One of the many benefits of meeting in the Mountain West is that the next scenic wonder is never far away. Restaurants are among the best when it comes to incorporating Mother Nature’s artistry into culinary atmospheres that are stunning for all the senses. The hard part is narrowing down the list to provide a glimpse of some great options.
Aspen Ski Company owns four resorts in the southern section of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley—Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass— making it possible to eat at a restaurant with an incredible view daily, especially in winter. “You really can’t go wrong on attaining a view when dining on one of our mountains,” emphasizes Jennifer Brown, business development manager, MICE for Aspen Skiing Company. “You can’t beat dining at the Sundeck on top of Aspen Mountain. You take the Silver Queen Gondola up the mountain [a 13-minute ride] and exit the gondola right at the Sundeck. There is also a private club within this facility that has beautiful restaurant facilities and patio that can be rented out by groups for dinner.”
Elk Camp, located mid-mountain at Snowmass, not only is architecturally attractive with large windows throughout, this fairly new option holds up to 250 in the great room alone. Elk Camp and the Sundeck are open year-round and are accessible by gondola. Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, a cozy European-style cabin at Aspen Highlands, has iconic views of the distinct Maroon Bells peaks. Cloud Nine is open daily in winter for lunch and on Thursday evenings for snowcat dinners, which can be booked other nights of the week by groups. The menu changes daily with European selections such as sweet and savory fondue, raclette, veal schnitzel, black truffle gnocchi and strudel. Set high atop cliffs on the Santa Lucia mountain range, Sierra Mar restaurant at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California, provides sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean from floor-to-ceiling windows. Executive Chef John Cox has created a menu focusing on regional cuisine that utilizes locally sourced ingredients and has touches of Asian, French and Mediterranean influences. Lunch is a three-course prix fixe, while dinner is a four-course meal or a ninecourse Taste of Big Sur. Wine pairings can be added to any lunch or dinner as Sierra Mar has one of the largest selections with more than 14,000 bottles, earning Wine Spectator’s Grand Award the past two years. The restaurant is suitable only for small groups, but the inn can hold more with 40 guest rooms, suites and private homes.
Another premiere option that combines major mountain and water views is Lone Eagle Grille, which was recently transformed by a $1.3 million renovation and is located inside Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino in Incline Village, Nevada. An open show kitchen allows diners to watch Chef de Cuisine Shane Hammett and his team in action, and there is an impressive wine wall featuring more than 600 bottles.
The Eagle’s Nest private dining room features a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe, and the restaurant opens onto the beach with an outdoor patio, bar and fire pits where guests gather to enjoy a drink and roast marshmallows. The indoor lounge has a tapas-style menu, and thirsts can be quenched with unique cocktails, craft beers and wine.
Take a scenic ride on the tram to 8,200 feet in elevation and lunch at Squaw Valley’s High Camp, featuring the white tablecloth Terrace Restaurant and Bar. Take in breathtaking California views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierras while enjoying the complex flavors of the signature smoked pheasant soup, indulging in generous sandwiches served with homemade potato chips or splurging on entrées such as tequila lime fish tacos and beef bourguignon.
It doesn’t get much more scenic than The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, approximately 35 miles from Missoula. The resort’s centrally located Cook Shack building offers divine vistas, including the gourmet restaurant Pomp that can seat up to 85, the more casual Trough with space for a maximum of 65 and a bar aptly named Tank that accommodates 50. A deck connecting Trough and Tank holds up to 110, and there are plenty of choices for lodging with suites, homes and luxury tents available.
The views were one of the factors when the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame selected Paws Up for its Spring Round- Up for a group of 35 and four Hall of Fame honorees, who demonstrated barrel racing, photography, cutting, bronc riding and more. “I can think of no other place where you can enjoy world-class dining with world-class views,” says Dr. Diana Vela, associate executive director, exhibits and education.
“You can enjoy a very refined salmon mousse dip while looking at the very essence of the West: the hills, the prairie, the sky that goes on forever.”
While spending most of its time outdoors, the group enjoyed meals at Pomp and Trough, and “brought the outside inside by viewing photography of Paws Up taken by our participants. We set this up at the Trough and it worked beautifully,” says Vela. “If you think about it, taking a meal together is a central element in any kind of relationship building. It’s been done for centuries.”
Farm-fresh American cuisine with Asian accents is at the heart of elements restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Executive Chef Beau MacMillan, a Food Network celebrity chef and Iron Chef America winner, seeks local ingredients from a network of artisans and organic farmers so menus are created in tandem with seasonal harvests. The restaurant’s private dining area, Sunset Space, holds up to 27 for sit-down meals and 40 for receptions and has dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows and an adjoining patio.
Jade Bar, located next to elements, recently doubled in size, has a cantilevered floor that juts over Paradise Valley for spectacular views and boasts a patio with fireplace, misting system and heaters that extend the outdoor season. The private dining room XII (that seats 12 of course) may not provide views of the outdoors, but it provides insider looks into the kitchen and allows chefs to stop in for a quick visit.
Brasada Ranch offers panoramic snapshots of central Oregon’s high desert landscape and the Cascade Mountains near Bend, Oregon. Range Restaurant and Bar, the ranch’s seasonal farm-to-table restaurant, takes advantage of these vistas with expansive windows that showcase beautiful sunsets and overlook the pasture and driving range. On a clear day, it’s possible to spot Mount Hood in Washington. Groups have used the space for a variety of functions from luncheons and award ceremonies to retreat receptions and can choose from eight Ranch House Suites and 50 luxury Sage Canyon Cabins for lodging.
Meals are served family style, and Executive Chef Ryan Sturmer adapts the menu to the season since much of it is focused on local and regional ingredients. “You’ll see pumpkin, winter squash and potatoes find their way onto the menu in the fall season, complementing locally raised, hormone- free meats and cheeses from creameries just down the road. Special occasions may call for a whole roasted pig from our friends at Rainshadow Organics, King Salmon from our seafood purveyor, or a strawberry-rhubarb pie made with rhubarb harvested that very day from Windflower Farms,” notes Director of Sales Debra Jolma.
After dinner, guests are invited to use the bocce ball court and croquet set and to linger at one of the many circular stone fireplaces on the Range lawn. “Roasting homemade s’mores has become a signature Brasada Ranch experience [not just any s’mores, but build-your-own from local chocolate and daily house-made marshmallows and graham crackers] and has grown to become a popular team-building experience as well,” Jolma says. “After a long day of meetings, the circular fire pit is a special place to share stories and unwind while roasting this sweet treat and enjoying the legendary sunset.”
There is no need to stop enjoying the views when outdoor activities wind down for the day. Culinary adventures in mountain towns are often windows to some of the best scenic wonders around.