Good Snow, Good Food
By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Few activities work up an appetite quite so fast as a day’s skiing. It’s the combination of cold weather, exercise and fresh air that makes skiers ravenous by the time the lifts close. Fortunately, wherever skiers congregate in the White Mountains, so do restaurants.
It’s fitting to begin a ski/food tour where skiing began in New Hampshire — at Cranmore (www.cranmore.com) in North Conway. To warm up quickly, from the inside out, ask for the habanero salsa on your tacos at Café Noche (447-5050, www.cafenoche.org). Tom and Laurie Kugel prepare all the food served in this friendly little café fresh daily, including their fiery, flavorful salsa. Hiding in an alley in North Conway is a tiny restaurant that locals know for its good Northern Italian food, prepared by Chef Bill Bennett. Maestro’s (6 Reporter Court, 356-8790) is far from fancy (though its interior décor is improving), but very friendly. They carry a small selection of imported Italian specialty ingredients, too, in case you want to cook in your condo instead.
At Wildcat Tavern (383-4245 or 800-228-4245, www.wildcattavern.com), Chef Chris Nelson tempts skiers with winter appetizers such as a plate of crispy barbequed duck, sliced thinly and served on lavash bread with red onion and goat cheese. It takes a hearty appetite to finish Chef Nelson’s signature dish, The Extravaganza. This medley of shrimp, lobster and scallops sautéed with garlic, peppers, onions, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes is served with either linguini or rice pilaf.
Owner/chef Larry Baima of Jackson’s Thompson House Eatery (383-9341, www.thompsonhouseeatery.com) is a strong advocate of serving dishes made with locally produced ingredients. Chef Baima’s eclectic winter menu might feature a house favorite, Miss Lucy’s Pork, a delectable ginger-cured roasted pork tenderloin served with grilled sweet potatoes and toasted-coriander thyme sauce, accompanied by pistachio lemon conserve.
One of the classiest dining rooms in the mountains — you’ll want to dress up a bit to eat there, although a tie isn’t necessary — is at The Wentworth (383-9700 or 800-637-0013, www.thewentworth.com). The kitchen of this beautifully restored resort hotel is under the direction of Chef Brian Gazda. Choose from a tempting list of appetizers that might include a sausage of chicken, pistachios and cranberries. The winter menu offers hearty main dishes, such as braised center-cut lamb shank served with a cassoulet of white beans.
Near Attitash (www.attitash.com) in Hart’s Location, The Notchland (374-6131, www.Notchland.com) serves five-course dinners by reservation. Each day’s menu is a new creation by Chef Sandy Reinschmidt, but it is always inspired by a variety of different cuisines. Soup choices might be between Creole seafood chowder, cumin-scented sweet potato soup with tangerine crème fraîche, spicy black bean soup with lemon cream chantilly or a spicy Portuguese Caldo Verde of kale and smoked ham. For entrées expect dishes such as lamb kabobs skewered on grape-vines with a Pinot Noir reduction, or chicken breast crusted in pistachios, served with balsamic bell pepper relish.
South of Attitash, Chef/owners Teresa and Scott Sterns have moved their Rare Bear Bistro (383-9061, www.whitemountaincider.com) just down the road, from the Bernerhof Inn to White Mountain Cider Co., which they have recently purchased. This pair of talented chefs offer dishes such as roasted Cornish game hen in a roasted garlic mustard sauce, served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.
Just down the road from Loon Mountain (www.loonmtn.com), the Gypsy Café (745-4395) is in the center of Lincoln. Catherine and Peter Johnson serve a worldly, eclectic menu with especially interesting Latin overtones. Cuban pork — a grilled tenderloin with habanero-orange Mojo — is a favorite.
Waterville Valley (www.waterville.com) may offer the most unusual winter dining experience, high on the mountain at Schwendi Hut (468-2553). While it’s open for skiers during the day, in the evening you can dine there by prior reservation. True to the Alpine tradition it brings to the White Mountains, Schwendi Hut serves rich cheese fondue to skiers during the day. You can always find fondue at Chef Franz Dubach’s equally authentic Swiss restaurant, The William Tell (726-3618) in nearby Thornton. NH
Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is co-author of “Eating New England: A Food Lover’s Guide to Eating Locally.”