredients, for instance using farm-raised long-distance tilapia instead of local trout. A foie gras app was very reasonably priced at $12 but delivered only a couple very thinly sliced, then (unsurprisingly) overcooked slivers of foie, served with toasts that managed to be both greasy and almost inedibly over-crisp at the same time. A spice-poached pear alongside was much better than any of the other components. A grilled rib-eye for a main was good but nothing special. Good wine list (this proved to be a recurring theme throughout our trip, whoever is doing the distribution in this area is doing a great job), we had a nice Vacqueyras (Sang de Cailloux) for about $45.
SAT - By Word of Mouth (Big Sky Meadow Village) – a cute homey place with some interesting flights of fancy on the menu. Started w/ a special app of squash blossoms stuffed w/ a mix of goat & blue cheese. The blue was maybe a little overpowering, but the blossoms (3 to the serving, and each a different type of baby squash still attached to the blossom - a zucchini, a yellow summer squash, and a pattypan) were perfectly fried in a light tempura batter and drizzled with a little balsamic reduction. Really nice dish. Lamb t-bones with a mint chimichurri and israeli couscous were also nice though the lamb was a little overcooked. The pricing seemed out of whack for a place with no real location to speak of and not particularly fancy - mains mostly in the $30s and up. This was brought into particular focus when we ordered a $24 bistro steak (a flatiron, I believe) for 10-yr old Frod Jr., but when the bill came saw that he had instead been given a $44 (!!!) special NY strip steak. Since I couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a communication error on our part, I couldn’t complain, but still … Liked everything about the wine list but the prices as well, which again seemed high. Had a ½ bottle of a Rosenblum SF Bay Zin while Mrs. F sampled a local microbrew.
SUN - Bucks T4 (Hwy 191 S of Big Sky) - high end food in a down-to-earth place, done well. Mrs. F started with a smoked salmon panzanella salad that she just loved - salmon was smoked in house, served in big slabs (though a return visit produced a less generous portion, see below) over a bed of nicely dressed greens with torn cubes of toasted bread. Good stuff. I started with a special of a cold avocado-lime soup that was cool and refreshing, somewhere between guacamole and gazpacho. For a main, had a nice bacon-wrapped pheasant w/ a sage stuffing accompanied by mushroom fideus (a Spanish dish involving angel-hair pasta cooked almost in the manner of a paella), just a little bit salty but all really nicely flavored stuff. Mrs. F ordered a bison short rib app for a main which worked out just fine – a big slab of nicely braised and sauced short rib, tender and full of flavor, served over a bed of spaetzel to boot. I can’t imagine having this as an app and then having an entrée after. Another really good wine list – we went with a L’Ecole 41 Washington State Cab for about $45.
MON - 320 Guest Ranch (Bull Horn Creek Rd) - Every Monday 320 Ranch does a pig roast, for $10 you get pulled pork (which you can pile up on a bun and then slather w/ your choice of either a sweet red bbq sauce or a mustard-vinegar-y neon yellow one), baked beans, potato salad, etc., and a beer or other beverage. Plus another beer, if you should desire, for another $1. The pork was nice and tender, and I thought the baked beans and potato salad (loaded with bacon and hard boiled eggs) were great. Pile up a plate, grab a cup, settle in at a picnic table, and enjoy.
TUE – Hungry Moose Market (Big Sky Meadow Village) – having access to a kitchen and a grill in our cabin at 320, we decided to cook in, and the Hungry Moose Market supplied us with what may have been my favorite meal of the trip. We got a couple steaks (courtesy of Big Sky Country Farms – which, lo and behold, I now see is actually in Idaho, about 200 miles S of Big Sky Montana – go figure), some really nice local-grown, organic produce (carrots, greens, garlic, onions, rosemary), fresh morels (!), some canned green chilis, threw the steaks on the grill with some rosemary sprigs in the coals, cooked up the veg, whipped up some green chili butter for the steaks, and had a really pleasant meal, everything just great quality. This tiny little market, in addition to having a great selection of local-grown produce, also had one of the best wine selections I have seen in any grocery store anywhere. An ’05 Turley Ueberroth Zin ($55!) went down very nicely with the steaks.
