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Sep 9, 2010 08:53 PM

Ahwanhee Hotel and Sierra High Camps

AHWAHEE HOTEL: Happy to report one can dine reasonably well at the Awahnee Hotel these days, but you have to stop minding your pocket book for that experience. Picking carefully can get you at least a lovely evening satisfied without total sticker shock. Because the overall experience of the hotel and the dining room ambiance is worth at least one trip, it is nice to know they have moved past its former reputation as a 5 star setting with 1 star food. I'll even put it up to 3-4 star on some of the food.

The hits we had last night were the crab cake appetizer which was one of the best I have had anywhere, and large enough to be a reasonable entree with a side of something else. DH had the "special" dinner, which was rib eye steak with a reduction sauce and came with spinach nicely flavored with garlic and still fresh and green, and a sweet potato mash. All nicely done and the bonus being this was a full plate dish rather than having to order separate side items with one meat choice. His caesar salad appetizer was weak with thick shavings of "parmesan" which was unfortunately waxy and domestic.

I played it safe listening to advice here and got the filet with a blue cheese based meat sauce which was not a great sauce choice as it over-powered rather than enhanced the subtle flavor of a filet, but they no longer offered the green peppercorn which would have been a less intrusive partner for this entree choice. And while very tender and perfectly cooked, filet is relatively tasteless so while well done was a bit bland and not sure for the price this remains the best choice. But it was very good for what it was - a safe but pricy choice. Pick a less intrusive sauce choice would be my advice on this item.

The fresh baked sour dough bread was delicious with a perfect crunch crust and I could have finished the entire basket with the whipped sweet butter, had I not had more items already coming after the crab cake appetizer being so filling to start with. I ordered a side of "Papas" with Ahwanhee Amber BBQ and lemon aioli just to see what the heck they would come up with that they were willing to put their name on, and it was a tasty but weird combo of essentially some spicy, well-cooked home fries with the BBQ sauce offered in lieu of catsup I suppose. Played off nicely with the meat choice.

The lemon "aioli" added an interesting but unecessary touch to the already spicy potato combo and it was the same dressing added on top of the crab cakes, which is where it really shone as a pert flavor balancer, along with the crab cakes topping of mixed greens and wilted pickled fresh cucumbers- this was the flavor hit of the evening. Very nicely done - one could actually taste the crab and the presentation all worked.

Along with standard dessert items, there is a selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets (choice of three) and again we hit home runs with our home made combo of bittersweet chocolate, raspberry white wine and hazelnut praline, the latter being worth a trip to the Awanhee on its own.

So they are trying to upgrade their formerly fusty menu options and are actually delivering some very good items now. Our service was friendly, helpful and gave us good direction in a very professional manner. The Ahwanhee label Cabernet was light and drinkable without being particularly assertive or full bodied as one would expect from a cabernet, but again not sure this is the dinner where one would want to splurge on the good stuff. So their house wine was an adequate partner here.

The dining serendipity repeated itself for breakfast with both taking the buffet option choices, excellent coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice in the most lovely daylight setting in this wonderful hotel that we can all be proud to call part of our national parks system. The low key feeling of the the hotel in the early morning before the hordes of tourists show up to partake in the beautiful public rooms in the later afternoon, takes one back to a more genteel era of grace and quiet. We were there mid-week, early September and they were busy.

Dress requirements totally relaxed here these days even in the evening to what gets called "country club casual" on cruise lines with few men in jackets, almost none in ties and women mainly in pants with a slightly dressy top or some interesting pulled together combos of black fleece outerwear and a long scarf. But the elegance built into the experience and the setting does make one want to dress up a bit, to match the specialness of the setting, if not the prices.

SIERRA HIGH CAMPS: Two nights at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp provided some very good dining as well - all served family style with no choices but a nice variety of fresh, well-cooked food - Mules bring in fresh supplies every three days and both breakfast and dinners were flavorful, hearty and welcome under these very limited high camp remote facilities. Word came from other high campers this was the case at the other camps as well: May Lake, Vogelsang, Merced Lake, and Sunrise.

Breakfast and dinner included in the overnight high camp reservations. Bag lunches can be ordered for an extra fee. And all food brought in has to be kept in bear proof containers at each camp. Easy to forget that energy bar in your pocket but the bear could smell it and at least the tiny mice would have it nibbled anyway even if you don't get a larger midnight visitor to your tent cabin.

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  1. Thanks for reporting back esp. on the Sierra High Camps. I hope to one day hike to Glen Aulin HSC and make reservations there to see Waterwheel Falls - did you go there? Do you need to bring your own bear proof containers or are they at the campsites?

    I took a pic of the May Lake HSC dinner meal one day when hiking to May Lake (only 2.4 mi RT, easy). Also, the day before heading to the Cathedral Lakes saw the mules heading to Sunrise HSC.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hhc

      The Glen Aulin-Waterwheel hike can be done RT in one day as witnessed by our young and healthy dining companions at Tuolomne Lodge who did the RT to Waterwheel Falls but that is quite a long slog of about 9 miles each way. Much better to do the two day overnight at Glen Aulin to do it all justice.

      We did a day hike during our two-day stay at Glen Aulin only to Le Conte Falls, short of going all the way down to Waterwheel Falls because of prior reports there was not enough water to make the "waterwheels" and we wanted to spend time just sitting and absorbing the magnificent scenery. The level parts of the Waterwheel Falls trail were lush and green and must be a total wonderment when the mountain azaleas are in bloom. Passing through thick beds of ferns and aspen along the most serene stretches of the river are now seared in my memory banks forever.

      Thanks for the photos. We hope to do Sunrise next year- got our lottery application in last night.
      Each dinner started out with very delicious home made soup and fresh baked breads. A prepared very fresh and crisp salad was at the table with various bottled dressings. Then some form of vegetables, a "starch" and main entree followed by dessert.

      Coffee, tea and juices available each meal. And some arranged to have their own wine shipped up ahead of time by the mules, at I believe $5 a bottle weight charge and this was brought out by the kitchen staff for those who did not want to carry the extra weight up themselves. Seemed silly almost to add the wine high to the high camp high you just got there naturally, but this is a service that is provided for those who want all the amenities of urban dining up at these remote settings.

      The camps provide the bear boxes in front of the tent area - 8 tents serving 4 people each - communal stays with strangers required, but those who choose to do these trips are one great group of people. Glen Aulin has the strictest low-water use requirements so it does not offer similar amenities (hot water, showers) like the other camps.