We recently returned to the Empire Lodge with a group of friends for the Fireside Dining . This is definitely a "special occasion" experience. For those not familiar with the layout of this dinner, come prepared with a serious appetite, as the offerings are hearty and plentiful. The food is presented in sort of buffet fashion except that each course/station is located at one of the many open hearth fireplaces situated around the large and open areas of this log building on the mountain at Deer Valley resort. The offerings include a first course of raclette, the alpine melted cheese served with a variety of accompaniments such as cured meats, homemade mustards, cornichon and pickled onions. It is tempting to fill up on this rich and satisfying delicacy, but restrain yourself. There is always lots more to come at the other fireplaces. On this visit, a special for the evening was short ribs of beef braised in red wine. For my money this was the star attraction. Also served at the same station was a rich (almost too rich) veal stew and the famous Swiss specialty, rosti potato- shredded potato "pancake" fried in butter. Along with a serious number of other dishes such as Basque clam chowder, salads, paella, assorted vegetable plates, the signature item appears to be leg of lamb which is roasted in front of an open hearth. The lamb is carved to order by a member of the lodge kitchen staff. Unfortunately they do not know the proper way to slice leg of lamb and the resulting portions, while cooked to a perfect medium rare, are tough and chewy. Too bad because this lack of knowledge/skill detracts from an otherwise flawless presentation. Save room for dessert. It's worth it. At yet another fireplace servers offer a variety of hot dipping sauces for a dessert fondue. The dark chocolate is my favorite. There is an endless selection of items in the form of fruits, cakes, cookies etc that are available for dunking in the sauces. As far as I am concerned, the homemade biscotti top the the charts for this purpose, but it seems as though the fresh strawberries are another big hit. The per person charge is a hefty $58 plus tax and tip. Coffee is an additional $3. Corkage is an exorbitant $20 per bottle, but the servers obviously have some leeway here, as we shared 5 bottles and were charged for two. In general I find that if I let the server know that we prefer to tip generously when corkage charges are forgiven, we get better service and fewer charges. As I said, this is not a place to frequent everyday, but as a once a season excursion or for a special event, it is worth a try. Advance reservations are a must.
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