WED – 320 Guest Ranch – on Wednesdays the ranch does a cook-out on premises for guests which you can reach by hay-ride or horse-back ride. Fun time, with steaks, bbq chicken, corn on the cob, more of those great beans and potato salad, a tub of iced Moose Drool Brown Ale, and s'mores around the fire for dessert.
THU – Sydney’s Mountain Bistro (West Yellowstone)- I haven’t seen anyone mention this place, and I’m sort of surprised. Cute little spot right on the main drag in W. Yellowstone, with surprisingly good and serious food in the middle of what seems an otherwise pretty touristy strip. All entrees come with a soup or salad, my artichoke soup was nothing special but Mrs. F liked a small Caesar salad very much. My main of a pork chop stuffed w/ bacon and fontina cheese was outstanding. Chop was thick, juicy and perfectly cooked, stuffing added great flavor, then sauced with a nice peppercorn pan sauce. Really, really well done dish. The other standout was Little Miss F’s pumpkin ravioli, w/ brown butter and fried sage leaves. Ravioli were advertised as house-made, which is likely about half-true. The filling was definitely home-made, but I suspect the dough was actually pre-made wonton wrapper rather than home-made pasta dough. In any event, they still tasted great and I couldn’t stop picking at this dish. Another pretty good wine list, though we instead went with a selection of Montana micro-brews.
Sydney’s Mountain Bistro, 38 Canyon Street, West Yellowstone, MT 59758, 406-646-7660
FRI – Half Moon Saloon (Hwy 191 S of Big Sky) –a honky-tonk kind of place with a scenic location backing onto the Gallatin River with a volleyball court and horseshoes outside. A nicely done prime rib special (10 oz or 20 oz) came as a 3-course meal with a salad (garden variety greens-from-a-box, cherry tomatoes, croutons-from-a-box), a baked potato and veg (nice grilled asparagus) along with the prime rib, and a dessert (strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, good flavor but a bit gummy in texture). Kids’ rib special was a good deal, baby-back ribs were spicy and smoky but could have been a little more tender (and would have been nice if the silverskin on the back of the rib were trimmed off).
Half Moon Saloon, 45130 Gallatin Rd, Gallatin Gateway, MT 59730, (406) 995-2928
SAT – Bucks T4 (again) – a return visit on a trip is unusual for us, but this was pretty darn good. Mrs. F started with the smoked salmon salad again, but this time instead of a few big planks of the house-smoked fish, instead got several small cubes (and overall significantly less). Still tasted just as good. I started with a duck confit ravioli app sauced w/ a foie gras butter, which was every bit as heavy and decadent as it sounds. We then split a “Wild Game Composition” for a main, which at $40+ would make an expensive entrée for one but split between the two of us worked out great. The “composition” consisted of a grilled elk chop (tasty stuff, the kids really liked it), braised wild boar short ribs (at least that’s what they were called on the menu, though they looked more like a rack to me), tender and falling off the bone, and a whole grilled quail, also really good, with a nice, slightly sweet reduced sauce on the bottom of the plate. Came with a heaping pile of scalloped potatoes and green beans too. This time we had a nice Domaine Drouhin 2005 Pinot for about $75.
A few other miscellaneous notes from here and there –
Gourmet Gas Station (Gallatin Gateway) – this was a lunch stop for us which was notable primarily for some really, really good fish tacos – nicely fried cod, fresh crunchy shredded cabbage, mildly spicy creamy sauce (boosted further w/ some tableside hot sauce), wrapped in soft tortillas. This worked for me. Nice outdoor seating in back with a fenced-in field where the kids could play horseshoes, opening up onto a huge expanse of green valley.
Huckleberry Cafe (Meadow Village) was a cute, funky place with a nouveau hippy vibe and a nice menu of breakfast-stuffs (including several pseudo-Mexican egg dishes), but we waited an insane amount of time to get our food when we went for a late breakfast one day. Out waitress clearly recognized the problem and did her best, but it took the kitchen literally more than an hour just to get some eggs and pancakes out to our table.
