Go for the gold
A wanderlust to discover a new and intriguing menu took me to the iconic Squaw Valley.
Executive chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne has exceptional credentials, double degrees in biology and environmental studies. After interning with an organic vegetable farm, he spent a year developing his cooking skills in restaurants in Colorado and Vermont.
An enthusiastic skier, he moved to Tahoe in 2002 as sous chef at PlumpJack. After cooking at West Shore Cafe and LuLou’s Restaurant, in 2010, he came back to PlumpJack as the executive chef. His team includes sous chefs Shawn Arney and Jack Connell.
Maître d’ Jeff Pinkham and his staff provide impeccable service. The handcrafted cocktail menu ($10-$12) with several of the trendy quaffs was inviting, but the mixologist, Jake Spero, pointed me toward the PlumpJack Aperitif ($12): Averno Amara (a classic digestif Sicilian herb liquor—citric, sweet, thick and has a gently herbal bitterness), Carpano Antica vermouth (sweet red vermouth made with white wine), rare wine Verdelho Madeira (its bouquet exudes orange zest and buttery shortbread), and a lemon twist.
It’s an astute menu with two courses. First, starters ($12-$19) like white gazpacho ($16), and I had the diver scallop “BLT” ($19) with crispy pancetta, tatsoi (a green with a sweet aroma) atop heirloom tomatoes, and drizzled with Balsamic and a roasted red pepper sauce. The mollusks were silver dollar sized and about an inch thick. They were rich and elegant with a myriad of flavors from savory to a lightly sweet-tart and textures. And those fresh tomatoes were delicious.
The second course ($25-$46) includes the likes of Mt. Lassen trout ($35), Creekstone Ranch ribeye ($46), and my choice, the Ellensburg lamb chop “Nicoise” ($44). This Pacific Coast grass fed lamb was cooked medium rare and seared in a broiler and then finished on a grill using Almond wood, perfectly moist with a nutty, sweet flavor. Red potatoes were nicely seasoned, par boiled and finished in the oven. Haricot Verts (French green beans) sautéed in butter with simple seasoning added the finishing touches to the dish.
There’s an uptown wine list with just north of 500 varietals covering the world and a very proper set of California wines with impressive offerings.
With my scallops, I went with the Bodgas Slaya Verdejo 2012 ($9). This Spanish wine offered aromas of peach, banana, apple, pear, lemon and tropical fruit. It’s a firm white with lively acidity and a lush mouth-feel.
A red with the lamb was more of a challenge since I found two that would work—so, why not? I did both. First was a Skinner Grenache 2012 ($11) from the El Dorado foothills in northern California. It had an elegant and supple mouth-feel, but is light in color and structured on the palate.
And then I had a Villa del Cigliano “Brusco”($9), a brilliant Italian Sangiovese from the cellars of Antinori. It sports flavors of berries, overlaid with hints of licorice and spicy notes from oak aging.
Desserts ($8-$15) are another level of palate joy. Mine, a chai crème brulée with Blueberry compote ($8) from pastry chef Jon Howard, was nirvana. The Olympic rings still greet you when you enter the valley. It’s a home of champions, and the team at PlumpJack Café has embraced that legacy victorious on every plate.