Blue Moon Bakery (Meadow Village) was a solid little bakery, cranking out some nice pastries and some surprisingly tasty bagels. They were far from being real-deal bagels, but they had a good chew and flavor to them. Some decent sandwiches and pizzas for lunch too.
Rainbow Ranch, a place I was hoping to try, was closed down as a result of a fire and I believe is expected to be rebuilding through the winter. We also missed Timbers at Moonlight Lodge because they use the space for weddings on Saturdays through the summer (glad we called ahead).
A few themes that I noticed and appreciated while we were out there that have been hinted at above: (1) many places show a solid focus on local product – primarily beef (some of it grass-fed, and all of which was very robust and flavorful) and game (mostly bison & elk), occasional sightings of trout or walleye, and produce too including the great selection of local-grown organic produce that was available at the Hungry Moose Market; (2) wine selections generally, both in several restaurants and in retail shops (primarily Hungry Moose again, but other places we peeked into as well) were surprisingly good and for the most part pretty reasonably priced, for a place that I had anticipated would be too far from the regular distribution chain to have such good choices; (3) some excellent microbrews coming from Montana and surrounds, unfortunately I didn’t keep good notes and the only name I can recall is the Moose Drool Brown Ale but several others were very good. For those traveling with children, pretty much everywhere we went had kids’ menus (though our kids at 10 & 8 now scorn them as often as not).
Hope this is a help to future visitors.
re: toodie jane
had no idea about the beef...never saw any cattle there; it seemed to be all about hunting in the backcountry or fishing the Madison. We spent a week there in a cabin and are pining to go back. The hatchery there is something to see. They raise the mother trout who supply the eggs for all the hatcheries in the west. They are huge.
If you’re going to be in Big Sky, I assume you are talking about the W. Yellowstone area not Jackson. There are a lot of places to eat at Big Sky now, I believe. I’ve enjoyed game for dinner at Buck's T-4 Restaurant at Big Sky. For more casual dining, I really like Eino’s, which is just north of W. Yellowstone along the Gallatin Hwy. on the way to Big Sky.
We just got back this past sunday
Trio in Jackson The best meal we had on our trip, hands down
The Bunnery was just ok, satisfactory for breakfast
I wanted to try Jedidiah house of sourdough also in Jackson but ran out of time
There is great food in Jackson and we didn't have a chance to eat in Grand Teton park but Yellowstone park proper had food so bad we basically lost our appetites. We ate at Grant Lake, Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Dining room, Mammoth Dining Room The best meal in a land of mediocrity was to be found at Old Faithful Inn dining room. Everything was a meat or starch. The main advantage is staying in the park because it takes forever to drive anywhere about 45 mins for 14 miles. Bring snacks. The food was so bad that when we drove through Pocatello, ID on our way back to Las Vegas, we ate at the Sizzler because there was billboards stating that it was the best steak in Pocatello and ...it was the best meal we had since we left Jackson. But you are not there for the food. Lots of chances to try bison, elk, wild boar, and other game. Absolutely a beautiful place I would go back in a heartbeat, but this time I would bring some food.
I totally know what you mean. I had the wild boar with cider glaze. it came overcooked with a HUGE side of mashed potatoes and green beans. The cider glaze tasted like bad chinese sweet and sour sauce but it was the most edible meal we had in Yellowstone. That is not saying much. I did really enjoy the tomato and smoked gouda soup as an appetizer. I could have had that with a salad and bread and would have been more happy.
Just some random thoughts:
If you're in Cody, go to the Hotel Irma -- especially for breakfast. The green-chile skillet and the biscuits and gravy are top-notch, and the space is wonderful.
Avoid La Comida in Cody, even though it's recommended by the Roadfood folks. Very ordinary Mexican food.
I was pleased and amused at the availability of beer, and often local microbrews on tap, in the lodges at Yellowstone (and Glacier National Park). The food isn't memorable, but it's competent.
In the Tetons, get yourself to the old lunch counter at Jackson Lake Lodge. I have no idea how the food is, but the space is a treasure.